Codie McLachlan/Getty Images (Dickenson), Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images (Leach), Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images (Petersen)

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  • With John DeFilippo fired, the NFL should think outside of the box for its next wave of coaching candidates. Why not reach out to guys like Washington State’s Mike Leach, or Calgary Stampeders’ Dave Dickensen?
By Conor Orr
December 12, 2018

The surprise firing of Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo on Tuesday ousted arguably the most popular NFL head-coach-to-be from this season’s early round of “hot coordinators on the rise” lists.

Pro Football Talk has an interesting take, which, in a way, takes aim at the practice of making head coaching lists before late December altogether. Where do these names come from, and why are certain coaches viewed as “hot candidates” in September and October when they haven’t accomplished much during the current season?

I’m admittedly part of the problem, and it makes me wonder why the NFL doesn’t take opportunities like this to dream a little bigger. While there have been some outside-the-box hires in recent NFL seasons—Marc Trestman and Chip Kelly come to mind—most owners get the desire to be different buffed out of them by $250,000 an hour search firms, or uptight team presidents afraid of a full-blown fan mutiny. The corporate sheen eventually glosses over everyone, unless, of course, you’re Mark Davis. Then you hire this guy.

While the time for an accurate head coaching list is probably nigh as we inch closer to Black Monday, here’s something a little different: coaches we wish NFL owners would actually reach out to this winter.

1. Mike Leach, head coach, Washington State University

Here’s a guy who once created a fake play sheet and had it subtly dropped near the opposing team’s coaching staff. He gives totally insane dating advice. He talks about pretty much anything and would design an offense meant to throw 60 times a game in the NFL. On a serious note, Leach’s coaching tree is damn impressive, and includes a few names that NFL teams may be looking at this offseason anyway (Lincoln Riley was at Texas Tech from 2003–09). So many of his ideas have been adapted and embraced at the NFL level, though the thought of him actually taking over an NFL team is laughed off instantly.

2. Dave Dickenson, head coach, Calgary Stampeders

The 2018 Grey Cup champion, hailing from Great Falls Montana, has reached the CFL championship game every year of his head coaching tenure (2016–18), winning his first in November. The Stampeders are 41-11-2 in three seasons with Dickenson. The former Chargers, Seahawks and Dolphins quarterback is in the sweet spot, having played recently enough to have a grasp of today’s game, but far enough removed that he could bring some unique ideas to the table. Eye candy, or window dressing in CFL offenses is deadly when properly utilized. We’re seeing the beginning of that window-dressing revolution in the NFL. With all offensive coaches in the league studying the same film and, eventually, reaching the same conclusions, why not listen to someone who has been seeing football develop from a totally different perspective?

3. Vince Kehres, head coach, Mount Union Purple Raiders

Mount Union has lost four games in the five seasons Kehres has been in charge. The Purple Raiders are taking on Mary Hardin-Baylor in the Division III title game this weekend (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU), which you should all watch. I’ve been lucky to study closely collegiate programs at the sub-Division I level and I’m always amazed at the efficiency, the ingenuity and the ideas that aren’t recognized. Talk to coaches at every level of football, and they always wonder why more emphasis isn’t put on the people who do the most with the least. Why not pick the brain of a coach steeped in the history of one of football’s most storied programs?

4. Chris Petersen, head coach, Washington

Look back at this deep dive into Petersen’s schemes at Washington and tell me that doesn’t look a lot like what we’re seeing in the NFL. I particularly enjoyed this line from the author: “Misdirection is at the heart of everything Washington does, again they are always looking to create space or hesitation so that their skill players can run to open grass, but just because it’s a clever offense doesn’t mean it’s all a gimmick. The Huskies rely heavily on running the ball and utilizing play-action off their run concepts to create leverage for both.” I think Petersen is probably a more palatable head-coaching candidate for NFL teams to consider given the balance of his offense. Once owners stop turning over every rock looking for the next Sean McVay, they might realize some practical schematic minds have been in their orbit for years.

5. Josh Heupel, head coach, UCF, Mike Norvell, head coach, Memphis, Mike Yurcich, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator, Jim Leonard, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin

So many good coaches at the college level—some, like Leonard, with NFL ties—who are stopping or igniting the kind of schemes that will inform the NFL for the next decade. Despite a steadily-rising cap, there has never been a more pronounced advantage for teams who are able to scoop up inexpensive, young talent and find a way to integrate them into an easy-to-learn system. Why wait for your NFL coach to adapt?

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HOT READS

NOW ON THE MMQB: POWER RANKINGS. … Why John DeFilippo was never going to work in Minnesota. … Former Packers exec Andrew Brandt says we’re crazy to think the Cleveland head coaching job is better than Green Bay’s.

WHAT YOU MAY HAVE MISSED: A brief and wonderful history of Patrick Mahomes no look passing. … What the Raiders will look for in their next GM. … the seats of some NFL coaches got hotter after Week 14.


PRESS COVERAGE

1. The projected salary cap numbers for 2019 are out.

2. The Seahawks are clapping back at Richard Sherman as they find their post-Legion of Boom success.

3. The Raiders are getting sued… by Oakland!

4. Mike Tomlin is starting to get more pushback from itchy Steeler alumni.

5. A plea for the Packers to interview Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

6. In non-NFL news, British prime minister Theresa May throws a Hail Mary to save Brexit.

7. The secret sauce in Freddy’s Kitchen.


THE KICKER

We’ve tracked down MMQB producer/writer Mitch Goldich, who is on his honeymoon in New Zealand, for this week’s Q+A with a fellow MMQB staffer. Here’s a snippet:

Conor Orr: Mitch, where are you now, what time is it where you are and how is everything going?

Mitch Goldich: It’s going great! I’m currently in Marahau, adjacent to Abel Tasman National Park, on the north coast of New Zealand’s South Island. I’m in a small wooden chalet overlooking the Tasman Bay at 3:30 p.m. local time. No complaints.

CO: Cool, cool. The Tasman Bay. So what is the best part of your honeymoon so far?

MG: The best part about New Zealand is just how many different kinds of places are in such a small area. In a week I’ve explored mountains (volcanoes), caves, waterfalls, forests, geothermal pools and more. The topography gives the island an amazing view around every corner and they have infinite activities to go along with them.

CO: Who is the best writer at Sports Illustrated?

MG: That’s hard to answer ... If we’re talking about just my favorite writers in general, I’d probably go with somebody versatile who can do many different things: Features, analysis, news, reporting, etc. I see you want a name, which I hate doing. But I saw that Jayson Stark, a huge influence on me growing up in Philadelphia, just won the Spink Award and he’s a great example of that. I love feature writers like Lee Jenkins, who can give you every detail of a scene without looking like he’s trying to show off how many details he can cram in. I read every word Sam Miller writes about baseball because he just thinks about the sport so differently from everybody else and it’s fascinating. I have many other people who I could name here for many other reasons, but it’s almost time for me to go to the beach.

CO: Ah, kind of seems like you didn’t want to name me and get everyone else all riled up. I can appreciate that. What are your main tips to stay stress-free during the holidays?

MG: I personally don’t get stressed around the holidays. I guess I’m lucky that I don’t have to cook for a whole family, host people at my place or spend time with people I don’t want to see. But I know lots of people have lots of reasons to feel stress, so I think my best advice might be just to carve out some time to do what you love. And that’ll be different for everybody. But whether you like going for a walk or a run, reading a book, catching up on movies or TV, doing something creative like writing or painting, catching up with family and friends, whatever. There’s no best answer. Just spend time doing something that makes you feel content and refreshed, and don’t apologize for taking that time for yourself.

CO: Thank you for your time, Mitch.

MG: Thank you, Conor. I feel this staff interview series has really showcased your deep research skills and pointed question-asking techniques.  

CO: Oh wow, Mitch. Thanks for that.

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