Fans have reasons to believe that certain coaches will never have any interest in coming, that candidates are overrated, or that candidates don’t focus on the side of the football that they should to help make up for their team’s primary deficiencies. There isn’t a single coaching candidate that has been discussed to take Chuck Pagano’s spot in Indianapolis that doesn’t fit in one of those categories for a contingent of the Colts fan base.
Lines get blurry when predicted coaching vacancies pop up as it becomes difficult to attach weight to reports from NFL insiders. For example, Ian Rapoport reported on NFL Gameday this morning that he thinks Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels will be at the top of Chris Ballard’s list and that Chiefs Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub would also be high on the list. Rapoport also wrote a story that included Chiefs Offensive Coordinator Matt Nagy on his list.
What fans are unable to know is how much of this is pure conjecture and how much of it is based upon things Rapoport has been hearing from any sources he might have in Indianapolis? If it is pure conjecture, fan speculation is just as valuable. If there is something more, it could help project near-term interviews as Ballard sets out to find his new head coach.
Earlier this week, Matt Danely and I hosted a live podcast where we discussed a rather impressive list of potential coaching candidates. Since that time, additional candidates have started coming to the surface. An incomplete list of those candidates includes:
REPORTED TOP CANDIDATES
Josh McDaniels – Patriots Offensive Coordinator
Dave Toub – Chiefs Special Teams Coach
Matt Nagy – Chiefs Offensive Coordinator – Fast riser (Intern to Quality Control Coach to QB Coach to Offensive Coordinator between 08-17)
Tom Cable - Seahawks Offensive Line Coach
FORMER HEAD COACHES
Pat Shurmur – Vikings Offensive Coordinator
Todd Haley – Steelers Offensive Coordinator
Dennis Allen – Saints Defensive Coordinator
Jim Schwartz – Eagles Defensive Coordinator
Jim Harbaugh - University of Michigan Head Coach
FORMER COLTS CONNECTIONS
Frank Reich – Eagles Offensive Coordinator - With Colts from 2008-’11
Jim Bob Cooter – Lions Offensive Coordinator – Offensive assistant w/Colts (2009-’11)
OTHER PRIME COACHING CANDIDATES
John DeFilippo – Eagles QB Coach (Read this story by Ben Solak of Bleeding Green Nation)
Matt Patricia – Patriots Defensive Coordinator
Matt LaFleur – Rams Offensive Coordinator
Mike Vrabel – Texans Defensive Coordinator
Before we dig in, we need to provide a bit of a rules backdrop. Any of the coaches listed would be eligible to interview for head coaching vacancies. For coaches who are in the playoffs, their team would have to grant permission. Additionally, any coach who is also an assistant would need to wait until they are out of the playoffs.
Additionally, if one of the named candidates gets the head coaching position in Indianapolis, he will need to fill his coordinator spot and some of the other men in this list could be top candidates for those positions. However, no candidate can take a lateral position unless their team is willing to part ways. As such, any current coordinator would need to be offered the title of assistant coach before he could accept an offer from Ballard and his new head coach.
WHY JOSH MCDANIELS?
I have heard all of the reasons why there is concern about adding McDaniels to the equation. Some fans will simply dislike McDaniels as a candidate as he is currently with the New England Patriots. Some will point to his failed head coaching tenure in Denver that last only two seasons. Others might be concerned that his success has been contingent upon pairing up with Tom Brady and coaching under Bill Belichick. While all of these concerns are valid, I think positives vastly outweigh the negatives.
McDaniels has had the benefit of learning under Belichick. He has had experience working with one of the marquee quarterbacks in all of the NFL. He has held the reins to an offense that is drastically different than the one the Colts have utilized through Andrew Luck’s career, one that will help Luck get the ball out of his hands faster and will setup long passes by punishing defenses when they’re so willing to give up short ones.
McDaniels is a tactician. There is nothing this fan base has been begging for more since Luck was drafted than better in-game tactics. He is aggressive on fourth downs and short-yardage situations. He has led an offense that will enter a high gear and push the tempo to get defenses tired and keep match-ups on the field that he likes.
As for his shortcomings in 2009 and 2010, there are a variety of legitimate and possibly foreseeable explanations for his failures in Denver. To start with, he was only 33 years old and given the reins to an NFL franchise. He wasn’t just the head coach but he also had wide latitude in personnel decisions through free agency and the draft. In some respects, he was given too much responsibility and setup for failure.
He was also understandably over-confident in his abilities as any 33-year-old NFL coaching prodigy would be. He needed to be knocked down a notch and take a serious look at his weaknesses and identify his blind spots. He has spoken about his experiences as a head coach and comes across as a guy who realizes that he still had much to learn and who has taken the time to carefully pick his spot before he gives it another shot as a head coach.
The reality is, Luck’s career could be extended by the offensive system McDaniels would bring along with him. Denver had no quarterback like Luck who could step right in and make his offense click. This could benefit Luck, the offensive line, create offensive balance, and even make it easier to utilize more team resources on building the defense due to an offensive scheme that should be friendlier for most skill positions (the Patriots have rarely required All-Pro receivers or running backs to get the job done).
WHO TO PAIR WITH HIM?
John DeFilippo - Offensive Coordinator
On the offensive side of the ball, McDaniels needs a player developer to compliment his tactical approach. I think it would be more appropriate to have a younger offensive mind who is also on the rise and who can step off of the field and into the war room to test McDaniels and keep his offensive development fresh. He will want someone who want immediately try to threaten his authority from a play-calling perspective as well. The candidate that tops my list for this role is Eagles QB Coach John DeFilippo.
If you were among those who thought Carson Wentz would turn into an NFL MVP candidate in his sophomore season, raise your hand. I suspect that group is rather small outside of those who were die-hard fans in college or Eagles fans who were hoping for the best. There is no doubt that DeFilippo played an important role in developing Wentz and preparing him to make a huge second-year leap as an NFL quarterback.
Pairing someone who worked that kind of magic with Luck to get him up to speed and quickly ready to work within a new offense is ideal. Additionally, any coach who is able to get through to a young player in that way DeFilippo did with Wentz this season is likely the kind of coach who can help develop other young offensive players. This is an ideal complement for McDaniels, and the two of them working together could turn into something magical.
Mike Vrabel - Defensive Coordinator/Assistant Head Coach
On the defensive side of the ball, McDaniels will need a guy who he can trust explicitly. This will need to be someone who will run a defense he is comfortable coaching, that he can have some familiarity with, and he needs to focus on making this coach a guy who will command the respect of players on that side of the football. In keeping with the young theme, I have pegged Mike Vrabel as the ideal candidate for the defensive coordinator position.
As we already discussed, however, he will need to get a promotion to be eligible to take this spot. This works out excellently because McDaniels and Vrabel are so familiar with one another and have worked together for so long that there should be a great deal of trust established. For McDaniels to get his top choice and to keep the defensive system that he is familiar with from New England on his new team should be ideal.
Vrabel has been a leader throughout his entire career. His individual accomplishments will get the respect of his players. His team accomplishments will allow him to speak from experience to players who want to get there themselves. The assistant coaching position will help him build his own resume and put him in a strong position for potential head coaching opportunities down the line.
Now, I get it, going this route is putting a great deal of responsibility on coaches who are light on head coaching experience and light on coordinating experience. In some respects, it might feel too familiar for fans to get behind it. Additionally, this scenario is a long shot. Still, I can’t help but feel that this pairing could do some special things.
Who is your top head coaching prospect?
Who should be the next Colts head coach?
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Jim Bob Cooter