Three notes from Tuesday’s spin on the NFL head coaching carousel:
■ If Josh McDaniels wants an NFL head coaching job, he only has one option left — and it’s the ugliest car on the lot.
The Cleveland Browns.
Two teams filled their head coaching vacancies on Tuesday, and neither team even spoke to McDaniels before hiring their man. The Panthers were supposed to interview McDaniels on Tuesday, but instead hired Baylor coach Matt Rhule in the morning. And no one was surprised to see the Giants hire away a Patriots assistant, but few thought it would be special teams coordinator Joe Judge instead of McDaniels, who was set to interview on Wednesday.
McDaniels is still scheduled to interview with the Browns on Friday, and would certainly be a good fit there. There are few 43-year-old candidates with previous head-coaching experience and six Super Bowl rings on their resumes. And McDaniels, a Canton, Ohio native, could help maximize the potential of Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb.
But the fact that McDaniels couldn’t even get an interview with the Panthers or Giants (or Cowboys, who hired Mike McCarthy) has to sting.
The reality is that for all of his accomplishments, McDaniels does have some baggage — his short-lived, 11-17 tenure in Denver, and his reneging on the Colts two years ago for their head-coaching job. That’s two strikes.
The Browns are casting a wide net, and are interviewing several quality coaches. The have already interviewed 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, as well as McCarthy (all but Daboll are still in the playoffs and cannot accept a job yet). Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski are also set to interview this week before McDaniels, who goes on Friday.
None other than Schwarz has head-coaching experience, but they also don’t have McDaniels’ warts.
It’s certainly possible the Browns are saving their best interview for last, and won’t let McDaniels leave without the job on Friday. But after the Giants and Panthers skipped over him, McDaniels has to be a little nervous about even getting to his Browns interview.
McDaniels also has to consider if the Browns job is the right one for him. He likely only gets one more shot to be a head coach. The Browns have a talented roster, but owner Jimmy Haslam has fired five head coaches and four general managers since taking over in mid-2012, including two one-and-done coaches (Rob Chudzinski, Freddie Kitchens).
McDaniels may find it prudent to return to his well-paying job in Foxborough for another year, even if Tom Brady doesn’t return. There will always be head coaching opportunities next year.
■ The Giants went way outside the box in hiring Judge, who joined John Harbaugh as the only head coaches to primarily come from special teams. Judge, who turned 38 last week, has been a Patriots special teams coach since 2012 (coordinator since 2015), and this season added wide receivers coach to his resume, in large part to make him more attractive as a head coaching candidate. Harbaugh did a similar move in Philadelphia, adding defensive backs coach to his resume for one season before finally getting the Ravens’ gig.
One would think that Harbaugh’s success in Baltimore would lead to more special teams coaches getting head opportunities, but NFL owners still prefer offensive and defensive coordinators.
But Bill Belichick was a special teams coach for most of the first 10 years of his career, and said last January at the Super Bowl, “Being a special teams coach is the best training I ever had to being a head coach.”
“You work with every player on the team, with the exception of the quarterbacks. Those relationships, and understanding how to deal with different positions, different types of players, all the players at different levels — young players, developmental players, core players, players whose primary role was the kicking game, players whose secondary role was the kicking game — you put all that together, that was a tremendous experience.”
And Belichick is very high on Judge, who coached for Nick Saban at Alabama for three years before coming to the Patriots in 2012.
“Joe could probably coach any position on the field,” Belichick said earlier this season. “He does an excellent job of teaching players. He thinks quickly. The game comes easy to him. He understands concepts and adjustments and fundamental techniques. That’s the mark of a good coach.”
Judge takes over a Giants team that could use some help on special teams. They were the only team this year to allow two blocked punts, and had the third-worst field goal percentage in the league (70.6 percent). The Patriots, meanwhile, had four of the NFL’s 11 blocked punts this season. Judge is also known to be a no-nonsense coach who should instill some discipline in a locker room that has gotten out of control at times the last few years.
Judge’s loss will certainly be felt in Foxborough. One source said the Patriots were grooming Judge to be the next offensive coordinator, now leaving the Patriots with no obvious backup plan should McDaniels leave.
■ The Belichick Coaching Tree is now bearing fruit across nearly one-fourth of the NFL. Seven of the 31 other teams have a former Patriot at either head coach or general manager.
Five ex-Patriots are head coaches: Dolphins’ Brian Flores, Texans’ Bill O’Brien, Lions’ Matt Patricia, Titans’ Mike Vrabel, and Judge; and four are general managers: Falcons’ Thomas Dimitroff, Bucs’ Jason Licht, Lions’ Bob Quinn. and Titans’ Jon Robinson. Plus 2003 Patriots draft pick Kliff Kingsbury is the Cardinals’ head coach, and Jack Easterby is a top executive with the Texans.
But continuity has been a hallmark of the Patriots’ 20-year run and a big reason for their success. And they have been gutted the last three years.
Since beating the Falcons in the Super Bowl in February 2017, the Patriots have lost Patricia, Flores, Judge and Easterby, plus position coaches Chad O’Shea, Brendan Daly, Jerry Schuplinski, and Josh Boyer.
McDaniels could still leave for the Browns. Dante Scarnecchia and Ivan Fears are up in the air. And director of player personnel Nick Caserio is a free agent and looking to explore all his options. Some of Caserio’s top lieutenants could leave, too.
Belichick doesn’t just have to worry about who his quarterback will be in 2020. He also has to figure out how to fill out a coaching staff and front office.