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Five Risk-Free Candidates for the Jaguars to Replace Urban Meyer

Shad Khan can’t afford to make another mistake with his next hire. Here are the top candidates who can quickly turn things around in Jacksonville.

Urban Meyer is no longer the coach of the Jaguars. While there were enough early strikes on his record, the official end came a few hours after the release of a Tampa Bay Times report, which featured former Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo detailing an incident when Meyer kicked him, then proceeded to tell Lambo that he was the “head ball coach” and that he’d kick whoever he wanted. Jacksonville is now the second team with an official head-coaching vacancy after the Raiders let go of Jon Gruden back in October amid the fallout from an email scandal tied to the Washington Football Team investigation.

We’re mentioning both of these teams at the top of a post about the next Jaguars head coach because they are related and will define this year’s search terms. In the mad scramble for a head-coaching candidate this offseason, the priority for a lot of these teams is going to be finding a squeaky-clean candidate with professional experience who is going to win quickly and avoid the kind of medium- to large-scale embarrassments that dinged a pair of organizations over the last several months. And it won’t just be Las Vegas and Jacksonville. Just because it didn’t happen to other teams doesn’t mean the fear isn’t there. I would safely guess that there are not going to be any big swings. I highly doubt, despite some whispers to the contrary, that there will be a dip into the collegiate market.

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So, does that ideal person exist in the candidate pool right now? The word we had gotten from coaching insiders throughout the process of reporting out our initial list in September and our final candidate list in December is that there might be a premium put on tenured assistants and second-chance head coaches. Dan Quinn. Doug Pederson. Josh McDaniels. Todd Bowles. Raheem Morris. Coaches who are going to make it look professional right away, and bring with them a tenured, NFL-caliber staff.

We’ll get to that in our miniature dossier below, but I think there exists a few ideal candidates for Jacksonville that can fit its “type” (an inspirational leader who can create a sustainable, definable culture) without the inherent risk of a college coach or the similar risk of a second-chance head coach who may not have learned any lessons from a previous dismissal. People forget that for every Pete Carroll or Tom Coughlin, who found their ultimate successes in their second or third professional stops, there was a retread coach that abided by Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity.

If I got Shad Khan’s powers for a day, I would first sail my superyacht to the most remote corners of Earth, learning the secrets of ancient societies untouched by technology. But afterward, with a clear mind, I would hire a new head football coach. This is who I would call:

Todd Bowles, Nathaniel Hackett, Eric Bieniemy could be top picks as the Jaguars head coach.

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NATHANIEL HACKETT, OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR, GREEN BAY PACKERS

Hackett has been our top assistant throughout the year, all the way back in September and through the second list in early December. Why? Everywhere he’s been, there is evidence of good vibes, clear skies and offensive progress. You cannot sleep through a Hackett meeting. Hackett arrived in Syracuse after one of the most tumultuous and unsuccessful periods in program history, ripped up the offensive playbook two weeks before the season and designed an offense that produced the school’s first quarterback draft pick (Ryan Nassib) since Donovan McNabb. He arrived in Jacksonville and designed a system for Blake Bortles that helped the wayward quarterback reach the AFC title game. He sorted out a quarterbacking mess in Buffalo, too, as an assistant under Doug Marrone. I would challenge Khan to poll various Packers, as I have, about Hackett. The convenient myth out there right now, that he is simply a product of Aaron Rodgers and is not in a play-calling role obscures the fact that he’s gotten more out of Rodgers than many coordinators, that Rodgers would stand on a table for Hackett and that Hackett helps design some of the most critical elements of Green Bay’s most explosive plays. He will have deep access to a strong staff, with some quality ties to rising defensive minds. At the very least, it’s worth a phone call for the pair to catch up.

TODD BOWLES, DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Of all the coaches I’ve seen come through Florham Park in recent years, Bowles was the most adept at handling the rising and falling of various nonsensical story lines and tamping down chaos. He won 10 games his first year with a Jets roster hollow enough to be classified as a cheap chocolate Easter bunny. Ultimately, the damage done by his personnel team outdid any schematic lifting he could attempt. The drafting of QB project Christian Hackenberg as the ultimate post–Ryan Fitzpatrick solution was too much of a counterweight for Bowles to succeed. Now in Tampa, Bowles will be difficult to pry away. He’s the highest-paid defensive coordinator in the NFL and has a fast track to succeeding Bruce Arians if and when Arians decides to walk away. But … it could be worth the price. Bowles learned from some mistakes, has better access to potential offensive coordinators for Trevor Lawrence and can bring a powerhouse defensive staff along, too.

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ERIC BIENIEMY, OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Folks who know Eric Bieniemy say he felt good about his interview with the Jaguars last year, before Khan ultimately went with Urban Meyer. It would be interesting to see whether Khan revisits his notes from some promising candidates, like Bieniemy or Raheem Morris, or whether he chooses to go in a different direction. Those who classify Bieniemy as a non-play-caller would do well to contact Andy Reid and inquire about Bieniemy’s role in lifting this offense out of its midseason slump. There are few coaches who understand quite what Lawrence is going through. Bieniemy is a quality branch on the Reid tree who has been instrumental in molding a generational talent.

JOSH MCDANIELS, OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Optically, it will be difficult for Khan to move on from a controversial head coach and hire McDaniels, who infamously bailed on the Colts at the 11th hour to stay in New England. While the prevailing rumor seems to tie McDaniels to the Patriots South emerging in Houston (a rumor I don’t believe), I would peg his expertise as a better fit for the Jaguars’ current roster. His work with Mac Jones this year is an example of how quarterback-friendly his offense can be. McDaniels has proven his ingenuity beyond his years tied with Tom Brady and could be ready to spread his wings following the completion of this season. Word is that McDaniels would be able to attract a strong, young staff not exclusively confined to New England. While he left the last group hanging, his last defensive coordinator choice, Matt Eberflus, is an impressive, emerging head coach in his own right.

BRIAN DABOLL, OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR, BUFFALO BILLS

We’ve done deep dives into the mind of Daboll and were lucky to learn a little about his process. Daboll is aces as a play-caller and has worked under both Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. The Bills’ staff is loaded with talented young coaches he could likely bring with him to Jacksonville. At the very least, the Jaguars would have a coach for Lawrence, ensuring that his development won’t get stalled any longer.

More NFL Coverage:

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