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NFL Coach Search: Best fits for five openings

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By the end of Black Monday, four head-coaching vacancies existed and the Oakland Raiders were also looking at permanent options.

There are priority general manager hires to be made by the Chicago Bears and New York Jets before those teams can fully assemble their new brass.

The Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers and Raiders could move quickly to secure replacements.

There could be win-now pressure in several spots. While the Jets and Raiders do not appear close to contention, the Falcons fired their winningest coach, Mike Smith (66-46) and the 49ers cut ties with Jim Harbaugh, who won 49 games in four years. The Bears said at a Monday press conference the Super Bowl is the expectation in 2015.

The Sports Xchange identifies the coaches who would be the best and worst fit for the five openings.

Atlanta Falcons

It’s debatable how attractive the opening is in Atlanta. General manager Thomas Dimitroff was retained, but is on thinning ice. While he’ll have a hand in hiring Mike Smith’s successor, another miserable season could send Dimitroff packing and invite a replacement who is not on the same page with the coach. There’s a ton of work to be done to repair a defense with no playmakers in the defensive front seven and a sad-sack offensive line.

Top candidates: Teryl Austin, Lions defensive coordinator; Adam Gase, Broncos offensive coordinator; Hue Jackson, Bengals offensive coordinator; Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator; Dan Quinn, Seahawks defensive coordinator; Rex Ryan, ex-Jets head coach.

Best fit: Gase. Picture $100 million QB Matt Ryan, left tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Julio Jones as the foundation pieces and bet on Gase bringing in a well-known defensive coach — former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen

Worst fit: McDaniels. He’s a close ally of Dimitroff from their Patriots days — and GM assistant Scott Pioli as well — but Belichickian reboots have proven to be unflattering forms of imitation with the noted exception of Bill O’Brien (Penn State, Houston Texans). Pioli failed in Kansas City, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis and Eric Mangini never took, and McDaniels was in over his head in Denver.

Chicago Bears

Management down to players are harping on one central theme: the Bears regaining their identity. With their third coach in four years, two primary issues exist — Chicago’s defense is among the league worst and the new GM and coach will need to decide how to proceed with quarterback Jay Cutler, who led the NFL in turnovers yet has $100 million left on the final six years of his contract.

Top candidates: Todd Bowles, Cardinals defensive coordinator; Jack Del Rio, Broncos defensive coordinator; Sean McDermott, Panthers defensive coordinator; Adam Gase, Broncos offensive coordinator; Brian Kelly, Notre Dame head coach; Rex Ryan, ex-Jets head coach.

Best fit: Ryan. His father, Buddy, was the beloved architect of the ’85 Bears Super Bowl defense and chairman George McCaskey is pining for the glory days openly. Ryan’s Jets were in the top 10 in defense five of his six seasons in New York. He’s not a meddlesome coach outside of his roster and coaching staff. Would need to convince the hiring brass that he can also find a fix for the offense, with or without Cutler.

Worst fit: McDermott. Jim Johnson proteges have fared quite well, thank you. He established the Panthers as a top defense but has also been fired (Eagles) for failing to produce a decent one.

New York Jets

Owner Woody Johnson sounds like a man who knows what he wants, but he also outwardly endorsed enigmatic quarterback Geno Smith and needs a general manager. Can he get on the same page with a personnel man and coach?

Top candidates: Todd Bowles, Cardinals defensive coordinator; Tom Cable, Seahawks offensive line coach; Gary Kubiak, Ravens offensive coordinator; Frank Reich, Chargers offensive coordinator; Dan Quinn, Seahawks defensive coordinator;

Best fit: Bowles. Widely respected as a no-nonsense grinder, Bowles should play well in this market. He made magic with a defense which, outside of cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive lineman Calais Campbell, was loaded with replacement-level talent.

Worst fit: Cable. He’d bring more of the same approach Ryan preferred — grinding offense and physical defense — but we cannot be convinced he’ll get this dramatic rebuild over the top.

San Francisco 49ers

Top candidates: Todd Bowles, Cardinals defensive coordinator; Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator; Dan Quinn, Seahawks defensive coordinator; Jim Mora, UCLA head coach; Rex Ryan, ex-Jets head coach; Kyle Shanahan, Browns offensive coordinator; Jim Tomsula, 49ers defensive line coach.

Best fit: Quinn. He runs a defensive scheme easily adaptable to the personnel already in the fold, even if it means a transition to a base 4-3 defense. What CEO Jed York will listen closely for is who Quinn identifies to run the offense and repair quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Quinn is well-connected, in both the college and pro game, and should have no problem building a rock star coaching staff.

Worst fit: McDaniels. If his debacle in Denver was any indication, this is a buyer beware candidate and Harbaugh Lite. He was demonstrative with media, as trained by Bill Belichick, wanted his hand on the controls at all times and there are decision-makers in the league who doubt his character. That’s a recipe for a repeat of the Harbaugh divorce.

Oakland Raiders

There is no official opening in Oakland with interim coach Tony Sparano in the mix to stay on with support from his players. But the Raiders are talking to others after taking an aggressive swing at Jim Harbaugh, who opted for less money and a homecoming at Michigan.

Top candidates: Adam Gase, Broncos offensive coordinator; Eric Mangini, ex-Jets, ex-Browns head coach; Jack Del Rio, Broncos defensive coordinator; Pat Shurmur, Eagles offensive coordinator; Sparano, interim Raiders coach.

Best fit: Shurmur. The issues in Cleveland were not all his doing, and he’ll start with something he didn’t have with the Browns — a foundation piece at quarterback.

Worst fit: Mangini. GM Reggie McKenzie likely is safe — he’ll take part in the interview process — but for how long? Adding Mangini, a flammable personality with little history of success, could up the toxicity in the building.


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