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

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Nov 22, 2014; Berkeley, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal head coach David Shaw on the sidelines during the third quarter against the California Golden Bears at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

College Coaches

Every year a college head coach or two jumps ranks and heads to the NFL. Some have success, some do not.  Pete Carroll, who had been an NFL head coach before he started his stellar run at USC, is an example of a successful college coach turning pro. Chip Kelly, who jumped up to the pros from Oregon last year, has also been relatively successful in Philadelphia.  Jim Harbaugh, of course, had success at Stanford and then was instantly successful in San Francisco. But for every such story there is also a Nick Saban or Steve Spurrier or….Lane Kiffin.

Still, that won’t stop at least one or two NFL franchises from raiding the college ranks to solve their head coaching problem in 2015, and the Raiders might find themselves among them. There are a number of options for the Raiders to choose from, although none would be better than landing a legitimate NFL head coach in Jim Harbaugh.

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  • Stanford’s David Shaw, who replaced Harbaugh in Palo Alto, is one of the best head coaching prospects in the college ranks right now, and after four seasons as the head coach at Stanford has compiled a 41-12 record, and five of those twelve losses occurred this year, in a down year for the program competing in a very tough PAC-12. Like Harbaugh and Trestman, Shaw is also connected to the early 2000’s Raiders, having spent three years as Jon Gruden’s Quality Control assistant before working with quarterbacks in 2001 alongside Marc Trestman.  Shaw went on to work with QB’s and wide receivers in Baltimore before joining Jim Harbaugh’s staff at the University of San Diego in 2006. Shaw was Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator for four years at Stanford before being named his successor as head coach.

    Shaw is a young, energetic head coach, and his ability to connect with young athletes will allow him to connect well with the Raiders stable of young players only a year or two removed from college themselves. He has demonstrated the ability to get the most out of players in the college ranks, and managed to sustain success at Stanford in the first year after Andrew Luck’s departure. His Stanford teams run the ball well regardless of who the quarterback is, and also play very good defense, usually finishing among the best in the country in points allowed. Shaw also has experience working with NFL quarterbacks and NFL wide receivers in on his resume, meaning he won’t be totally out of his depth should he return to the pro ranks, and the Raiders could use his offensive pedigree and acumen as young Derek Carr develops.

    Another big name from the college ranks is Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. Sumlin, who is just wrapping up his seventh year as a college head coach and his third year at Texas A&M, has a 62-28 record as a head coach, including a 27-11 record at Texas A&M in the mighty SEC.  Despite his having played linebacker at Purdue, Sumlin has an extensive background as an offensive coach, and his offensive system is probably a large reason why Johnny Manziel became a college star and first-round draft pick. Unfortunately, his Texas A&M team has seemed to regress in his tenure there: after going 11-2 in his first year in College Station, the Aggies went 9-4 last year and are now 7-5 and unranked.  Sumlin also has zero NFL experience: he never played or coached in the NFL, his entire coaching career having been in the college ranks. He also coaches a very collegiate offensive style: the traditional shotgun spread option, a system that hasn’t been shown to work with any sort of consistency in the NFL. While Derek Carr shone in a similar offensive system at Fresno State, it’s not the kind of system that can be run week-in and week-out at the highest level of football.  While Sumlin, due to his having some success in the SEC, is perhaps the biggest name amongst fans and casual observers, his resume may not be the strongest for a candidate to take the reins of an NFL team.

    One other name, more of a wild card, stands out among the college ranks, and that is former NFL head coach Jim L. Mora, son of Jim E. Mora of “PLAYOFFS?” fame. The younger Mora, who is 53 and looks 35, has a long NFL resume, having been the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons for three years as well as having had the head job in Seattle for a year before Pete Carroll’s arrival. He has a defensive background, but has had luck working with quarterbacks both in the NFL (Michael Vick in his prime) and in college (Brett Hundley) and his offenses in Atlanta were some of the best rushing offenses in the league during the years he was there.  Mora is an enthusiastic coach who tends to be very popular with his players, and he coached the Falcons to an NFC championship appearance in his first year there in 2004.  He is 32-34 in the regular season and 1-1 in the playoffs as an NFL head coach. In three years at UCLA, he has won at least nine games each year, posting a 28-11 record and a 1-1 bowl record.

    Earlier this week on the “Petros and Money” radio show in Los Angeles, Mora affirmed that he is “not going anywhere” in the face of speculation that he may be offered the Michigan job, but the fact remains that UCLA is a very hard place to win championships, and because it’s a public school, he can only make so much money there. With rumors swirling of a potential relocation to Los Angeles by the Raiders, he may decide to take a job that pays more money, gives him an opportunity to build an NFL franchise into a champion, and allows him to not have to move anywhere.  Still, he has a good thing going at UCLA, and he may opt to simply continue building on that rather than return to the NFL ranks already.  And of course the Raiders may not be interested in him, there haven’t been any reports to say that he’s even under consideration.

    There are a number of viable candidates in the college ranks, but the Raiders are in need of a coach with experience who has proven that he can be successful. While those candidates are few and far between even among the ranks of unemployed NFL head men, the idea of trying to start over again with a college guy may simply be too risky for Mark Davis to want to go in that direction.

    Next: Can Tony Sparano keep his job?