Under ordinary circumstances, we don’t start looking at head coaching prospects for the following year until late in the season, when it becomes obvious which teams might be looking to go in another direction.
But these are hardly ordinary circumstances with the Jets.
The Adam Gase era is crumbling before our eyes, an 0-4 disaster that only figures to get worse in the coming weeks and will almost certainly result in his ouster. Whether team owner Christopher Johnson turns to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to fill in on an interim basis or let Gase stay the remainder of the season remains uncertain. But unless Gase can somehow turn this team around and gain a measure of respectability, someone else will be taking over in 2021.
Here’s a look at the top candidates:
Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City offensive coordinator: Bieniemy has been interviewed seven times for head coaching jobs – including the Giants after the 2019 season – but is still waiting for an offer. Andy Reid relies heavily on Bieniemy, who has helped in Patrick Mahomes’ meteoric development, and it’s highly likely Bieniemy will get his chance in 2021. The Jets should be very interested, especially given Bieniemy’s offensive expertise.
Robert Saleh, 49ers defensive coordinator: Kyle Shanahan is the mastermind of the 49ers’ offense, but Saleh has done a terrific job turning San Francisco’s defense into one of the league’s best. A Pete Carroll protege who mirrors Carroll’s aggressive style, Saleh has a commanding presence that will serve him well as a head coach. He’ll likely get a shot next year.
Greg Roman, Ravens offensive coordinator: Roman is credited with tailoring the Ravens’ offense to meet the unique strengths of quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is equally adept at running as he is throwing. The Browns had interest in him last year before naming Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski as Freddie Kitchens’ replacement.
Don "Wink" Martindale, Ravens defensive coordinator: The Giants were impressed with Martindale during his interview last year before Joe Judge convinced the team he was the right man for the job. The Ravens consider him indispensable, giving Martindale a three-year contract extension in February.
Brian Daboll, Bills offensive coordinator: Want to know a big reason Josh Allen has steadily improved in his two-plus seasons in Buffalo? It’s because of Daboll, an excellent quarterback tutor whose play-calling is both imaginative and reliable.
Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma head coach: With former college coach Kliff Kingsbury showing promise with the Cardinals, the 37-year-old Riley is another young coach who some NFL executives believe can make the transition to the NFL. It would take the perfect situation for him to leave Oklahoma, though, and the Jets aren’t it.
David Shaw, Stanford head coach: NFL teams have long tried to pry Shaw away from Stanford, but he hasn’t budged. It would be a home run if the Jets could get him.
Arthur Smith, Titans offensive coordinator: Smith is seldom mentioned in connection with head-coaching opportunities but keep an eye on him. He has done terrific work in deploying running back Derrick Henry and especially in resurrecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s career.
Matt Eberflus, Colts defensive coordinator: He has quietly done a magnificent job turning the Colts into a consistently good defensive team, and though it may take a bit longer for him to get serious consideration as a head coach, that day will eventually come.
Leslie Frazier, Bills defensive coordinator: Frazier has head-coaching experience with the Vikings, although he hasn’t gotten another shot. Still, he’s a qualified candidate who has done terrific work with a Bills team that now has one of the league’s top defenses.
Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator: OK, there’s little chance the Jets would go after McDaniels, not as long as the Patriots remain their mortal enemy. And who knows if McDaniels would even entertain the opportunity, given his flip-flop with the Colts job in 2018. But he is one of the league’s brightest offensive minds.
Mike Lafleur, 49ers passing game coordinator: Matt Lafleur’s younger brother is a coaching wunderkind at age 33 and making the quantum leap to a head-coaching job, especially in New York, might be asking at bit much. But Shanahan values his trusted assistant, and given Matt’s early success in Green Bay, Mike will get some attention in the not-too-distant future.
Byron Leftwich, Buccaneers offensive coordinator: Bruce Arians has done an excellent job mentoring young coaches, and he believes Leftwich is one of his best. The former Jaguars quarterback has a player’s experience to go with a coach’s instincts. He’ll be a good head coach.
Dave Toub, Kansas City special teams coach: Marv Levy is in the Hall of Fame. John Harbaugh has won a Super Bowl in Baltimore. Joe Judge is a head coach with the Giants. Yes, there’s a place for special teams coaches among the head coaching ranks. Toub is the league’s best right now.
Steve Spagnuolo, Kansas City defensive coordinator: Spagnuolo has two Super Bowl wins as a defensive coordinator, his first with the Giants in 2007 and his second with last year’s Kansas City team. He didn’t pan out as a head coach in St. Louis, but he believes that experience will help him not make the same mistakes twice if he gets another shot.
Titans’ situation not over
The NFL made a relatively easy fix to the Titans-Steelers game that was originally scheduled for Sunday but was postponed after several positive COVID-19 tests in the Titans’ organization. The Titans will now host Pittsburgh on Sunday, Oct. 25, and the Steelers-Ravens game originally scheduled for Oct. 25 will be moved to Sunday, Nov. 1. The Steelers and Titans will use this weekend as their bye, and the Ravens’ bye, originally scheduled for Week 8, has been moved to Week 7.
But the league will be very careful about when to reopen the Titans’ practice facility, which has been closed since Tuesday. The Titans are scheduled to host the Bills next Sunday, but if the infection continues to affect additional players and staff, there is a chance that game will be postponed, as well.
The league knew there might be situations like this, and commissioner Roger Goodell said from the start that teams would have to be flexible. If the Titans can get back to business as usual in time for next week’s game, the NFL will have overcome a major obstacle. But with the virus still not under control in many areas of the country, it won’t be a surprise if further scheduling changes need to be made.
Respect for struggling Jones
You can’t expect Rams coach Sean McVay to criticize Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in advance of Sunday’s game in Los Angeles. But McVay does seem to have a genuine respect for Jones, even if the second-year quarterback continues to struggle with turnovers.
"I remember the first real exposure I had to Daniel was when we crossed over when they beat the Bucs last year when we were getting ready for them in Week 4," McVay said Wednesday during a conference call. "Man, did he play really well. I was so impressed with his poise, his ability to make plays down the stretch. His ability to extend plays, the athleticism. You see it with a couple of zone reads that he had (against the 49ers last Sunday). I’ve also been impressed with his ability to just show the athleticism by keeping plays alive in the pocket, out of the pocket."
Lip service? Perhaps. But if Jones can follow a similar track as Rams quarterback Jared Goff, who had his own struggles early in his career but helped the Rams reach the Super Bowl after the 2018 season, then the Giants’ quarterback has a shot to be decent.
Scoring is up … way up
Giants and Jets fans may want to cover their eyes for this one, given how difficult it has been for both teams to score points this season. But overall, scoring is up significantly through the first three weeks, with games averaging 51.0 points, the most through the same period since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Six teams have averaged at least 30 points so far, tied for the fourth through three weeks. The Packers lead the league with 40.7 points per game, with the Seahawks (37.0), Bills (31.0), Ravens (30.3), Kansas City (30.3) and Falcons (30.0) in line behind.
Allen thrives in Buffalo
Sam Darnold (third overall) and Josh Allen (sixth) were part of the Class of 2018 quarterbacks, but the two have been on divergent paths so far.
While Darnold has struggled through much of his two-plus seasons with the Jets, Allen has made steady progress and might be in the midst of a breakout season. Consider: Allen is second in passing yards (1,038), touchdown passes (10) and passer rating (124.8). That makes him the fourth player in NFL history with at least 1,000 passing yards, 10 passing touchdowns and a passer rating of 120.0 or higher in his team’s first three games. And if Allen throws for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders on Sunday, he’ll become just the third player with at least 300 passing yards and two touchdown throws in each of his team’s first four games in NFL history. The others: Hall of Famer Steve Young (six games in 1998) and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Peyton Manning (five games in 2013).
Good for Allen that he’s with a competent organization that has built steadily since his arrival. Too bad Darnold doesn’t have the same luxury. He has already had two head coaches and is likely headed for a third. And who knows: If the Jets continue to founder and wind up with the first overall draft pick, it’s conceivable the Jets might move on from Darnold if Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is available.
Sam and Mekhi shouldn’t play
I realize Gase needs to win games to have a chance at salvaging his job, but he needs to make two decisions for the greater good of the team, regardless of his individual situation: Darnold and rookie left tackle Mekhi Becton, both of whom are dealing with shoulder injuries, need to be held out until they are close to 100 percent.
Darnold was hurt on a first-half sack against the Broncos and returned to complete the game, but Gase said he needs further tests before determining when – or whether – he should return soon. Becton aggravated a shoulder injury after he replaced the injured Chuma Edoga, who started in Becton’s place but was hurt early in the first quarter.
Becton should not even have been active in the game. You’re talking about a player who might be your starting left tackle for 12-15 years, so there was no reason he should have dressed. That fact became apparent when Becton had to come out a few minutes after he went into the game.
Another first for the ageless Tom Brady
With 43-year-old Tom Brady about to face 22-year-old Justin Herbert of the Chargers, this would be the first game since at least the 1950 season in which there’s at least a 20-year age gap between the two starting quarterbacks. Brady already is a part of the three widest age margins ever, including a 2019 matchup against Sam Darnold (19 years, 306 days), a 2018 matchup against Darnold (19 years, 306 days) and a 2019 game against Daniel Jones of the Giants (19 years, 297 days). On Sunday, Brady would be 20 years and 219 days older than Herbert.