Well, it was bound to happen. Despite their strong finish to the season, which included upsets of the Los Angeles Rams and the Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets are expected to part ways with Adam Gase. Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero broke the news Saturday afternoon before the season finale:
The next head coach is going to inherit a roster that needs help on both sides of the football and faces a decision at quarterback. Do the Jets try and rebuild Sam Darnold in the wake of Gase’s tenure or do they take their pick of quarterback two on their board? Either way, an offensive-minded head coach with a record of quarterback development would be wise.
Or, perhaps a defensive wizard with ringing endorsements from his current players?
Whichever road the Jets choose, here are the best candidates for the job.
Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs
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We start with the name most commonly mentioned in this cycle of potential head coaching hires. Eric Bieniemy should be at the top of the list for every team putting together a list of candidates to interview, and the New York Jets should be no different. Whether the team decides to rebuild around Sam Darnold or develop a rookie quarterback, Bieniemy can handle either situation. During his time as Andy Reid’s right-hand man, they have transformed the Kansas City offense into something that is quite possibly out-of-this-world. Reid’s traditional West Coast system has been rejuvenated with vertical concepts, screen designs and all sorts of ways to attack a defense. Now yes, Patrick Mahomes has something to do with that, but Bieniemy’s influence – such as dusting off 1948 Rose Bowl film for a play that the Chiefs used in the Super Bowl – cannot be understated. If the Jets build around Darnold, or decide to roll with Zach Wilson or Justin Fields, Bieniemy is a great fit.
Brian Daboll, offensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills
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Whether the Jets rebuild around Sam Darnold or try and develop a new quarterback, Brian Daboll has to be on their list of candidates. After all, who in the NFL right now has a better resume of QB development than the Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator? Daboll can point to the MVP candidacy of Josh Allen and that might be enough alone to get him a job. Beyond that, look at the two other spots on Daboll’s resume: Time in Alabama under Nick Saban, and time in New England under Bill Belichick. Think he’s picked up a thing or two about leading an organization and winning football games? Plus, hiring him away from the Bills would be a bit of a coup for the Jets, as Buffalo looks to be the new dominant force in the East.
Arthur Smith, offensive coordinator, Tennessee Titans
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Arthur Smith was able to do for Ryan Tannehill what Adam Gase could not: Turn him into an upper-tier quarterback. Smith has constructed an offensive system around Tannehill that plays to his strengths, implements play-action the right way, and brings out the best in the veteran passer. Things that Gase could not do when he had Tannehill as his quarterback with the Miami Dolphins. So perhaps Smith is the choice to do that again, only this time with Sam Darnold. You can see how that offense would be beneficial for Darnold, giving him some isolated reads and throws off of play-action and the RPO game, and getting favorable matchups in the secondary due to heavy boxes. Sure, Joe Douglas would need to fill in the pieces around Darnold, but that offense could be the saving grace for the young QB. Or, if the organization goes down a different path and looks to bring in a rookie QB, that offensive system would be quite the crutch for the new quarterback as he learns the NFL ropes. Either way, Smith should be on the list of candidates for the Jets.
Pep Hamilton, quarterbacks coach, Los Angeles Chargers
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Sure, Brian Daboll might have the best “quarterback development” type of resume right now in the NFL thanks to the success of Josh Allen, but if I’m in charge of a team looking to bring along a young QB, Pep Hamilton is perhaps my second phone call. Hamilton and Shane Steichen have done a tremendous job as the quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator in Los Angeles, bringing along Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. The former Oregon Ducks passer looks light years ahead of where he was coming out of the Pac-12. From how he handles pressure in the pocket, how he attacks leverage in the secondary, and how he forces defenses to change what they do against the Chargers, Herbert is the real deal. Now there might be an opportunity for both Hamilton and Steichen to get head coaching looks, perhaps even in Los Angeles depending on how the organization handles Anthony Lynn. But Hamilton has seen time as a head coach, as he served in that capacity with Washington’s XFL franchise before the league folded last spring. That combination of quarterback development and experience makes him an extremely strong candidate in my mind.
Robert Saleh, defensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
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Given that the New York Jets are either: Going to draft a quarterback and need to develop him, or try and fix Sam Darnold, the offensive-minded head coach route seems the path forward for the organization. But some team is going to hire Robert Saleh as their next head coach and be damn glad they did. Despite the ups-and-downs in San Francisco this season Saleh has kept that defense playing at a solid level. When Richard Sherman comes out and bangs the table for Saleh as a head coach, people should pay attention: https://twitter.com/BillyM_91/status/1333215807007023105 Hiring Saleh to turn around the organization (and perhaps pairing him with Pep Hamilton as the offensive coordinator) might be a wise path forward for the Jets.
Doug Pederson, head coach, Philadelphia Eagles
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Here is the “slightly out of left field” candidate. Doug Pederson is the only candidate on this list currently a head coach in the NFL. But who knows how much longer that is going to be the case? Pederson stated recently that he “anticipates” being back with the Philadelphia Eagles next season, but that could change in the blink of an eye. The Eagles went through a bit of a transition this season at quarterback, and with the organization missing the playoffs fingers are started to be pointed. Some are directed towards Howie Roseman, others towards quarterback Carson Wentz, and even some towards ownership. But many look at what Pederson has done – or failed to do – and think the buck should stop there. Should the Eagles make a change, Pederson might be the easy decision for Joe Douglas. The two worked together for three seasons in Philadelphia, and some of Pederson’s recent comments about personnel decisions the past few years since Douglas’s departure have me thinking a reunion could be in store.