Raiders

Raiders: 3 Under-The-Radar Head Coaching Candidates

Tuesday, December 28th. That’s when teams began interviewing head coach candidates on other NFL staffs, thanks to a recent rule change. While the story is not yet finished for Rich Bisaccia and this 2021 Las Vegas Raiders squad, owner Mark Davis will likely begin putting together a list of names for his open vacancy (if he hasn’t already). If his team falls to the Indianapolis Colts tomorrow, all but ending their slim playoff hopes, then we may see them suddenly crank their search into gear.

Outside of Jacksonville, Las Vegas has a chance to bring in their desired applicants ahead of their competition (i.e., Chicago, Denver, or New York). There are names that immediately come to mind, most of whom are offensive-minded: Byron Leftwich (Tampa), Kellen Moore (Dallas), Josh McDaniels (New England), or one of my favorites, Doug Pederson (Super Bowl winner, but unemployed). And in the college world, Matt Campbell is a likable coach and a tremendous culture builder. That’s probably why he’d be so expensive.

Those names are fun, but you’ve heard them enough. After some extensive Wikipedia research, you’re probably an expert on each of those guys by now. But who are some other possibilities who may not be getting their fair share of recognition?

Here are three less trendy men who Davis should ponder:

Nathaniel Hackett, Green Bay Packers Offensive Coordinator

Hackett is a seasoned offensive mind in both college and the pros, best known for leading a Blake Bortles-led Jaguars offense to the AFC Championship game in 2017. At 42 years old, the UC-Davis alum began his NFL coaching career under Jon Gruden. Heard of him? He would then follow Doug Marrone around for awhile, first at the University of Syracuse, then onto Buffalo as their offensive coordinator. He had his hands filled for a while in Orchard Park. Hackett was tasked with the development of EJ Manuel and finding a way to make the CJ Spiller-Fred Jackson duo click. He didn’t have much success at either, and when Marrone opted out of his contract, Hackett followed him once again to Duval County.

That is where he would make his name. Originally the quarterbacks’ coach, Hackett was elevated to offensive coordinator when Marrone was named head coach. The man he took the job from? Greg Olson, the current Raiders’ offensive play-caller. Hackett’s ties to the Raiders are almost comical. Anyway, Hackett leaned heavily into the running game, putting rookie star Leonard Fournette to work. Coupled with a top-flight defense and a rejuvenated Blake Bortles, the Jaguars went on their deepest postseason run since 1996, their second year of existence. The love affair with Hackett as a savior of the offense was short-lived, though, as a 3-8 start to the 2018 season would lead to his dismissal.

Hackett and the Packers

Since 2019, he’s been with Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Although he does not call plays for the Packers, his presence has nonetheless been noticed by Mr. Discount Double Check. The offenses in Green Bay have been top-15 in each of LaFleur/Hackett’s seasons, and Hackett undoubtedly has his fingerprints on the play-calling each week. He also deserves praise for keeping the peace between two highly opinionated and passionate football guys, one of whom may be the most self-absorbed athlete in recent memory.

Raheem Morris, Los Angeles Rams Defensive Coordinator

Raheem Morris, a popular name for the Raiders’ defensive coordinator job this past offseason, is due for his second chance at a head coaching gig. Again (and unintentionally), Morris is forever connected to Gruden: he’s the one who took over for Chucky in Tampa, at the ripe age of 33. It is not surprising, considering the state of the Bucs at that time, that his first season was a disaster. Starting 0-7 in the 2009 campaign, the Buccaneers would finish 3-13 in his first season. However, in what is still the biggest turnaround in their franchise’s history, Morris flipped the team’s fortunes around in Year 2, finishing 10-6 and just missing the playoffs. But this success would not last, and Morris was fired at the conclusion of the 2011 season. The team finished 4-12 that year, closing on a disastrous and emotional 10-game losing streak.

After a few seasons in Washington (the last one being under Jay Gruden), Morris headed to Atlanta to team up with Dan Quinn. Following many promotions and title changes, the New Jersey native eventually became Quinn’s replacement in 2020, when Quinn was canned after an 0-5 start. He would finish 4-7 in the interim, but with some impressive victories (43-6 over Vegas) and some grueling and narrow defeats (17-14 to the Chiefs in Kansas City).

A hard ass, someone that demands respect…

Someone who demands respect, Morris is a hard ass without results. Yet he’s energetic, smart, and can say he’s now been in the presence of the great and holy Sean McVay (that usually helps coaches). His work in 2021 has been stellar, and his deep Rams defense is firmly in the top-10 in overall production.

Retread coaches aren’t sexy, but people deserve second chances. For Morris, his second chance is coming soon, and whoever grants it will likely see an aggressive and ambitious man with something to prove.

Patrick Graham, New York Giants Defensive Coordinator

I can already hear some of your reactions: “Who? The Giants? Why?”

Well, because he’s young, intelligent, and has an outstanding pedigree. And let’s make one thing clear right away: the disaster that is the Giants is no fault of Patrick Graham. Graham, a Yale defensive lineman, began coaching in the college ranks for several schools before joining Bill Belichick’s New England staff in 2009.

For seven seasons, Graham worked his way up Belichick’s talented defensive brain trust, finally becoming a coordinator in 2019 for his buddy Brian Flores, another Patriots alum. Graham earned a promotion after one season with the Dolphins, despite the struggles of a bare-bones team: he returned to the Giants, accepting an assistant head coaching/defensive coordinator job under Joe Judge, with the opportunity to have full control of the defense.

He quickly re-shaped the group into a fun, complex, hybrid 3-4 scheme, and it paid off. Graham oversaw a defensive unit that finished 11th in the defensive rankings in 2020, despite having no help from a bottom-half offense. This feat was so impressive, he was offered a head coach interview with the New York Jets. He declined, accepted an extension with the Giants instead, and another young defensive innovator (Robert Saleh) got the job.

What’s Graham currently up to?

Graham continues to do good work with the G-Men in 2022, again without the help from the team’s offense. The stats aren’t on par with their 2020 output, but they play hard and fast, even though they spend more time on the field than 27 other teams. The group is also top-10 in interceptions, a stat/skill that has alluded the 2021 Raiders defense.

All told, his background and ability to make the most of what he has should put the high-rising Graham in the mix for each head coaching vacancy this offseason.

Closing Thoughts

This is not a position Davis figured he’d be in come January of 2022. And we know he’s not happy to be here either. Nonetheless, he must make several big decisions in the next few months. His head coach choice will likely be dictated by who he hires/retains as general manager (if Mayock remains, my money is on Doug Pederson).

The good news for Davis and his counsel: there are many good names out there this cycle, and Las Vegas will be a desirable destination for each of them. For the three men mentioned above, they deserve a look in this process, especially if Davis decides he wants to go against the mainstream.

It’ll be an interesting start to the new year in Sin City, especially if Las Vegas pulls off the impossible and sneaks into the postseason.

There is still so much to be decided in such a short amount of time. Buckle up, Raiders fans.

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*Top Photo: AP Photo/Isaac Brekken

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