The San Francisco 49ers reportedly tabbed Jim O'Neil as Eric Mangini's replacement as the team's defensive coordinator on Tuesday, per CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo confirmed the report.
O'Neil worked at the college level from 2001 to 2008 and joined the New York Jets as a defensive backs coach in 2009. After being the Buffalo Bills' linebackers coach in 2013, he spent the last two seasons as the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator.
This news is unlikely to go down well in the Bay Area. The Browns ranked 27th in total defense (379.2 YPG) and 29th in scoring defense (27.0 PPG) in 2015, with both figures representing a step backward. Cleveland was 23rd in yards allowed (366.1 YPG) and ninth in points allowed (21.1 PPG) in 2014.
Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod is starting to question 49ers head coach Chip Kelly's judgment when it comes to filling out a coaching staff:
In his two NFL head coaching stops, Chip Kelly has hired Pat Shurmur and Jim O'Neil as coordinators. Can someone get this guy Sunday Ticket?— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) January 26, 2016
ESPN Cleveland's Danny Cunningham saw plenty of O'Neil's work with the Browns and isn't optimistic about his potential in San Francisco:
If Jim O'Neil lands the 49ers DC gig I would bet the over for every game they play.— Danny Cunningham (@DCunninghamCLE) January 25, 2016
Brent Sobleski of B/R believes Kelly and O'Neil could make for a toxic combination:
Chip Kelly's offense paired w/Jim O'Neil's defense would be unstoppable & not in good way. Like Denzel trying to stop runaway freight train— Brent Sobleski (@brentsobleski) January 25, 2016
Some might question why the 49ers would target O'Neil since his old head coach, Mike Pettine, was also available. Pettine would've been a great fit in San Francisco, having already shown his worth as a defensive coordinator with the Jets and Bills. On Jan. 24, however, B/R's Jason Cole reported Pettine was looking to take a year off, which likely removed him from consideration.
Next year's 49ers will certainly be a departure from the defensive-minded teams of the Jim Harbaugh era. Kelly was bound to bring a more fast-paced offensive style, and a high-octane offense might be necessary if O'Neil's work in Cleveland is any indication as to how the 49ers defense will perform.
Much of Kelly's success in San Francisco will hinge on the assistants with whom he surrounds himself. Between hiring O'Neil and naming Curtis Modkins, the Detroit Lions' former running backs coach, the 49ers' new offensive coordinator, Kelly is banking on two relatively unproven coordinators to help him turn the team's fortunes around in 2016.