The Jets are about to start the single most important coaching search in their tortured existence.
Now that they finally have a franchise quarterback, the mission is clear: Don’t screw him up.
To that end, the powers that be must hire a true leader to galvanize the franchise. The notion that Todd Bowles must be replaced with some sort of offensive play-calling genius is misguided.
The Jets need a strong face of the franchise with a clear vision and purpose who can assemble a quality staff that includes a quarterbacks guru to cultivate Sam Darnold’s prodigious talent.
This star-crossed outfit needs a smart communicator who knows how to identify the best personnel for his schemes, develop talent and works well with others.
The candidate pool has undergone scrutiny. Is it the worst in memory? Is it really slim pickings?
There’s a fear of the unknown so it’s not surprising that the perception that it’s a thin crop during this coaching cycle has taken on a life of its own. The truth is that there are quality candidates. You just have to put in the resources and research to find them.
The smart and creative organizations bent on doing real work on the candidates will ultimately be rewarded. CEO Christopher Johnson and GM Mike Maccagnan have the enormous responsibility of finding the right person for the job.
Here are five candidates who merit strong consideration:
Dan Campbell | Saints assistant head coach/tight ends coach
Campbell has the leadership traits to thrive, according to NFL insiders. He’d be the quintessential CEO coach to set a vision for Gang Green: A tough leader who would give his offensive and defensive play-callers autonomy to run their schemes.
“When he walks in the room,” one respected front office executive said, “You feel his presence.”
Campbell has 10 years of playing experience and eight years coaching in the league. His 12-game stint as the Dolphins interim head coach in 2015 will be invaluable. Campbell went 5-7 as a 39-year-old in charge.
“I’m impressed with him,” one general manager said. “Smart guy. Thoughtful guy. Can he handle game-management, clock management and situational football? The number of games that are won and lost in those areas is staggering in the NFL.”
Campbell interviewed for the Colts job after Josh McDaniels left them high and dry this offseason. League insiders praise Campbell’s energy, discipline (he’s a Bill Parcells disciple) and accountability. Some league insiders have expressed questions about Campbell’s ability to assemble a top-notch staff.
“The question of him putting together a staff is interesting,” a second general manager said. “But I’ve heard really good things about him as a leader. Tough-a-- mentality. He could probably handle the New York media. They’d probably love him.”
Campbell, frankly, should be one of the Jets’ first interviews. If he can put together a quality staff that includes a cutting-edge coordinator for Darnold, he’d be a hard guy to pass on.
Matt Campbell | Iowa State head coach
It’s a leap of faith to go with a 39-year-old college coach with no NFL experience, but Campbell has drawn rave reviews from every NFL personnel man that I’ve talked to recently. He’s a rising star in the eyes of league talent evaluators.
Campbell would be a terrific CEO and face of the franchise. He’s a detail-oriented leader who has proven to be able to work well with others at Toledo and Iowa State. His ability to identify the right players and develop them will serve him well in the NFL.
“He’s got a really good understanding of personnel: what he wants in a player and how they fit into the scheme,” one scout said. “He’s really good with that. He’s won with guys that he’s gone out and developed. He’s won at both spots (Toledo and Iowa State). He’s got a great presence to him when he speaks. He’s got a natural command.”
General managers and talent evaluators are exceedingly impressed with Campbell’s organizational skills and ability to galvanize a room. They see him as a man of substance.
“Look at what he's done everywhere,” a general manager said. “He's gone in and built a winning culture, a winning program, and above all, a winning roster. He runs a well-coordinated operation, provides good leadership and communicates his expectations well. He’s also able to build relationships.”
There might be a larger margin for error with Campbell, but the payoff could be massive. People in the know think that it’s a matter of when – not if – Campbell will be a successful NFL head coach.
One smart franchise is going to strike gold with Campbell.
Will the Jets play it safe or think outside the box?
Matt Rhule | Baylor head coach
Rhule’s ability to turn around two college programs and exposure to the NFL make him an intriguing candidate. The Colts interviewed Rhule last season before ultimately landing Frank Reich.
Rhule, a former college linebacker, has coached on both sides of the ball. He turned around Temple’s program (back-to-back 10-win seasons for the only time in school history) before going to Baylor in the wake of the sexual assault scandal under Art Briles.
Rhule endured a one-win season before Baylor made the largest improvement among all Power 5 conference clubs this season. Baylor’s win in the Texas Bowl last week capped a 7-6 campaign for the energetic coach.
“He runs a pro-style system with enough college variation to it that he could adapt,” one NFL talent evaluator said. “When he was at Temple, he had some teams that would run basic power football, but they would also run some variations of spread with it.”
A second scout praised Rhule’s ability to move from Baylor’s traditional spread scheme to one with more run-based elements.
“He adapts his scheme to his personnel,” the scout said. “It’s a tough transition going from a pure spread team to having a philosophy to be able to run the ball. He’s done a nice job of being able to balance it this year.”
Vic Fangio | Bears Defensive Coordinator
Maybe the 60-year-old Fangio will turn out to be the defensive version of Bruce Arians, a respected coordinator who was passed over for head coaching jobs time and time again before he finally got his shot… and ran with it.
Regardless, interviewing Fangio would be one of the smartest decisions that the Jets could make during this process. Why? It’s simple. How often do you have an opportunity to bring smart football minds into your building to honestly assess your roster?
What better way to get more honest information on Darnold and the rest of the offensive personnel than to ask Fangio, who stymied the Jets in Week 8 (without Khalil Mack, by the way)?
Fangio has been one of the most respected defensive minds for the better part of four decades. For all the chatter about the Jets interest in Jim Harbaugh, smart folks around the league know that Fangio’s defenses with the Niners were what really made those teams go.
The second smartest decision that the Bears made this offseason after hiring Matt Nagy? Keeping Fangio, who has been the architect of one of the stingiest defenses in the league this season.
Mike McCarthy | Former Packers head coach
McCarthy is highly regarded in league circles despite his ouster earlier this month, but league insiders don’t believe he’s going to the Jets for myriad reasons.
First, there’s the Maccagnan Factor.
“It would be interesting to see the dynamic between Mike McCarthy and Mike Maccagnan,” one general manager said. “That doesn’t seem like a match made in heaven to me.”
Then, there’s the money issue. McCarthy would command around $7 million per year. (He’d get paid that much from the Packers if he sat out in 2019). Woody Johnson typically pays coaches $4-5 million per year.
Would the Jets really pony up $7 million per year for McCarthy?
“Woody Johnson is not going to pay that much,” another GM said.
Perhaps McCarthy would coach on 50 cents on the dollar to mold Darnold. Or perhaps he knows what he’s worth and moves on to Arizona or Tampa.
McCarthy played an integral role in helping fix Aaron Rodgers’ mechanics early in his career before the relationship soured due to an increasingly difficult-to-manage superstar quarterback, according to league sources.
His .618 regular-season winning percentage is impressive, but how the heck did he only get to one Super Bowl in 13 seasons with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Rodgers and Brett Favre?
“He’s a good football coach,” said a third GM. “The thing about someone like him is… When you get some coaches that have been in one place for a long while – and they want to jump right back into it—you don’t know which version you’re getting. Are you getting the Andy Reid version, who still has the fire in the belly and wants to get it done? You don’t know.”
McCarthy reportedly turned down the Cardinals’ offer to take full control over their wayward franchise, so it appears unlikely that he’d want to come to the Jets.
MORE MEHTA MUSINGS
1) Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would obviously be a solid candidate, but there’s exactly a zero percent chance that he would take a job with the Jets… unless he wants to be ostracized by Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft. (Spoiler: He does not).
2) If Washington fires Jay Gruden and/or Miami whacks Adam Gase, the Jets better bring them in for a chat.