Some thoughts on the coaching carousel
What Jacksonville needs; Why Harbaugh makes sense in Vegas; more
Yesterday’s piece on Vance Joseph was intended to be a topper to a wider look at the coaching carousel. Well… yeah. So, here are those thoughts.
Las Vegas Raiders
Job Profile: It was easy to scoff at Bruce Feldman’s initial report that Jim Harbaugh was interested in a return to the NFL. It felt like an obvious agent plant: A coach who has had a tremendous year of success (a year after he took a steep pay cut) looking to leverage that success into a new contract resplendent with more money and influence.
Not so fast. At this stage, Harbaugh returning to the NFL feels like a fait accompli. He has been linked with any and all openings. And it’s easy to see why: Beyond his success in the pros, the changing landscape of college football – NIL, penalty-free transferring – has changed the dynamics of the Michigan job. Not just Michigan, really, but all of college football. It will take a certain personality type to live in the 24/7 recruiting and re-recruiting cycle that is modern collegiate athletics. As Harbaugh’s recruiting track record shows: That ain’t for him.
College football is now the place of upheaval; the NFL is where you can find some stasis. Sure, over the past two seasons, 12 teams have failed to make the playoffs and 11 of those sides have made coaching changes (not strictly for on-field reasons). But — ah — guaranteed contracts; a set number of draft picks; a salary cap; the chance to sign your quarterback to a deal that means he cannot up and leave for a bigger offer in eight months.
Those dynamics surely appeal to Harbaugh. Beating Ohio State and getting Michigan to the playoff was Harbaugh’s goal when he returned to Ann Arbor. It took longer than excepted, but, well, Mission Complete.
That brings us to the Raiders. If Rich Bisaccia is able to upset the Bengals in the Wildcard Round this weekend, there’s every chance he returns to Vegas as the full-time head coach. But the reality is that for all Bisaccia’s good work keeping his team on track in a season of controversy and tragedy, this is not a good football team. They’re 19th in offensive DVOA, 23rd on defense, and 24th on special teams. They stink in both redzones (27th on offense; 31st on defense).
It’s a team that needs a fresh impetus, a new vision, some direction.
The Raiders job is sneakily one of the best in pro football. The cheapness of Mark Davis is often held up as a knock, but in actuality, it’s a virtue. Davis is one of a select few owners that are happy to acquiesce all the power to one individual. He does not meddle in football matters. And given that he lacks the cash on hand to fire a staff outright, it’s all-but-guaranteed that he will show patience.
Vegas represents one of the rare spots where a coach signing a four-year contract is liable to get the full four years — as long as his racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and whatever past (or current) statements do not surface. And he will do so with all of the power, with the ability to bring in his own staff and build the organization out in his own way. Coaches crave time and power. The Raiders offer both.
The starting point is a bit sticky. The team still needs an overhaul. There’s some talent dotted around the roster, but there’s a whole bunch of holes. There’s the Derek Carr question, and a coach will have to decide quickly if he’s in or out on the veteran who falls neatly into the better-than-given-credit-for-but-not-worth-a-salary-cap-draining-contract camp.
Carr is a free agent this offseason. Whoever takes the Vegas gig will have to decide whether he’s their quarterback for the long haul, to dip into an iffy draft class, or try to find a veteran on the trade market, something that will then swamp the team’s cap sheet, rinse the franchise or assets and immediately raise expectations.
That’s not an easy decision. But it would be the coach’s decision, and the coach would be given time to figure out all of the moving pieces. The same could not be said in Jacksonville or New York.
Harbaugh makes sense anywhere. And there are most assuredly better rosters and young quarterbacks that he could chase. The most exciting part about the idea of Harbaugh returning to the league is the old ball coach bringing the whole band back together. You best believe Vic Fangio – the league’s finest defensive coordinator – will join him now that he’s been dumped by Denver. How about Greg Roman moving across from Baltimore in a mutual agreement (“we had a great run, it’s time to try something different)? You bet ya.
Harbaugh could bring that staff anywhere. Teaming up with Justin Fields in Chicago makes sense. Making a push for the Dolphins job makes sense: Owner Stephen Ross has adamantly denied interest in Harbaugh stating that he would ‘not be the person to take Jim Harbaugh from Michigan’. But if Harbaugh announces he is leaving Michigan no matter what, it would be odd for Ross – who is Michigan’s primary football donor – to not use his existing connection to get into the game.
It also comes down to the division. Is Harbaugh interested in joining a loaded AFC West, one that might well feature Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson in Denver alongside Patrick Mahomes in KC and Justin Herbert in LA? That’s a tough one.
Still: The Vegas ownership offers an unusual amount of control to its coaches, particularly those of the Rockstar variety. It’s a fit that makes sense. Harbaugh left the Niners in the first place thanks to a power struggle. In Vegas, he would be handed everything.
Who I’d pick: Jim Harbaugh
Who I think will land the job: Jim Harbaugh