The Raiders have made a flurry of hires the past couple days. First came offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and within a little over a day, he had put together most of his staff. But thus far, the only coordinators and position coaches have been on the offensive side of the ball as the Raiders have been met with considerable resistance in their search for a new defensive coordinator.
The defensive coordinator position for the Raiders was pretty much up for grabs before the season even ended. This team was better than their record suggested and it was obviously the defense that was the cause. Chuck Bresnahan’s days were numbered and rumblings of potential replacements grew louder as the season wore on.
When Jack Del Rio was fired as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, he immediately became the top defensive mind on the market. The East Bay native grew up a Raider fan and, in the right situation, there seemed a good chance he would relish the opportunity to be the Raiders’ defensive coordinator. But then the Raiders fired Hue Jackson and hired Dennis Allen away from the Broncos. The dominoes fell and landed Del Rio in Allen’s former job with the opportunity to again work under head coach John Fox.
With Allen in place, if the Raiders were going to get a defensive coordinator, it would have to be a position coach looking for a promotion not a fired head coach. Recently fired head coaches rarely take well to the backseat behind an upstart young head coach in his first gig.
The first name that was floated as someone in whom the Raiders were interested was Chiefs longtime secondary coach, Emmitt Thomas. Thomas was a mentor of Allen’s while both were on the Falcons’ defensive staff together. The Raiders requested an interview with Thomas but as quickly as the word came out of the Raiders’ inquiry, he opted to stay in Kansas City where he spent his entire playing career. On to the next candidate.
That next candidate was Saints defensive line coach, Bill Johnson. The connection between Allen and Johnson went even deeper. The two coached together nearly every step of Allen’s coaching career–first at Texas A&M, then with the Falcons, and later with the Saints. Again, the Raiders requested an interview and were denied. Next candidate, por favor.
El next candidate was Richard Smith, linebackers coach with the Broncos. Allen probably had Smith’s number programmed in his cel phone as the two worked together last season when Allen was the Broncos’ defensive coordinator. But Allen had to go through the Broncos’ organization, and yet again he was denied. Let’s hear from bachelor number three.
Enter Greg Manusky. He enjoys candlelit dinners, long walks on the beach, and calls his mom at least once a week. He most recently served as the defensive coordinator for the Chargers. He served in that role for one season and was fired. Prior to that he had been the 49ers’ defensive coordinator for four seasons; in just one of those seasons did the defense resemble respectability. Still, the Raiders were entering desperation mode and since no one could deny the interview, outside of Manusky himself, they scheduled an interview.
Manusky came, Manusky went, but left without a rose. He then went to Indianapolis for an interview and the Colts hired him as their new defensive coordinator. Let’s see what’s next on the menu.
With Allen’s list of previous coaching comrades seemingly spent, it was Reggie McKenzie’s turn to try and get one of his guys. He phoned his former team of 18 years, the Green Bay Packers, to ask permission to speak with secondary coach, Joe Whitt Jr. No word has come out on whether he was granted permission to speak with Whitt, but with nothing having been heard since the initial request was made, some believe the Packers shot down their former longtime executive.
If Whitt is indeed no longer in the mix, or perhaps even if he is, the next candidate the Raiders may get on the phone could just drive over the Bay Bridge for his interview. 49ers defensive backs coach, Ed Donatell did a masterful job with the cornerbacks last season and they nearly went to the Super Bowl because of it. I would think Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers would like to keep Donatell on staff if they can. The question is if Harbaugh would deny Donatell’s shot at being a defensive coordinator. But then again, that’s usually the question, and thus far the answer from other teams has been a firm “No.”
At this point, they may as well wait until after the Super Bowl and see if there is anyone from either the Giants or Patriots staff that they like, though both teams were among the worst defenses in the NFL last season so their defensive staffs wouldn’t appear to be the most ideal. The only worse passing defense than these two teams is the Packers’—the team for whom Joe Whitt Jr coached the secondary. So why would they be interested in interviewing him or anyone on the Giants and Patriots staffs?
The main reason for the bad pass defense numbers is that the Packers (32), Patriots (31), Saints (30), and Giants (29) is their high-powered, fast-scoring offenses. They put teams in desperation mode, forcing them to pass the football. Since they don’t control the clock with the running game, the opposing teams have more possessions. This combination means a lot of passing yards and a lot of interceptions. While the Packers and Patriots were the two worst passing defenses in the NFL they also both led the league in interceptions by a large margin. The Giants were fourth in interceptions.
So, perhaps a coach can be taken from either of the two Super Bowl teams’ defenses. Two coaches on the Giants’ staff jump out at me: David Merritt and Jim Herrmann. And not just because their last names look like a stutter. Merritt has been the Giants’ secondary/safeties coach for six seasons while Herrmann is the linebackers coach and previous to that, he was the defensive coordinator for nine seasons at the University of Michigan. None of the Patriots’ position coaches look enticing.
But first, the Raiders will have to ask one or both of these teams if they may interview their coaches. And we know where that leads. Right back to the drawing board… Or college… perhaps the UFL?… CFL?… Home Depot parking lot?… Mike Singletary? (OK, let’s not get crazy).
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