Uninspiring Candidate List Part of Ill-Conceived Oakland Raiders Coaching Search

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystDecember 31, 2014

The Raiders are considering keeping Tony Sparano after he went 3-9 as interim head coach.
The Raiders are considering keeping Tony Sparano after he went 3-9 as interim head coach.Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Oakland Raiders fired Dennis Allen in September, so they’ve had three months to map out a strategy for hiring their next head coach. It appears that plan was for owner Mark Davis to bat his eyelashes at Jim Harbaugh from across the bay for months, throw money at him at the last minute and pray.

The ill-conceived plan to land Harbaugh has the Raiders back to square one. They now have to compete with all the other teams for candidates, they won’t be at the front of the line and they aren’t going to be the favorites if any of them get multiple offers, in all likelihood.

If there is some sort of vision for the future of the Raiders, it’s not clear from the way they’ve started the coaching search. Above all, the Raiders need someone capable of attracting top free agents that the players also respect from day one, but there aren’t any of those types of coaches on the list.

One thing is for sure: The Raiders don’t seem to want a hot, young coordinator like Allen was when they plucked him from the Denver Broncos three years ago, which means hiring someone with head coaching experience. In the NFL, an available candidate with experience as a head coach also has the experience of losing that job.

So the list of candidates the Raiders are interested in reads like a bad joke. It starts with interim head coach Tony Sparano and somehow gets worse with Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and San Francisco 49ers special assistant Eric Mangini. Then there’s Mike Holmgren, who hasn’t coached since 2008.

If Harbaugh was a Hail Mary, the other candidates are somewhere between a draw up the middle and a two-yard pass on 3rd-and-10. They all work sometimes, but very rarely.

CoachTeam(s)WinsLossesPoint Differential Rank
Pat ShurmurBrowns92327, 24
Eric ManginiJets, Browns334712, 22, 12, 27, 23
Jack Del RioJaguars687122, 18, 8, 5, 7, 24, 25, 24, 26
Mike HolmgrenPackers, Seahawks16111114, 7, 4, 5, 1, 3, 7, 12, 25, 16, 19, 10, 16, 2, 15, 8, 26
Tony SparanoDolphins, Raiders324116, 20, 22, 14, 26, 32
Rex Ryan*Jets46507, 8, 15, 26, 26, 26
Pro-Football-Reference.com (* Not Yet Candidate)

Of those candidates, only Holmgren had a winning record as head coach, but he’s also 66. It’s as uninspiring of a list as anyone could have imagined, and there isn’t much time to recover.

It’s still early in the process, but typically teams like to have their head coach in place by the time the Senior Bowl practices start in a little over two weeks. The Raiders should have sent out requests to interview dozens of candidates on Monday if they planned to conduct an extensive coaching search. At least then, the uninspiring candidates would be lumped in with candidates with more pizzazz.  

The Raiders may be inexplicably slow out of the gate, they may lack vision and they may not have a great plan, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make a good hire. Foreboding as it may be, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.  

According to Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas, the Raiders have requested to interview Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. They’ve also asked for permission to interview Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, a sign that they are moving in the right direction. Outside of Bowles’ few games as interim head coach at the end of Sparano’s tenure in Miami, neither of them have experience with the top job.

Bowles is a hot name, interviewed with the Raiders three years ago and worked with general manager Reggie McKenzie with the Green Bay Packers in the 1990s. He would be a natural fit, but he may have better options because he’ll also interview with other teams.

Over the last two years, Bowles has coordinated one of the best defenses in the league without great talent in a tough division. With the exception of a quick stop in Philadelphia in 2012, Hamilton has been part of defenses that consistently rank in the top half of the league.  

Even Bowles’ stop in Philadelphia could be a positive for the Raiders. Bowles worked under the head coach Andy Reid there, who now works alongside John Dorsey in Kansas City. Reid got his start in Green Bay like McKenzie, and Dorsey worked with McKenzie for years there. The NFL is typically about connections, and the force is strong with this one.

Hamilton is an interesting name because he worked with defensive coordinator Jason Tarver while he was at Stanford. Hamilton’s offense was 15th in the league last year in both yards and points, but he has improved to sixth in points and third in yards in 2014.

The worry with Hamilton is that most of his success is due to quarterback Andrew Luck’s development, but that could be why the Raiders are interested. Developing quarterback Derek Carr is the most important undertaking of the offseason for whomever the Raiders hire. Hamilton has been coaching quarterbacks his whole career.

CoachTeamsO or D Points RanksO or D Yards Ranks
Todd BowlesDolphins, Eagles, Cardinals6, 29, 7, 515, 15, 6, 24
Pep HamiltonColts15, 615, 3

With no prior experience as a head coach at any level on his resume, he’s probably a long shot to get the job. At least Hamilton isn’t a coach with a lot of baggage, and the Raiders can get his opinion of their young signal-caller.

The reluctance to consider a coordinator again is both understandable and ridiculous. Leadership is not something that requires experience. Natural leaders have a lifetime of experience.

Head coaches with experience aren’t all bad, and hot coordinators aren’t incapable of getting off to a fast start as a head coach. Even some position coaches are worthy of consideration if the Raiders were forward-thinking enough to do it. The great ones will have been rehearsing the job in their heads for years.

Not every great coordinator is a great head coach because the two jobs require different skill sets, but that doesn’t mean the Raiders shouldn’t consider any of them. The inclusion of Hamilton on the list restores some hope that the Raiders are keeping their options open.

One name that the Raiders haven’t explored is Rex Ryan, the recently fired head coach of the New York Jets. Ryan will reportedly interview with the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers, the two open jobs widely believed to be more attractive than the one in Oakland.

Ryan has many ties to the Raiders and brings the bravado the Raiders need. Late owner Al Davis kept Rex’s brother Rob as defensive coordinator for many years too long, but that’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of connections.

Rex hired interim head coach Tony Sparano as his offensive coordinator in New York, and Tony’s son was on his staff. Raiders special teams coordinator Bobby April’s son was also on Rex’s staff.  

Most importantly, the Raiders director of player personnel, Joey Clinkscales, left the Jets to come to the Raiders and worked with Rex for three years there. The Raiders should have plenty of insight into Ryan’s ability as a coach and motivator.

Ryan is the ideal candidate because the defensive talent in Oakland is coming together, and he can make it shine. His name recognition will make the Raiders an attractive destination for free agents. As a coach, he should conduct himself a lot like Sparano and will find the media on the West Coast to be tame compared to New York.

Whatever the Raiders do now the fans and the media will criticize because Davis went after Harbaugh and whiffed. The inauspicious start to the coaching search only adds fuel to the fire. 


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