We look at possible names for the vacancy Jon Gruden created with the dismissal of Paul Guenther as the Raiders defensive coordinator earlier this month.
With the Las Vegas Raiders all but mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs, soon the attention of fans and the team will focus on the future. With the draft just a few months away, and key positions open to fill, Las Vegas will soon turn their eye toward filling perhaps the most important positions to help continue their build toward a championship organization – the Raiders defensive coordinator vacancy.
We’re going to look at some names and possible candidates based on initial interest, reports, and possible fits.
As first reported by Vinny Bonsignore at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the former Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator is interested in the open Raiders defensive coordinator position.
“According to people close to Wade Phillips, the 44-year coaching veteran, and architect of the Denver Broncos defense that helped bring a Super Bowl championship to the Mile High City in 2016 is itching to get back to the NFL and is particularly interested in the Raiders’ opening,” Bonsignore’s report said.
Phillips has a long resume of turning around defenses and doing it quickly. Although there is not a close connection between Phillips and Gruden, this fit makes a lot of sense and Phillips’ track record speaks for itself.
Former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith could also be a nice fit for Gruden’s staff and the young Raiders’ defense. Smith, who was fired at the University of Illinois after leading the Illini to a bowl game for the first time since 1994 last season, could only muster a 2-5 record in 2020. Most believe Smith will want to return to the NFL.
Smith served as a DC in Tampa Bay under Tony Dungy in his first stint with the team (he later would return for two seasons as head coach) and is seen as a defensive-minded coach. There is indications he would be willing to return to a DC role in a return to the NFL.
Smith’s defensive philosophy is well established and has proven successful. As the head coach of the Chicago Bears, Smith’s teams were near the top of a key category the Raiders have failed miserably at the past few seasons – takeaways. From 2006-2010, the Bears had 170 takeaways over those five seasons which led the NFL during that period.
Ron Rivera was Smith’s defensive coordinator while with the Bears and both men demanded strong fundamentals, gang tackling, and flocking to the football. Those are all areas the next Raiders defensive coordinator will need to teach as they currently are weaknesses for the team’s young defense.
There are key talent questions that need to be addressed on the Raiders defense and Smith could be the right guy at the right time.
Raheem Morris is the current Atlanta Falcons interim head coach and a close protege of Gruden’s. If the Falcons don’t hire Morris as their new full-time head coach, which appears unlikely to happen, Morris would be a natural fit to fill the Raiders defensive coordinator position.
Like Smith, Morris is known for his defensive mind and served three forgettable years as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2009-2011, following his mentor Gruden. After starting 4-2 in 2011, Morris’ Bucs lost 10-straight game and he was fired after the season was over.
As the Falcons interim head coach, Morris is 4-4 and has lost a few games – like Sunday’s loss to his old team the Bucs – by slim margins. The job he has done in the void filled by fired Falcons coach Dan Quinn has been noticed and Morris may have the opportunity for a head job elsewhere. But his defensive acumen, and his relationship with Gruden, would make him a favorite to fill the Raiders defensive coordinator position.
The recently fired head coach of the Detroit Lions, Matt Patricia, was a victim of a poor organization and being a rookie head coach who didn’t have the organizational support he needed. But no matter his performance, Patricia is still the defensive mind that help fuel an unprecedented championship run in New England.
Patricia’s reign as DC in New England included three Super Bowl wins serving with legendary coach Bill Belichick. In 2016, Patricia’s Patriots defense allowed the fewest points allowed en route to their fifth Lombardi Trophy.
If Patricia doesn’t get another head coaching job immediately, he could be a good fit for Gruden as the Raiders defensive coordinator. Although no reports indicate an interest by either side, it could be a good way for Patricia to rehab his image after Detroit and catapult him to another head job should he turn around the Raiders defense. He has been linked to possible openings in Miami, back in New England, and even at Alabama under Nick Saban
What We Don’t Know About Next Raiders Defensive Coordinator
The bottom line in the NFL is it’s very incestuous when it comes to coaching. The Gruden coaching tree has many branches and although we’re merely speculating on possible candidates, the better guess, and based on Gruden’s track record, is it will be someone he is close to or knows through his previous experience in Oakland and Tampa.
Either way, the next Raiders defensive coordinator has some talent and a blank canvas to work with. There’s nowhere to go but up with a unit that has struggled mightily over the past 18 years.