Three NFL head-coaching vacancies have emerged. More will pop up in the next week.
The most important factor Patriots coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia – both presumed to be in line for interviews – have to weigh is what level of dysfunction the people doing the interview have wrought on their franchise.
Climate, salary, roster, fanbase, school system, tradition – none of it matters if the owner and GM doing the hiring are a bad match followed closely by who the quarterback is.
The guys sitting across the desk or the dinner table, smiling and giving a candidate the floor to speak freely are fresh off their own screw ups. Jeff Fisher, Gus Bradley and Rex Ryan all may have had it coming to them in LA, Jacksonville and Buffalo, but Stan Kroenke, Shad Khan and Terry Pegula – the owners of each of those franchises – have to share blame. As do the personnel men in each city, Les Snead, Dave Caldwell and Doug Whaley.
So, while they sit in judgment of the candidates, the candidates better be making their judgments as well.
I asked Adam Gase on Wednesday about his interview process before taking the Dolphins job last offseason. He said that being a seasoned and discerning candidate led to his comfortable situation in Miami where he’s got the Dolphins at 10-5.
“Going through the 2014, after the 2014 season, and having the ability to interview with five teams, it was probably really good that I did not get [a job], and I was able to learn from those experiences through the interview process,” he explained. “Then, coming into this last year when I went through the interview process, I had a better feel of the questions that they were going to ask me. But at the same time, I had more questions I was ready to ask.
“Really, at the end of the day, I was just going off of how I felt with the guys that I was talking to,” Gase added. “That’s why this place felt right to me. I felt good when I interviewed and I felt good about the people I was talking with and interviewing with. I felt like it was a good group for me to work with.”
Gase made the right call. Working for owner Stephen Ross and with both experienced personnel man Mike Tannenbaum and newly elevated Chris Grier it’s worked out well. Say what you want about Tannanbaum’s track record but he’s got two things going for him – he’s seen a lot since coming up with the Jets in the mid-90s and he’s an easy guy to get along with. Grier as well. Miami also had the second-most stable quarterback situation of all the teams that had opening last offseason (Giants, Dophins, Bucs, Titans, Eagles, Niners, Browns).
And that’s something that muddies the waters with each opening. In LA, whoever gets hired better damn sure feel comfortable having Jared Goff dictate the future of his family.
Goff was the No. 1 overall pick in 2016. He’s going to get about three years to prove himself which – in the impatient NFL – is about the life expectancy for a sub-.500 coach. If you’re McDaniels, do you feel comfortable that you can make something of him? If you can’t, how much chaos will you cause if you try to push Goff aside and bring in someone else because that’s a rebuke of the still-in-place personnel people.
And that’s what happened, apparently, in Buffalo. Rex Ryan and GM Doug Whaley got sideways early but as the season wore on, the quarterback position became a reported flashpoint. The front office soured on Tyrod Taylor and wanted to see rookie Cardale Jones get at least a little activity. Rex wasn’t having it. Taylor will be out after the season but the new head coach coming in – whether that be interim head coach Anthony Lynn being elevated or someone from outside – has to determine whether he wants to be saddled with the development of Cardale Jones in addition to getting the rest of the team developed.
Meanwhile, Whaley’s been a phantom when it comes to facing the music as to what’s gone wrong in Buffalo which is an awful look for any prospective head coach. It’s a tacit announcement that the team is operating behind a veil and the guy who’ll take the arrows from the media is the one who’s coaching the team not the one assembling it.
The best gig out there is probably Jacksonville. The owner, Shad Khan, and GM, Dave Caldwell, are saying all the right things about the new head coach having latitude. Anyone watching football has seen enough Blake Bortles to understand he’s an inaccurate, boom-or-bust quarterback with the fundamentals of an Iron Mike pitching machine. That means the new guy can use Bortles as a stop-gap until a successor is unearthed (and this is a baaaadddd draft for quarterbacks).
The downside to the Jags is it’s got a losing culture and the new head coach is going to have to go hard-ass early and understand that Khan is an owner that wants to grow revenue streams in Europe and by being innovative. So there will be marketing hoops to jump through, hands to shake and sponsors to pose with that may not exist in every market.
McDaniels is probably the hottest head coaching prospect on the market. It’s been six years since he was fired in Denver and he is more than ready to combine what he learned then, what he’s learned back with the Patriots and the life experience that comes from being on the planet to take another job.
Expect him to be very discerning for two big reasons.
First, working for the Patriots and with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick means he’s already got one of the top jobs in football. He may not draw a head coach’s salary, but he’s in a better spot than a lot of current head coaches. Second, guys don’t get a lot of third chances. Denver didn’t go well. If McDaniels encounters the same kind of friction with key players and the media that he did in Denver and fails to win as well, his marketability will suffer. Why jump for the sake of jumping? McDaniels will be just as attractive a candidate in December 2017 after another 12-to-14-win season for the Patriots as he is now.
Gase – a longtime friend of McDaniels - indicated that Gase’s approach in going to Miami will probably be just like McDaniels’ approach will be this offseason.
“Something that I learned being with Josh in those years in Denver (Gase was hired as wide receivers coach by McDaniels) where our discussions all the time were just kind of positive, as far as if you ever get a situation where I had this opportunity, it was about, ‘How do you fit in that organization and how do you work with other people in that organization?'"
Keep that in mind over the next month or so as McDaniels’ name is linked to every opening. How charred is the landscape he’ll be walking into and will anything grow once that land is tilled?