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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Who Will Jed and Trent Hire? Who's Willing to Work for Them?

The 49ers didn't waste anytime firing Jim Tomsula. Two hours after the end of the final game of the season, they relieved him of his head coaching duties. The question now becomes, who will they hire? Or rather, who would be willing to work for an organization that  was dumb enough to fire Jim Harbaugh. As Dan Wetzel recently noted ("49ers' boss 'hears criticism,' including salty tweet from Harbaugh") its hard to find a great coach and you should hold on to them when you do:
NFL franchises generally wander about in search of one of two things – a great coach and a great quarterback. When you get one, you cling to them and deal with whatever baggage they may bring. When you have two you can win it all. When you have them for a prolonged stretch, you become the New England Patriots (or the old 49ers).
Not Niner CEO Jed York, though. He and his co-conspirator GM Trent Baalke apparently think (or, at least, though) they know more about football than anyone else, and who wants to work for someone like that. Still, someone will. Here is a list of possible candidates (not in any particular order except the last one):

Josh Daniels -- Currently the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots where he runs an offense Chip Kelly helped design (albeit for an immobile quarterback), Daniels had a relatively unsuccessful stint as the Denver Broncos' head coach from 2009-2010 (he drafted Tim Tebow in the first round). Before that he was an offensive assistant for the Patriots. Apparently the Niners approached him last year about the job, but he wasn't too interested. If he were to leave New England, that would open the door for Chip Kelly to sign on as the Patriots' offensive coordinator (see below).

Hue Jackson -- The 49ers have already requested permission to interview Jackson, who is currently the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals and was the Raiders head coach in 2011 (he was fired after one year following an 8-8 season -- a record the Raiders haven't surpassed since). This will be the second time in five years the 49ers have spoken to Jackson about the head coaching position. The first time was in 2011 when he was the Raiders' offensive coordinator. The Niners ended up hiring Jim Harbaugh instead, and Jackson became Oakland's head coach.

Chip Kelly -- I can't imagine Kelly working well with Baalke since both want total control over personnel decisions. That said, since Kelly was recently fired for what are perceived to be poor personnel decisions, he may be willing to forgo some power for coaching a potentially very good team. A Kelly hire could resurrect the career of Colin Kaepernick, who would probably feel right at home with Kelly's system since he ran a similar one in college. Kelly might also work well with someone like Memphis QB Paxton Lynch (a projected first round pick). In fact, the Niners could draft Lynch and let him play behind Blaine Gabbert (or Kap) for a season or so and slowly work him into the starting quarterback position. Still, I think Kelly would be better off signing on with the Tennessee Titans, so that he can be reunited with Marcus Mariota, who probably knows his system better than any player on the planet. An even smarter decision on his part would be to spend a few years as the offensive coordinator for an NFL team (New England Patriots if Josh Daniels leaves) before taking another head coaching position in the NFL. He could then learn from one of the best on how to manage young men who get paid enormous amounts of money to play a violent sport.

Rob Chudzinski -- Chudzinski is currently the offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts and was the Cleveland Browns head coach in 2013 (4-12). The Niners tried to interview him last year but were denied. I'm not sure how attractive a candidate he is given how the Colts offense floundered this year, but it may not be Cghudzinski's fault that the Colts' offensive line was terrible. Plus, he didn't take over the offensive coordinator position until November 3rd when the previous coordinator was fired. Not my first choice but since he is unlikely to be as "hot" a candidate as some of the others, he may be willing to take the 49ers' job.

Anthony Lynn -- Lynn is a former NFL running back who played for the 49ers from 1995-1996. He's currently the assistant head coach and running backs coach under Rex Ryan. In fact, he's worked for Ryan since 2009 when Ryan hired him as his running backs coach while with the New York Jets. The fact that he is neither an offensive nor defensive coordinator is a strike against him, in my opinion, especially after what happened this past year when the Niners elevated Tomsula from his defensive line coaching position to head coach. Still, the Niners plan to interview him ("49ers to interview Anthony Lynn, Bills assistant HC/RB coach"), so you never know. Because he's even less "hot" of a candidate than Chudzinski, he may be one of the few who's willing to sign with the Niners.

Adam Gase -- Conventional wisdom has it that Gase, currently the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, will be a hot property in the offseason because of his work with Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler ("Eagles, Browns, Dolphins all expected to chase Adam Gase").
Gase emerged as a hot candidate based on his work with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, an effort that came after three years of working with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. Gase’s ability to thrive with a quarterback having a reputation of caring too much immediately followed by a quarterback having a reputation for caring too little bolsters the perception that Gase can get the most out of any quarterback.
Evidently, Baalke had Gase lined up as the Niners' head coach last year, but Jed York (in all his wisdom) insisted that Gase hire Tomsula as his defensive coordinator, Gase ran the other way. I can't imagine him reconsidering his decision to flee from York and Baalke when there are several and far less dysfunctional teams out there chasing him.

David Shaw -- Stanford's head coach has repeatedly said that he has not interest in leaving Stanford. He likes the area and where his kids are attending school. Plus, he's a Stanford alumnus. Thus, it is unlikely that he will leave Stanford for the NFL. However, if he were to consider leaving, he'd probably only leave for the 49ers since he and his family could stay local. The jump from the college ranks to the NFL is not always easy, however, as Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, and Chip Kelly discovered. Moreover, Shaw has had a ringside seat to the 49er implosion and probably remains in contact with Harbaugh, so why would he want to work for the Niners?

Sean Payton -- Payton is an intriguing possibility given his success in building great offensive teams (it does help to have Drew Brees at the helm, of course). Plus he's won a Super Bowl, and both he and Baalke were mentored by Bill Parcells. However, he's still under contract with the Saints, so the 49ers might have to give up a compensatory draft pick (probably second-round) to get him, and that may be a higher cost than the Niners are willing to incur. Also, Payton might want more power than York and Baalke are willing to part with. Still, if the Niners did hire Payton, he probably could dictate what the Niners did in the first round of the draft. He would almost certainly want to draft a top QB -- Jared Goff from Cal, in particular. The Niners would probably have to trade up in the draft to get Goff (the Browns have expressed interest), something that Baalke has been loathe to do in the past. But, if the Niners go all in with Payton, they probably won't have a choice.

Mike Shanahan -- Shanahan is the NFL's 11th winningest coach and won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos. He was also the 49ers offensive coordinator the last time the Niners won a Super Bowl. His tenure with the Redskins (2010-2013) wasn't terribly successful, but that wasn't entirely his fault. He would certainly be an upgrade from Tomsula. I doubt he'd sign on with the Niners without being granted some control over personnel decisions, something that Baalke may be reluctant to give up. Plus, York and Baalke may think he's too old (see comments on Mike Holmgren below).

Mike Holmgren -- Holmgren is my favorite pick. He's from the Bay Area, and he worked as the Niner offensive coordinator from 1989-1991. He was also head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1992-1998 and the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks from 1999-2008. With the former he won a Super Bowl in 1996, and he almost won one for the Seahawks in 2006. Holmgren would bring some much needed class back to the 49ers, and he may possess the political wherewithal to work with Trent Baalke. With a little luck, he could push Baalke out of a job and eventually take over the GM position. As others have noted, he's just interested in coaching and doesn’t have interest in personnel power ("Hire Holmgren? Ex-coach has strong interest in 49ers’ potential opening"). He has already expressed interest in the job ("Report: Mike Holmgren is interested in coaching the 49ers"); in fact, he expressed interested in it last year, but York and Baalke told him they wanted someone younger. Hopefully, they won't be so stupid this year.

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