Tom Oates: NFL, college ranks offer plenty of candidates — each with doubts — to be next Packers coach
Two weeks after the Green Bay Packers fired Mike McCarthy, their coaching search has generated no headlines and tons of conjecture.
No obvious candidates have surfaced publicly, which isn’t surprising. Team president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst can’t talk to coaches from other NFL teams until the season is over and college coaches wouldn’t dare get involved until after Dec. 19, the early signing date for recruits.
So far, many names have been reported as candidates for the job. Some are legitimate, some are longshots, some are figments of overactive imaginations. Assuming Brett Favre and Condoleezza Rice aren’t on the Packers’ short list, here are some names to consider:
Although the Packers can’t talk to currently employed NFL coaches, discussions assuredly are being held via back channels. More than anything, Green Bay needs creative thinking on offense and the latest rage in the NFL is to raid teams that have cutting-edge schemes for young, innovative offensive minds. Unfortunately for the Packers, the supply is a bit low after Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Pat Shurmur and Matt Nagy were snapped up in the last two hiring cycles. Still, with 35-year-old Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, hiring an offensive-minded coach should be their desired course.
Joe Philbin, Packers interim coach: Murphy and Gutekunst went out of their way to say Philbin, the interim coach, would be a candidate for the job and that appears to be the case. His failure as coach of the Dolphins notwithstanding, Philbin is highly respected in the building. The big question: Would he be cutting-edge enough on offense or was he part of the problem this season?
Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator: McDaniels is a brilliant offensive coach and could mesh well with Rodgers after working with Tom Brady all these years.
Still, someone must account for those two seasons as coach of the Broncos because they were an utter failure. A bigger question is whether a team can trust McDaniels after he accepted the Colts coaching job last year and then backed out. What if the Packers waited for McDaniels and he reneged at the 11th hour, leaving them high and dry late in the hiring cycle?
John DeFilippo, former Vikings offensive coordinator: DeFilippo was a rising star after serving as quarterbacks coach of the NFL champion Eagles last season, but the Vikings offense regressed under him this season, then coach Mike Zimmer fired him two weeks ago. Hiring a coach who just got gassed by their rival would be a tough sell for the Packers, though Zimmer does have a history of meddling with offensive coordinators. On the other hand, DeFilippo tends to forget about the running game, and we all know how Packers fans feel about that.
John Harbaugh, Ravens head coach: There is speculation Harbaugh and the Ravens might part ways after the season, though that could change because they are still in the playoff hunt. If available, Harbaugh would be tempting because he has won a Super Bowl and is a CEO-type who could conceivably bring in a young offensive coordinator.
Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator: The Chiefs’ last two offensive coordinators — the Eagles’ Doug Pedersen and the Bears’ Nagy — are drawing rave reviews and, under Bieniemy, the offense has become even more dynamic this season. Although coach Andy Reid calls the plays, Bieniemy is intimately involved with the most cutting-edge offense in the NFL.
Zac Taylor, Rams quarterback coach: Taylor has learned from McVay the past two seasons and is in tune with modern NFL offenses. Taylor is the same age as Rodgers, however, and that would be a less-than-ideal situation.
Pete Carmichael, Saints offensive coordinator: Long overshadowed by coach Sean Payton, Carmichael has seen first-hand how the Saints offense has changed over time yet remained one of the NFL’s most potent. He might be ready to go out on his own.
Matt LeFleur, Titans offensive coordinator: After serving as McVay’s offensive coordinator last season, LeFleur has struggled a bit now that the offense is all his own in Tennessee.
Hiring college coaches is risky business. Very few have had success in the NFL and most of those who did had some NFL coaching experience. Jimmy Johnson is the only pure college coach hired in the last 30 years who had lasting NFL success. Tom Coughlin, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh came from the college ranks, but all had extensive NFL backgrounds before than. And for every Jimmy Johnson, there are NFL failures such as Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Chip Kelly, Lou Holtz, Dennis Erickson and Bobby Petrino.
Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma: He’s 35, innovative and has had college football’s most explosive offenses in his two seasons as coach, which puts him at the top of everyone’s list. Even if the Packers could get him out of Oklahoma, which is no given, they might have to stand in line because Riley might prefer the Browns, where he would be reunited with his former quarterback, Baker Mayfield. More drawbacks? He has zero NFL experience and his defenses have been awful.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: The connections are obvious. As Northwestern’s athletic director, Murphy elevated Fitzgerald to coach a week after Randy Walker died unexpectedly before the 2006 season. Fitzgerald’s background is defense and his offenses have been bland, but he’s a CEO-type coach, which might appeal to the Packers. It might also be difficult to pry Fitzgerald out of Northwestern, his alma mater. As with most college coaches who lack NFL experience, you wonder if hardened pros will buy into his rah-rah act.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan: Harbaugh checks many boxes for the Packers, having won at Stanford and Michigan and, in between, leading the 49ers to two Super Bowls in a four-year run. It might not matter, though, because Harbaugh has said he has unfinished business at Michigan, his alma mater. He’s also known for not playing well with others, which is not the Packers’ way.
Nick Saban, Alabama: This is more wishful thinking than anything else. Saban flopped with the Dolphins, but Carroll and Bill Belichick have shown a coach can learn from a failed experience and find success when given another chance. Some would rightly worry that Saban’s totalitarian style wouldn’t fly in the NFL.
Other names have been floating about, including Stanford’s David Shaw, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Saints tight ends coach Dan Campbell and Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard. But for one reason or another, they seem like longshots at best.