Best candidates to fill each of the 6 NFL head coaching vacancies

Where Should Rex Ryan Coach Next Season?
Where Should Rex Ryan Coach Next Season?

Life on the NFL coaching carousel, and who's in the best position to fill one of the six NFL head coaching vacancies.

It's been one week since Black Monday, the day of coaching turnover in the NFL, but no team has formally announced their plans to hire their new coach yet.

As the Super Bowl draws closer, I expect most of the hirings to start pouring into the league office and filling our TVs with tons of news and introductory press conferences.

Currently, there are six NFL head coaching vacancies in the league.

San Francisco, New York (Jets), Oakland, Buffalo, Chicago, and Atlanta are the six teams looking to fill their head coaching positions.

So far, there's only been rumors and speculation about which coach is going where, but the interview process is well underway and should continue as more teams are eliminated from the playoffs and more coaches become eligible for interviews.

While we wait, I thought it'd be a really good opportunity to survey the six openings and try to predict who the top candidate is for each coaching situation, simply based on fit with the team and some rumors, of course.

Here are the best candidates to fill each of the six NFL head coaching vacancies, starting with the Oakland Raiders!

6. Oakland Raiders

Best Candidate: Mike Shanahan

Although Mike Shanahan's last coaching stint went about as bad as it could go with the Washington Redskins, Shanahan is a veteran, Super Bowl-winning coach who wants to coach again.

The Raiders haven't had an established NFL coach since Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan in the late '90s and early 2000s.

The Raiders have talented players, but their biggest issue has been getting the players to buy into the system. Lane Kiffin, Dennis Allen, and other failed coaches weren't locker room guys, and the players had no respect for them.

The Raiders have a good mix of veteran players, like Charles Woodson, Justin Tuck, and Carlos Rogers, and younger players, like Derek Carr, Khalil Mack, and Latavious Murray, right now. If the right coach could get those guys to come together and play as a team, the Raiders could be a good team, if they also made a few roster upgrades this offseason.

Mike Shanahan might not be the guy to win over the locker room, but players should respect success, and of the available coaches, no one has a coaching pedigree equal or even close to Shanahan's.

Shanahan won three Super Bowls as a coach, one as offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers and two with the Denver Broncos.

Shanahan's West Coast offense would be perfect for Carr, and if the Raiders could ever find some receivers, I think Carr could actually be a decent quarterback. At least, Carr has the tools and skills Shanahan can work with, unlike Robert Griffin III in Washington.

The Raiders have an opportunity to lock-up an NFL coaching legend. Shanahan might not be the best fit for the team, but at least the Raiders would be taking a chance on a coach with proven success in the NFL.

5. Chicago Bears

Best Candidate: Adam Gase, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator

Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase is going to be a head coach in the NFL. It just depends on if this is the season he takes the leap and a team takes a chance on him.

Gase is only 36 years old, and he's networked himself all the way up to offensive coordinator of one of the best offensive teams in the history of the NFL.

It's hard to determine how much of the Broncos success is because of Gase and how much is because of star quarterback Peyton Manning. Although Manning has been great with the Broncos, Gase has also created some nice wrinkles in the offense by relying on and trusting the running game, especially this season.

Gase's commitment to the running game is the main reason I think he's the best fit for the Chicago Bears.

Last season, Bears head coach Marc Trestman relied on Jay Cutler too much, especially with how bad Chicago's defense was. Cutler averaged 37.4 passing attempts per game in 2014. That's too many for a player with his skill set and frequent mistakes.

Obviously, the Bears were forced to throw more because they were losing, but Cutler should be throwing about 30 passes per game MAX.

If Gase becomes the Bears head coach AND Cutler is still on the team, I think Gase will take the approach the Dallas Cowboys took this season: run on first and second down, pass on third down. That's how Dallas protected Tony Romo from taking extra hits and throwing interceptions.

The Bears have a great running back in Matt Forte, and he needs to be the focal point of the offense.

Forte is one of the best dual threat backs in the league. In 2014, he totaled 1,038 rushing yards and 808 receiving yards. Forte only carried the ball more than 25 times in one game this season. He's better than that, and he deserves more touches.

Gase might not be the "win-now" candidate the Bears are looking for, but he's a young coach with a great feel for what it takes to win on the offensive side of the ball.

4. Atlanta Falcons

Best Candidate: Rex Ryan, former New York Jets head coach

The Atlanta Falcons have the talent on offense to be a really good team, but their defense needs a major makeover. Rex Ryan, one of the great defensive minds and motivators in the league, is available, and the Falcons would be lucky to bring in the former Jets coach.

Plus, I'm sure Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan would love for his dad, Rex, to be his coach again, just like the old days...

(Totally kidding.)

Atlanta has proven they're willing to spend the money, trade draft picks, and bring in big-time players to win, but they need the discipline to make it all come together. Ryan has the qualities necessary to change the culture and play a hard-nosed, tough style of football, a style the Falcons need to get back to playing.

The NFC South is one of the worst divisions in football. With Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Steven Jackson, and a solid defense, the Falcons would be unstoppable in the division. It starts with rebuilding the league's worst defense in yards allowed.

In six seasons with the Jets, Ryan had a 46-50 record and didn't lead the team to a winning season after his second season with the Jets. In Ryan's first two seasons, the Jets finished 9-7 and 11-5, respectively, and played in the AFC Championship game in both seasons.

Ryan is a good coach, and he was in a terrible situation in New York. Every move, every bad choice was maximized by the New York and national media. And, Ryan didn't have a quarterback the entire time he was with the Jets. Who knows what Rex Ryan could do with a quarterback like Matt Ryan?

3. New York Jets

Best Candidate: Doug Marrone, former Buffalo Bills head coach

I don't necessarily agree with Doug Marrone as a great candidate for the New York Jets coach, but I understand why the Jets want him.

Marrone was born in the Bronx and went to Syracuse. He's a New York guy, and Marrone was the Jets offensive line coach from 2002-05.

Honestly, I'm not a big Marrone fan.

I think Buffalo should have been better than they were this season, especially with their dominant defensive line and a team built to run the ball. Obviously, it wasn't Marrone's fault the Bills couldn't find a quarterback that could make plays in the passing game or that the Bills lost C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to injuries for multiple games this season, but Marrone didn't impress me with anything he did with the Bills.

In two seasons with the Bills, Marrone had a 15-17 record. That's not bad, but I think we can all agree Marrone might not even be an upgrade over Rex Ryan.

It seems like I'm not the only one who feels this way. Here's a blurb from Marrone's wikipedia page from Monday, Jan. 5:

Douglas Moron (born July 25, 1964) was an awful American football coach and former player. Quit on the bills, packed his bags and scrammed. Had a temper, and anger management issues, self conscious and selfish. Helped draft E.J (bad) Manuel.

That's a little harsh and not exactly based in fact, but he did draft E.J. Manuel...

2. Buffalo Bills

Best Candidate: Darrell Bevell, Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator

After Doug Marrone ditched town, the Buffalo Bills are now looking for a head coach. The obvious choice to replace Marrone is Bills defensive coordinator and former Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz. Ultimately, I don't think the guy who made players carry him off the field is the guy you want as your head coach.

The best choice for the Bills head coach is Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. The Seahawks usually don't run teams off the field with their offense, but that's not because Bevell doesn't have the coaching prowess to make that happen.

Seattle, simply, spends more money on their defense and there is little money to go around on the offensive side of the ball. The Seahawks also like to play a controlled style of offense, which complements their defense.

That's by design, and I think the Bills would be smart to try to replicate the Seahawks style of football, offensively and defensively.

Bevell would likely bring the Seahawks run-heavy, play-action offense to the Bills. With a bevy of talented running backs, including Jackson and Spiller, the Bills should be pounding the ball on the ground next season and then taking shots down field with Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods.

After Kyle Orton retired, E.J. Manuel will likely be the starting quarterback next season. Although Manuel has struggled so far in his two-year career, there's a possibility Bevell could use him like Russell Wilson by moving the pocket and making reads easier for Manuel.

Of all the coaching candidates the Bills are considering, Bevell is the best fit right now.

1. San Francisco 49ers

Best Candidate: Rex Ryan, former New York Jets head coach

Sorry to bring up Rex Ryan again as a possible head coaching candidate, but Ryan would be the perfect fit in San Francisco.

The 49ers have a good defense when they're healthy. With Ryan, the 49ers would instantly become one of the league's best defenses, especially with San Francisco's solid linebacking corps, headlined by Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, and Navarro Bowman.

In six years with the Jets, Ryan's defenses never finished lower than 11th in the league in yards allowed. San Francisco's defense has more talented players, overall, than any of Ryan's defenses with the Jets.

The 49ers would be terrifying on defense if Ryan took over; that's for sure.

Offensively, however, the 49ers would need help. San Francisco doesn't have quite as many playmakers on offense as the do on defense, but the 49ers offense isn't bad by any means, talent-wise.

San Francisco does need run the ball more with Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde. That will open up plays down the field for Colin Kaepernick, who was left out to dry by his offensive line last season. Sure, some of those sacks are Kaepernick's fault for running around so much, but he's got to have time to deliver the ball.

Building a successful running game would be the perfect way to help out Kaepernick and make throws easier for him, and I think Ryan would do that if he became San Francisco's new coach.

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