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There are six NFL head coaching vacancies, three of which have come via firings, one by a mutual parting, one by a resignation, and another — well — it’s the Raiders.
The Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, and Chicago Bears are all in the market for new head coaches. So how will each organization go about finding its next head honcho?
For one, each head coach must be up to fixing each team’s most glaring needs. Here are the six biggest obstacles for each head coaching vacancy.
1. New York Jets
Quarterback has been a thorn in the side of the Jets since Chad Pennington left nearly a decade ago, and in the Rex Ryan era alone there have been five different starters under center. Twice the Jets have tried to find their quarterback through the draft, whiffing on first-rounder Mark Sanchez then missing on Geno Smith in the second round four years later.
Despite all the good Ryan did creating a top-five-caliber defense year in and year out, he and his front office could never find the right fit at quarterback. That alone prevented the Jets from becoming a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
The next head coach and general manager must together decide whether they want to pursue a veteran or find the right fit in the 2015 NFL draft to take over the reins. The Jets have swung and missed far too often on the most crucial position in football. This next regime must get it right.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Unlike the other five openings, the Falcons already have their franchise quarterback in place. In addition, they have a young left tackle and perennial All-Pro wide receiver already on the roster. The issue is piecing together a more formidable defense.
Atlanta finished dead last in defense DVOA in 2014, a year removed from finishing 31st in that same category. Mike Smith was a defensive coach with Jacksonville before moving to the Falcons, but his bread and butter lost its touch during the latter half of his tenure with the team.
Despite the firing of Smith, the Falcons retained defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, which could bode well in terms of continuity. But given the statistical deficiencies and the fact that owner Arthur Blank has time and time again talked about regaining a toughness, this team needs to find a tough, hard-nosed coach that his team can take after. Is it just me, or does Ryan sound like the perfect fit in Atlanta?
3. San Francisco 49ers
Like the Jets and most of these teams in the hunt for a new coach, the 49ers’ head-coaching search will likely revolve around finding someone that wants to continue to develop Colin Kaepernick. Upon being named the starter in place of Alex Smith, Kaepernick showed flashes of just how dangerous he and the Niners’ offense could be while running the read-option. This season, however, it appeared as if Jim Harbaugh tried to turn Kaep into more a pocket passer, which resulted in a very subpar year.
Fixing Kaepernick and putting him a position to succeed will be the key to the 49ers’ head-coaching search, without a doubt. The team has a veteran defense already in place, with a lot of stalwarts on the offensive side of the ball as well. It just needs a quarterback to steer it in the right direction.
Longtime San Francisco coach Jim Tomsula might adopt whatever philosophy the front office would like him to, but a read-option specialist makes the most sense for this vacancy. Mike Shanahan and Adam Gase are among the names to be mentioned in connection with the job. Shanahan helped Robert Griffin III have his best season as a rookie, while Gase has excelled in morphing different offenses to fit the talent he has at his disposal.
4. Chicago Bears
The Bears disappointed on both sides of the ball in 2014, and the one culprit continues to be Jay Cutler. Year after year, NFL analysts wait for Cutler to break through and be the elite quarterback his physical gifts suggest he can be. However, time after time his knack for turnovers and inexplicable decision-making hold him back.
The next Bears coach and general manager must decide how to proceed with Cutler. His contract makes him tradeable — to a degree — but it’s a very tricky situation because of the bloated salary cap hit. If they can’t find a trade partner, would they simply bench him and draft a rookie to take over?
It’s a very, very difficult situation in Chicago. There’s a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and guru Marc Trestman couldn’t even figure out how to have success with those pieces. Defensively, the Bears were pathetic. So far, Todd Bowles, Dan Quinn, and Gase are some of the names being thrown around, proving they’re either going to find a coach that thinks he can revive Cutler’s career or a defensive mind that might elect to make Cutler a game-manager.
5. Buffalo Bills
Doug Marrone’s sudden resignation made Buffalo one of the more unexpected openings this offseason. An offensive-minded coach, Marrone helped the Bills take another step forward in 2014, but largely because of how well the defense played.
Marrone was reportedly unhappy with the team’s decision to expend draft picks to trade up for Sammy Watkins during last year’s draft, and infuriated the front office when he opted to bench 2013 first-round pick E.J. Manuel in favor of journeyman Kyle Orton.
Manuel and Watkins were front-office favorites, and the next head coach will likely have to see eye-to-eye on that issue.
If the Bills can retain Jim Schwartz as their defensive coordinator, it only makes sense to find an offensive-minded head coach to try and fix Manuel. That might be a lofty task, but first-round picks can set an organization back if they don’t come through. Buffalo is going to try and make Manuel work out.
6. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders will be looking to hire their sixth head coach in the last eight years, though no decision has officially been made about interim head man Tony Sparano. The team fired an offensive guy in Hue Jackson after one season, then went in the other direction with defense and Dennis Allen with its next hire. Does that mean offense is back to the forefront?
This time around, Oakland already has a quarterback in place. Derek Carr didn’t have the greatest rookie season, but he showed more than most quarterbacks this team has drafted in recent seasons. And given the lack of talent around him, there’s certainly reason to believe Carr is the team’s answer at the position going forward.
Oakland is doing its due diligence, speaking with head-coaching candidates with both offensive and defensive specialties. Scott Linehan, Darrell Bevell, and Shanahan are some of the offensive coaches being thrown out there, while Eric Mangini and Bowles are some on the defensive side of the ball.
Honestly, the team could go in either way, as there are glaring needs on both sides of the ball. The Raiders just need to find a coach they believe can have longevity by the Bay. Six coaches in eight years means this team has been way too busy on Black Monday. It’s time they find a coach and put their faith in him for the long haul.
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