Entering the conference championship round, only four NFL teams have active coaches. Some from the other 28 clubs are interviewing for six head coaching vacancies.
The Oakland Raiders have been in the hunt for a prime candidate, though a final decision — or even a short list — is seemingly absent. Though it’s still early, the Buffalo Bills hired former Jets chief Rex Ryan on Monday, and the dominoes may begin to fall quickly.
Several names have been linked to the Raiders by multiple sources and reports, but a few stand above the rest: Pep Hamilton (Colts offensive coordinator), Jack Del Rio (Broncos defensive coordinator), Mike Shanahan (unemployed, with plenty experience), Darrell Bevell (Seahawks offensive coordinator), Tony Sparano (Raiders interim head coach) and Pat Shurmur (Eagles offensive coordinator).
The Raiders had to interview a minority candidate via the Rooney Rule. Though they could have technically interviewed anyone off the street, Hamilton filled the slot, and despite being an underdog to some, has a fair argument.
With a solid quarterback in Andrew Luck, Hamilton formed several late-round receivers and two under-achieving running backs into one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. Sure, Luck is a primary cog. But one could imagine a Derek Carr-led team with Hamilton at the helm achieving similar results.
Del Rio is another top choice, and as Ian Rapoport reported Monday morning, will interview with the Raiders on Tuesday.
The case for Del Rio, at least from the roster perspective, isn’t quite as solid as Hamilton and others. He’s had Von Miller, Terrance Knighton, among others. He gets big time credit for helping cornerback Chris Harris become arguably the best defensive back in the game.
But that’s where it becomes murky. Is Del Rio’s success because of the roster, or him? Nobody really has a clear answer.
Bevell and Shurmur round out the list of top candidates, and as this author sees it, Shanahan and Sparano are longshots at best.
Bevell helped a talented quarterback in Russell Wilson and a number of late-round picks form yet another very dangerous offense. He was able to rely on stingy defensive play, but defense doesn’t win championships alone. You have to put up points.
That’s exactly what Seattle did against the 49ers in the 2013 NFC Championship game before pummeling Denver 43-8 in the Super Bowl. Bevell’s play-calling has been superb, particularity his penchant for playing to his personnel rather than his own philosophies.
Shumur is a dark horse. He’s had some weapons to play with in Philly, but not enough to expect the wompings the Eagles offense has doled out to opponents. It’s certainly not the roster that has helped Shurmur along, though Chip Kelly’s influence is undeniable.
A strong interview or two could push Shurmur to the top of the list, but as of now, he’s far away.
Hamilton and Bevell make the most sense. Both have proven that they have the skills to convert Oakland’s lackluster offense into something special. Or at least that if their quarterback has talent, they don’t need splashy free agent signings.
Only mid-round draft selections and a little time.
Those traits fit what the Raiders have been trying to do since beginning the most ambitious rebuild in league history — create a team with the draft, and minimally supplementing the roster in free agency.
While Del Rio will finish his second interview Tuesday, Raiders fans shouldn’t take it as a sure thing. Because Hamilton and Bevell just seem like better candidates for this team.