The San Francisco 49ers were most likely planning this coaching search months ago before they mutually parted ways with Jim Harbaugh after Week 17. Now it is a reality that they will need to find the 19th coach in team history for next season.
In perspective, the 49ers should go for an offensive minded coach to work with Colin Kaepernick. Yes, it would help to have a great defensive mind, but the team has invested in their quarterback at least through 2015.
His contract $126 million extension through 2020 is only $13 million guaranteed, which was the signing bonus last spring. The true deadline for Kaepernick and his future is April 1, 2016, where the guaranteed money kicks in for the 2016 season.
With that being said, there are current favorites of promoting from within the organization, but they should be interviewing candidates and others. It would satisfy the Rooney Rule and prevent any extra fine.
Jed York, the 49ers front office and Trent Baalke have their targets set. Now we will see who they are interested in and the process will play itself out. I personally think it’s doubtful that they take another college coach, but there will be some listed here just to throw out a few names.
Here is my 49ers coaching list on who the team could hire. The most likely person is listed first, while the most doubtful is last.
Promotion from within:
Defensive Line coach Jim Tomsula: Tomsula has been with the organization since 2007, when Mike Nolan was the head coach. He was also the interim coach for the final game of 2010, where he took over after the team fired Mike Singletary. He is well-respected by the front office and his seniority should be considered. Jason La Canfora tweeted that he will be interviewed by the 49ers.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio: He would be an honest coach and was in charge of one of the top defenses in the NFL. With all the injuries, the defense was still ranked third overall for what was a rough 8-8 season. They were great at getting turnovers and were productive without the blitzes, depending on coverage and bending, but not breaking. Fangio was even recommended by Bruce Arians, saying he’d be a great candidate.
Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase: Like Bowles, the 49ers have requested and interview with Gase as reported by Jeff Legwold. With Peyton Manning, Gase had one of the top passing offenses in the league, but the ground attack stepped in up in the second half. C.J. Anderson proved to be vital when Manning was limited with an injury. The 49ers will pursue Gase, making a last second push for him.
Arizona Cardinals Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles: Arizona lost several players on defense through free agency and injuries, but it didn’t prevent Bowles from having a top-notch run defense with the personnel he had. In 13 games, the Cardinals allowed 20 points or less. The 49ers will interview Bowles for a second time.
Seattle Seahawks Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn: The Seattle defense is one of the top units in the league. Quinn has a connection with the 49ers as he was on their staff from 2001-2004. This would create an interesting subplot if he were hired within the NFC West division. The team has already interviewed Quinn.
Green Bay Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements: This would be a dark horse candidate going outside the box. Clements has worked with Aaron Rodgers initially as a QB coach before he became the team’s offensive coordinator in 2013. If he were hired, it would affirm the team’s commitment to Kaepernick.
Cleveland Browns Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan: The son of Mike Shanahan, Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot said Kyle Shanahan is on the 49ers short list. Shanahan’s offenses have placed in the top-10 in yardage in four of his seven seasons as an offensive coordinator. In points, Shanahan is near the bottom of that category. He inherited a Browns team with Brian Hoyer as QB, while Johnny Manziel was mostly a backup until late in the season.
Detroit Lions Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin: Austin has been in charge of a Lions defense that is ranked No. 2 in the league in yardage. The 49ers will interview him on Thursday, according to Aditi Kinkhabwala.
New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels: One of many Bill Belichick apprentices, McDaniels previously spent time as head coach of the Denver Broncos. He has worked with Tom Brady for many years, but hasn’t been the greatest at running his own team. McDaniels was also the St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator in 2011. Ian Rapoport reported that the 49ers will request to interview him.
Seattle Seahawks Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell: Seattle has emerged offensively under Bevell and he one of the sole reasons they have Russell Wilson as their quarterback. He has shown success with a dual-threat QB before and by this logic, he could work with Kaepernick.
Former Head Coaches:
Note: This is a fair list based on interest and interviews. It is more likely than college coaches.
Mike Shanahan: The 49ers have shown interest in Shanahan and he would be a coach to develop Kaepernick. Shanahan last coached the Washington Redskins from 2010-2013, but is most remembered for his time with the Denver Broncos where he won two Super Bowls. He was part of the Bill Walsh coaching tree, serving as the offensive coordinator from 1992-1994, including the Super Bowl XXIX winning team.
Gary Kubiak (currently Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator): Kubiak is a well-respected coach around the league. He most recently took the Ravens offense to being ranked 8th in the league in yardage. Previously, he was the Houston Texans head coach for eight seasons. Kubiak also has ties to the 49ers, being the QB coach of the Super Bowl XXIX winning 49ers team of 1994. The 49ers have been interested in him, according to Kevin Patra. With Kubiak, they would have a coach who could immediately work with Kaepernick. UPDATE: Kubiak said he will not take any head coaching job and stay as Baltimore offensive coordinator.
Rex Ryan: Rex Ryan was recently fired by the New York Jets. Once a great defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, he led New York to two AFC Championship games with Mark Sanchez at quarterback. The 49ers interviewed him on Sunday. UPDATE: Ryan was hired as the Buffalo Bills head coach.
Note: This becomes the list of candidates that would be expensive, paying a university money for him. My personal instincts say this is a doubtful path the 49ers, but it is always worth mentioning some names.
Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly: The York family has connection to Notre Dame. Kelly cannot be written off 100%, but he has no NFL experience. He has led Notre Dame to 8-5, 8-5, 12-1, 9-4, and 7-5 seasons in his five years as head coach. In 2012, he led the Irish to a national title appearance.
Stanford Head Coach David Shaw: This would be awkward. Prying a head coach from Stanford twice? Shaw will reportedly turn down any NFL offer for the time being, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he takes one in the future. He would make a lot of fundamental things good, but when it comes to in-game decisions, he has a tendency to go too conservative. Shaw has NFL experience from 1998-2005 before he joined Jim Harbaugh’s staff at the University of San Diego.
UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora Jr.: Mora’s last NFL job was being the Seattle Seahawks head coach in 2009, where he was replaced by Pete Carroll. At UCLA, he has led the Bruins to three consecutive seasons of nine wins or more for the first time in school history. Mora was a defensive coach on the 49ers sideline for seven seasons from 1997-2003. He spent his last five seasons with the 49ers as the defensive coordinator. He was also the Atlanta Falcons head coach from 2004-2006 where he led them to an NFC Championship game appearance once. If Mora were to take the 49ers’ job, it would say more about him than the team as he would leave a winning product to more challenges in the NFL.