© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
On Monday, former 49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley agreed to become Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator. The 49ers now have a position to fill.
There’s no shortage of capable replacements, however, largely thanks to the rapid cycle of NFL coaching changes at the conclusion of the 2018 season. There are also some homegrown options who would make for capable candidates.
Let’s explore them.
The home-run candidates
Recovering defensive coordinator, 39-year-old who relates well to players, previous rapport with Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh, experience in San Francisco’s Cover-3 defensive scheme… this one makes sense.
Manuel coached the Seattle special teams and secondary from 2012 to 2014. He had two years of overlap with Saleh, the team’s defensive quality control coach at the time.
Prior to the 2015 season, former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn hired Shanahan as his offensive coordinator and Manuel as the defensive backs coach. Two years later, Shanahan took the 49ers job and Manuel was named the Atlanta defensive coordinator. As Shanahan assembled his coaching staff, Manuel was one of the reported names linked to the defensive coordinator vacancy prior to the 2017 season.
Fast forward two more years, and Manuel has resurfaced as the ideal candidate for Hafley’s former role. Manuel was part of Atlanta’s mass firing in late December following a disappointing 7-9 season.
For a coach looking to regain his footing, joining an up-and-coming team with familiar coaching cohorts makes sense. For the 49ers, adding someone with Manuel’s credentials does, too.
Morris, a former NFL head coach who worked with Shanahan at multiple stops, would also be a terrific hire.
Morris took the Buccaneers head coaching job in 2009 when he was just 33 years old. After serving in that role for three years, he joined Shanahan in Washington for one season before the two reconvened in Atlanta in 2015 and 2016. In Morris’ 17-year NFL coaching career, he has coached defensive backs for Tampa Bay, Washington, and Atlanta, where he is currently its assistant head coach and wide receivers coach.
Morris may not see the 49ers gig as a promotion, considering his high standing in the Falcons organization. But if Shanahan could lure him away, Morris would be a great fit.
The internal candidate
Many of Shanahan’s staffers rose through the coaching hierarchy alongside him. He’s loyal to them and has consistently given young coaches opportunities with big roles.
Bullocks just finished his second season as San Francisco’s assistant defensive backs coach. He played four seasons as a safety with the Detroit Lions from 2006 to 2010, then coached defensive backs at Northern Iowa and Eastern Michigan, and returned to the NFL in 2016 as part of the Jaguars coaching staff. In his lone season with the Jaguars, they allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards (215.3) and sixth-fewest total yards (321.7) per game.
Bullocks doesn’t have the name recognition as the other candidates on this list, but he has already established a rapport with those in the 49ers’ building.
Some local options
Akina has spent all 40 seasons of his coaching career at the college level. He has coached 34 defensive backs who went on to have NFL careers, including some current players you likely know: San Francisco’s Adrian Colbert and Seattle’s Earl Thomas, who is soon to be a free agent.
Akina, Stanford’s defensive backs coach since 2014, has also operated around Shanahan, albeit in a different role. The 49ers head coach played wide receiver for Texas in the early 2000s when Akina served as its defensive backs coach.
It’s unknown whether Akina would entertain leaving for the NFL, but his proven track record figures to translate to any level of football.
Whitner has no coaching experience, but he is as well-versed on the state of the current 49ers secondary as anyone. The former two-time Pro Bowl safety has been a tremendous addition to the NBC Sports Bay Area team in his first year as a 49ers analyst.
It appears Whitner is confident in his potential to excel as a coach, if his recent Twitter activity is any indication.
— DonteHitner31 (@DonteWhitner) January 8, 2019
Can I handle it? Absolutely!
— DonteHitner31 (@DonteWhitner) January 8, 2019
Plenty of retired stars have made the leap to coaching in the NFL without previous experience. The 49ers fanbase would certainly receive Whitner as a welcomed addition.
Woodson won’t require much of an introduction to the 49ers’ room. His laundry list of accomplishments — a Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, 11 Pro Bowls, six first-team All-Pro bids, and a Super Bowl XXXV win — speaks for itself.
Woodson’s only coaching experience has been with the Oakland Raiders in various roles. He served as their cornerbacks coach in 2011, rejoined the staff in 2015 as the assistant defensive backs coach, and was renamed the cornerbacks coach in 2017. He was fired following that season after Jon Gruden was named head coach.
Recovering NFL head coach looking for a fresh start
OK, this may be a stretch. The Denver Broncos fired Joseph shortly after the 2018 regular season concluded. Joseph, who earned his reputation as a stellar NFL defensive backs coach, is already one of the names linked with the Cincinnati Bengals’ head coaching vacancy.
This one’s a longshot, and landing him would require some serious fortune, but it’s worth a phone call.