If you ask plenty of people around the NFL, the Jaguars, Bills and Broncos all made underwhelming head coaching hires. This is fantastic news for Jed York and the 49ers.
Doug Marrone, Sean McDermott and Vance Joseph will respectively lead Jacksonville, Buffalo and Denver. San Francisco should be thankful none of their guys have been swooped up yet.
Because the three candidates with the most upside are still on the board: Kyle Shanahan, Josh McDaniels and Sean McVay.
Unless York pulls somebody out of left field — Dear God, let’s hope it’s not Tom Cable — it’s beginning to look impossible for him to screw up this coaching hire. A young, bright, offensive-minded coach is about to man the sidelines at Levi’s Stadium the next few seasons. Hallelujah.
Let’s start with Shanahan who is emerging as the dark horse, 11th hour candidate. I’ll argue his resume is the most impressive of any candidate the 49ers have interviewed. His offensive wizardry has elevated a variety of different quarterbacks — Matt Schaub, Robert Griffin III, Brian Hoyer and now he’s remodeled Matt Ryan into an MVP candidate. Beyond quarterbacks, Shanahan’s strength is turning late-round skill players into immediate contributors. He’s doing it with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel now in Atlanta, he did it with running backs Alfred Morris in Washington and Isaiah Crowell in Cleveland. Shanahan’s creativity takes pressure off of general managers. Not as much money needs to be invested in skill positions.
It was very surprising in some NFL circles that Denver did not choose to hire Shanahan. It had been reported John Elway isn’t as close to the Shanahan family as it would appear, but the Broncos need help on offense, not defense. In nine seasons as an NFL play-caller, Shanahan’s units have finished in the top 10 six different times. He can scheme up any defensive coordinator in this league, and he continues to prove it. Denver’s shortsightedness could be San Francisco’s gain.
As far as Shanahan’s leadership style, it’s admittedly the opposite of rah-rah. He expects his players to stay motivated. And while he’ll keep them engaged with creative wrinkles in the playbook, it’s unclear what exactly his disciplinarian style would be as a head coach. His father, Mike, was notorious for calling out players who weren’t with the program, notably Albert Haynesworth in Washington. It’s also unclear how dirty he would get his hands on the defensive side of the football. Defensive coordinator candidates could include Mike Pettine and Raheem Morris.
If McDaniels is truly the slam dunk hire, why is it taking so long to formulate? From all accounts, his personality has changed since he acted like “Napoleon” in Denver. But if you ask certain people around the NFL, his resume is not nearly as impressive as Shanahan’s. If York opts to go in a different direction, the final straw could be that McDaniels has not had success away from Tom Brady. Still, he and a Louis Riddick combination appear to be the frontrunner for the job, and would be a very commendable hire from York and Paraag Marathe.
McVay, 30, is certainly the wild card, but Redskins staff members and players of all ages have raved about him. A Washington source said the team would be devastated if he left. It’s also possible McVay could lure Bill Callahan away from the Redskins as an assistant head coach/offensive line hybrid position in Santa Clara. McVay’s creativity in the horizontal passing game is about to make Kirk Cousins one of the highest paid players in NFL history.
Quickly on his age — the gamble could be worth the reward. Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Mike Tomlin were all hired in their early thirties and went on to become Super Bowl winners. If York’s convinced McVay can be an instinctive, innovative coach who gets the most out of players, you hire him and never look back. It appears McVay would mix best with Green Bay GM candidate Eliot Wolf.
By the virtue of process of elimination, the rest of the NFL has given York a significant helping hand.
The cards are in your hands, Jed. And you have three strong options to play.