Bet on New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as the Falcons’ next head coach.
But according to the online sportsbook Bovada.com, McDaniels, who flopped in his first head coaching job with Denver but remains highly regarded in NFL circles, is the favorite among six candidates listed by the site for the Falcons’ vacancy. Here are the six, with my thoughts on each:
— Josh McDaniels, New England OC (5-2): McDaniels’ biggest mistake in Denver was pushing the Broncos to draft quarterback Tim Tebow in the first round. Even most Tebow fans would acknowledge he would’ve been available in the second of third round. But McDaniels showed in other ways he just wasn’t ready to be a head coach, going 8-8 in his first season and then only 3-9 in the second before being fired. He and the team also were fined $50,000 each after the Broncos’ director of video (hired by McDaniels) were caught videotaping a San Francisco 49ers walk-through before a game in London (reminiscent of “Spygate” in New England). My view: McDaniels is a talented coach. The question is whether he has grown up and matured. His boss, Bill Belichick, certainly did after failing in his first head coaching job with Cleveland. Worth noting: McDaniels and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff are friends from their early days in New England together.
— Teryl Austin, Detroit DC (11-4): The Falcons need to fix the defense and they can do that one of two ways: Hire a strong defensive coordinator (like Mike Smith was in Jacksonville) or hire an offensive coach with a strong coach and personality with a defensive background (Rex Ryan, for example). Austin has been the Lions’ defensive coordinator for only one year but the team finished second in total defense to Seattle and third in points allowed (17.6). He mostly coached defensive backs in his career, previously with Baltimore, and secondary coaches often make good head coaches because of their ability to understand coverages and offenses. Austin also was Florida’s defensive coordinator in 2010 but left after Urban Meyer’s resignation. I like Austin but, like many candidates, he’s never been a head coach before.
— Rex Ryan, ex-N.Y. Jets coach (3-1): He makes sense on many levels for the Falcons. He’s one of the best defensive coaches in football, players generally love him and he would bring the buzz that owner Arthur Blank is looking for. The Falcons need to re-create some excitement after two down seasons, particularly with their move into a new stadium on the horizon. I don’t know how much of what went wrong in New York was Ryan’s fault because, well, it’s the Jets. But Blank might feel hiring a head coach who failed to make the playoffs in his last four seasons (after playing for the AFC championship twice) would be too difficult a sale. It would be an interesting hire, to say the least.
— Todd Bowles, Arizona DC (5-1): He’s a legit candidate. The Cardinals allowed only 18.7 points per game this season (fifth best) and went 11-5 this season largely because of their defense (using three quarterbacks because of injuries). Bowles has an Atlanta tie: He coached the secondary and defenses at Morehouse in 1997, then worked his way up from Grambling to six different teams and was impressive in Philadelphia before going to Arizona in 2013. He will get a head coaching job at some point, if not this offseason.
— Adam Gase, Denver OC (5-1): He’s turned Peyton Manning into a Hall of Fame quarterback. OK, not really. But Manning has become a big fan in a short amount of time, and Gase is considered one of the top offensive coaches in the NFL. Gase is only 36 years old. He was a quarterbacks coach under McDaniel but was retained by new coach John Fox, who then promoted him to offensive coordinator. The biggest question: Is he ready for this jump?
— Dan Quinn, Seattle DC (5-1): He’s my personal favorite for the job, but that’s based on nothing other than the Seahawks have had one of the NFL’s best defenses during his two-year tenure. Seattle has had an ability to create great defenses with mid-round draft picks and some street free agents. The constant debate is how much of Seattle’s success should be attributed to Quinn. Head coach Pete Carroll is a former defensive coordinator, and Quinn’s predecessor, Gus Bradley (now head coach at Jacksonville), implemented the concepts that Quinn is using. But in their 2013 run to the Super Bowl under Quinn, the Seahawks led the league in points allowed, yards allowed and takeaways, the first defense to do that since the 1985 Bears. Doesn’t Quinn get some credit for that?
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