Oakland Raiders: Head Coaching Candidates if Harbaugh Goes to Michigan?

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Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan on the sidelines during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Rex Ryan

Rex Ryan, son of Buddy, brother of Rob, is a brash and boisterous personality that most NFL fans are familiar with. He has one of the best coaching pedigrees in the NFL, and is considered one of the great defensive coaching minds in the league. He has tons of experience as an NFL coach, first working in the league on his father’s staff in Arizona in ’94-95. Ryan worked his way up in the Baltimore Ravens organization from 1999 to 2008, becoming one of the most respected defensive coordinators in the NFL before being offered his first head coaching gig with the New York Jets in 2009.

He made an impact immediately as the Jets head coach, leading them to a 9-7 finish and two playoff victories in his first season before a loss in the AFC Championship game.  In 2010, the team improved to 11-5 and again reached the AFC title game after appearing on the HBO reality series Hard Knocks, which thrust Ryan, with his foul mouth and brash style, into celebrity status. Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last for Ryan and the Jets.  In 2011, the team regressed to 8-8, and has not finished better than that since. Ryan’s tough defenses and usually solid running offenses haven’t been complimented by great quarterback play or inspired offensive schemes, and the Jets this year completed the decent from championship contender to mediocre to downright awful: the team is 3-11 and will likely not win another game.  It’s all but certain that Ryan is going to be let go after this year, and he will definitely be one of the biggest names – if not necessarily one of the best candidates – among the ranks of jobless NFL coaches going into the 2015 offseason.

Ryan is of course a very flawed head coach.  He is a brilliant defensive mind, but his offensive philosophy seems to be overly conservative, and he has a record of hiring offensive coordinators that fit his philosophy. Brian Schottenheimer ran his offense from 2009 through 2011, and the team finished no higher than 21st in the league in passing in any of those three years. Current Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano ran the offense in 2012, and despite his reputation as a creative play-designer (he introduced the “Wildcat” to the league), Sparano’s 2012 Jets offense finished 30th in the league. Marty Mornhinwheg’s 2013 and 2014 offenses haven’t fared any better with Geno Smith and Michael Vick leading them. Only once under Rex Ryan have the Jets finished in the top half of the league in total offense.

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Ryan’s poor track record with offensive coordinator hiring has also led to a very poor record with young quarterbacks. In 2009, the Jets took USC quarterback Mark Sanchez with the 5th overall pick in the draft to be their franchise quarterback of the future, essentially wedding Ryan to Sanchez. Sanchez and Ryan obviously led the team two four playoff victories and two AFC title games in their first two seasons together, but Sanchez played like a young quarterback in both of those years: he completed only 54% of his passes, and threw 29 TD’s to 33 INT’s in those first two years. Sanchez had his best year in 2011, throwing for nearly 3,500 yards and 26 TD’s, but he still only completed about 56% of his passes and threw 18 picks. Sanchez regressed horribly in 2012, and then spent 2013 on the bench as the Jets went forward with a new rookie QB of the future, 2nd round pick Geno Smith. Smith has been decidedly subpar in his first two seasons as an NFL starter, and was benched for a few games this year in favor of Michael Vick.  So far, Rex Ryan is 0-2 with his young quarterbacks.

Meanwhile, Mark Sanchez has been playing some solid football for Chip Kelly in Philadelphia over the past six weeks. Ryan also doesn’t seem to be a big fan of drafting offensive playmakers to support his young quarterbacks. After Mark Sanchez was drafted fifth overall in  2009, the team hasn’t taken an offensive player in the first round since, and the Jets roster is now loaded with amazing young defensive talent and no real consistent offensive weapons other than running back Shonn Greene. While Jets’ GM’s Mike Tannenbaum and John Idzik certainly deserve much of the blame for that, Ryan definitely had input into those picks, and those were the picks he wanted to make.

Despite his flaws, Ryan still is one of the better head coaching prospects who will be out of a job this offseason. He brings a certain charisma and swagger to the role that the Raiders have been sorely missing since Hue Jackson was fired, which is an important attribute in a head coach trying to turn a team from perennial losers into championship contenders. Ryan also could instantly transform the Raider defense from a streaky group of talented players into a fearsome unit with the pieces already in place, and he and Reggie McKenzie would be a venerable team of defensive talent scouts. That said, without the proper offensive assistants – something that Ryan has never seemed to be able to find in New York – he will put the development of Derek Carr in serious jeopardy. Carr, who is showing well, might never realize his true potential with Rex Ryan in the head coaching spot.

Next: Marc Trestman: Former Raiders OC and two time Grey Cup champion