NFL Nation: Ray Horton

Titans offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
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With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Tennessee Titans' offseason moves.

Best move: You might call it a cop-out, but the biggest and most significant upgrade the Titans made is the new coaching staff. With head coach Ken Whisenhunt and Ray Horton as the offensive and defensive playcallers, respectively, this team is going to have smarter plans on Sundays than it did during the past three seasons. It will also adjust better as a game unfolds. It’s hard to rate some of the talent until we see how those guys and their deputies assess and deploy it.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderThe Titans will take their chances with Jake Locker as the starting quarterback again this season.
Riskiest move: Sticking with Jake Locker as the quarterback and not at least creating a situation where he has to win the job. I know it’s not like there was an obvious alternative, and just three seasons after they overreached on Locker in the draft it would have been a big mistake to overreach again. But I like to think that if they had seen a good alternative, they would have made a move. It's hard to have much faith in Locker, given his injury history, and there is no assurance he will be able to grasp the new offense quickly.

Most surprising move: We knew they were thinking about the left tackle situation beyond 2014, and their rationale for picking Taylor Lewan 11th overall is sound. Still, he’s not guaranteed to be in position to contribute in 2014. If he does, then a well-paid veteran tackle -- free-agent addition Michael Oher or nine-year stalwart Michael Roos -- won’t be playing. It is easy to argue that a team that was 7-9 and has a new staff and systems could have found a guy guaranteed to have first-year impact in the first round.

I’m not arguing: The Titans survived the Pacman Jones disaster thanks to seventh-round pick Cortland Finnegan. They replaced Finnegan with fourth-round pick Alterraun Verner. Now they will replace Verner with either 2013 third-round pick Blidi Wreh-Wilson or 2012 fourth-round pick Coty Sensabaugh. The franchise's cornerback succession plans have been sound. It should be able to have a third- or fourth-round pick be a better-than-functional starter as it moves forward.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With D'Qwell Jackson's visit to the Tennessee Titans on Friday will come all sort of speculation.

So I take the occasion to urge us all to emphasize the word at the heart of what’s going on: visiting.

Jackson
Jackson is presumably chatting with coach Ken Whisenhunt, with defensive coordinator Ray Horton, and with linebacker coach Lou Spanos. They will talk scheme and role and expectations. Perhaps they will watch some film as the Titans sell their situation.

Presumably Jackson will take a physical.

Perhaps as it wraps up, Ruston Webster or contract guru Vin Marino will talk contract parameters with Brian Mackler, Jackson’s agent.

I don’t think this is a scenario where the Titans, no matter how good they feel about Jackson, attempt to keep him from leaving town without signing.

Jackson is to visit the Broncos on Sunday, and is also reportedly fielding interest from Arizona. The Cardinals could be prepping to lose Karlos Dansby as a free agent, and Dansby is a player Whisenhunt knows well from time together in Arizona.

The Titans might love Jackson, who at 30 is two years younger than Dansby.

They might love Dansby more.

Maybe the Titans will wind up with Jackson. Maybe they’ll wind up with Dansby and create an opportunity for Jackson in Arizona. Maybe he’ll wind up with the Broncos. Maybe the Titans won't end up with either.

Maybe something happens fast for Jackson.

I suspect it’ll take a bit of time.
 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- D'Qwell Jackson, the linebacker released by the Cleveland Browns, is likely to be a guy the Tennessee Titans look at closely.

Tennessee defensive coordinator Ray Horton coached Jackson in 2013.

“D’Qwell has been a coach’s dream as far as leadership, intelligence,'' Horton said last season per this article from Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. "He demands a lot from himself and his teammates. He really is a locker room coach [with] some of the things he says after the game and at halftime.”

The Titans could use that in the middle of a defense that needs more leaders. Strong safety Bernard Pollard, who could be leaving as a free agent, was the singular leader of the 2013 defense.

I talked to one executive who couldn’t predict what sort of deal Jackson might command because he believes everyone is waiting to see what the market will offer when free agency opens March 11. That executive said while Jackson has been productive in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts, he’s probably better in a 4-3.

The numbers from Pro Football Focus suggest it’s more than a bit better.

ESPN.com’s resident scout, Matt Williamson, is a bit skeptical of Jackson.

“He’s highly productive when he’s right [physically], but I also have always seen that as a bit of an aberration, as he is often making plays downfield, rather than 'impact tackles,' Williamson said. “He has experience in both schemes, but never was a great take-on linebacker and need protection, which I would think Jurrell Casey and company could do rather well. He’s an every down LB, but his name value is greater than what he truly is in my opinion.”

Williamson said another player connected to Horton, Arizona free-agent-to-be Karlos Dansby is a superior option: “Dansby had a much better year than Jackson in all areas and is more versatile ... would clearly prefer Dansby.”

Odds are Jackson fares well on the open market, though as indicated in Cabot’s piece, just two months ago he never imagined he would be moving on from Cleveland.

Horton will certainly have a strong voice in how seriously the Titans look into Jackson.
The last three Cleveland Browns offensive coordinators have been Brad Childress, Norv Turner and, now, Kyle Shanahan.

Two were former head coaches who brought impressive résumés to their jobs.

Childress took Brett Favre and the Vikings to within a whisker of the Super Bowl in 2009, guiding Favre to one of his best seasons. He crashed and burned the following year, then took a year off before joining Pat Shurmur’s staff in Cleveland. Midway through that season, he had Brandon Weeden looking like he might work out as the Browns quarterback, but things fizzled -- as they usually do -- when a coaching staff and players pretty much know their days are numbered due to an ownership change.

[+] EnlargeNorv Turner
AP Photo/David RichardNorv Turner came to Cleveland with a sparkling resume, but still only lasted a season.
Enter Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner, who hired Rob Chudzinski as coach and touted the hire of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator as the veteran guy who could make it all work. Turner was a former coordinator for Jimmy Johnson in Dallas and a head coach in Washington and San Diego. His coaching résumé isn’t perfect, but few question his smarts and credentials.

Rarely were phrases like “reason for optimism” not used with Turner’s name. He got wins out of Brian Hoyer, but struggled without a running game and lack of continuity at quarterback. As the season droned on, Turner seemed to get more and more frustrated with the expectations for a team that lacked all the cards.

Childress and Turner are both good coaches. They’ve proven that. They know what they’re doing. They were both fired by the Browns.

The same was true on the defensive side of the ball. Dick Jauron was the coordinator two years ago. It’s impossible to find anyone who doesn’t respect Jauron. He’s a former head coach who knows the game, knows how to coach.

When Haslam and Banner made the change to a new staff, they touted Ray Horton as another great addition. Horton had interviewed to be the Browns' head coach, he spoke a good game and he attacked defensively. Horton knows what he’s doing, but his unit struggled with some poor end-of-game production.

Good coaches can struggle -- and they can lose. Bill Cowher had some very poor losing seasons. It happens.

But the spin that was put on the Turner-Horton tandem when they were hired bordered on the absurd. Horton and Turner were going to fill potholes citywide, balance the federal budget, win games and water and fertilize the stadium grass in their downtime. Some optimism wasn’t unfounded, but the public spin made them seem more like miracle workers than coaches working with a needy roster. And it wasn’t the public or media making these statements, it was the Browns.

That’s four very good coaches who were Browns coordinators the past two seasons, coaches with head-coaching experience, coaches with winning experience, coaches with impressive résumés. The difference between Josh McDaniels and Norv Turner last season may well be Tom Brady. The difference between Ray Horton and Dan Quinn starts with Richard Sherman.

Now the Browns have Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and Jim O’Neil as defensive coordinator. Shanahan has five years experience as a coordinator, O’Neil has no experience but will have new coach Mike Pettine calling defensive signals for at least the first season.

This version of the Browns may work, and the new group deserves a chance.

But nobody can say it failed the previous two seasons because of a lack of qualified guys leading the offense and defense. The résumés for the coordinators the Browns had the past two years would stack up with any in the league.
NEW YORK -- A good share of Tennessee Titans devotees latched on to Gregg Williams in 2013.

The team’s senior assistant/defense helped change Tennessee’s defense for the better.

But the degree of public support for Williams as a defensive coordinator candidate once Mike Munchak was fired surprised me.

Now Williams is heading back to St. Louis for the reunion with Jeff Fisher that was slated for 2012, before Williams was sidetracked by his Bountygate suspension.

[+] EnlargeRay Horton
AP Photo/Mark DuncanRay Horton likes the speed and effort he's seen on tape from the Titans' 2013 defense.
In the meantime, the Titans have fresh defensive leadership in Ray Horton.

And Horton has the one big quality people like so much in Williams: Swagger.

He was formally introduced by the Titans on Wednesday and visited with us on the Midday 180, too.

He said he’s excited to be reunited with Ken Whisenhunt, who he called “a dynamic, proven, play-calling, winning coach” and he told us something I suspect will become a sound byte with staying power: “We’re going to get the damn job done.”

He likes the speed and effort he’s seen on tape from the 2013 defense, and said it’s the staff’s job to turn those things into wins.

“I want my players to be very disciplined, to be in the right place at the right time, and never, never, never let your teammates down,” he said. “...You better have good technique, you better be fundamentally sound, you better know how to take care of your responsibility.”

Horton’s played in and coached in a total of five Super Bowls.

He’s won three times -- Super Bowl XXVII as a player for Dallas, and Super Bowls XL and XLIII as a coach with Pittsburgh. But it’s the two losses he was part of that he says are most memorable.

He lists Super Bowl XXIII when San Francisco’s John Taylor caught the game-winning touchdown against his Bengals, and the Green Bay Packers win in Dallas against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.

“I remember the losses not the wins,” he said. “The wins are easy. You just take your hardware, your ring, you go home and you wear it ... The losses, they haunt you.”

We were on Radio Row at the Super Bowl and Horton was in Nashville when we spoke.

“I truly believe this with all my heart,” he said. “What players want is to be where you guys are right now. The first week of February, they want to be in that city where you guys are.”

By Friday night, Horton will have watched every snap of every player.

Next week he and the staff will begin to discuss how to maximize what they have, accentuating strengths, hiding weaknesses and determining needs.

Fans should be energized by the reviews Whisenhunt has received for getting Horton, and about what Horton has said so far.

I anticipate that while fans will remember Williams’ contribution fondly, they will be quite happy with the man who got the job.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ray Horton is officially the Titans defensive coordinator.

The only bad thing I've heard about him is that some Arizona defenders felt they were able to play with more freedom after his two seasons. And that's commonplace for guys up front in a Pittsburgh-style, 2-gap, 3-4.

Horton
Ken Whisenhunt has said that's not what the Titans will run. They will be a hybrid front showing multiple looks.

"His body of work speaks for itself over the last few years as a coordinator and a position coach," Whisenhunt said of Horton in the release announcing the addition to his staff. "Not only was he a good player in the league for a number of years, but he has transferred that into becoming a very good NFL coach.

"Scheme-wise, one of the most impressive things about Ray is his flexibility. He has the ability to go between a 4-3 and 3-4 and put our players in the best position to succeed. It has been evident by what he done and where his defenses have ranked in the league over the last few years."

Here's a look at how the Titans defense and Browns defense compared last year. The yardage numbers were good in Cleveland, with the overall defense moving up to ninth from 23rd in 2012. But Horton will have to mold a group that fares better on third down and in scoring defense.

 

"I am excited about this opportunity, to be reunited with coach Whisenhunt and to be a piece of the puzzle to move this team forward," Horton said. "I have a great deal of respect for Whiz, as someone who took a franchise that had never been to the Super Bowl, he was able to take them to one. I was with him in Pittsburgh as well and he is a leader, a great play-caller and has a love for the game.

"As for our defensive system, I have said from day one that I don't coach a particular alignment, I coach men who want to get after it and we will play physical and fundamentally sound. We will do whatever suits the men that I coach and whatever the Tennessee Titans can do best."

Whisenhunt has been working quickly on his staff. Still open are jobs coaching quarterbacks, offensive line and defensive line.

NASHILLE, Tenn. -- During his final two years as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, Ken Whisenhunt’s wanted a Pittsburgh style, 2-gapping, 3-4 defense.

He could adjust given his second head-coaching job, with the Tennessee Titans. But if we're forecasting scheme, that might be the most likely defense we'll see.

What's that mean regarding potential coordinators on the other side of the ball for Whisenhunt, who played as an NFL tight end and is an offensive coach?

If defensive coordinator Ray Horton is fired by the Cleveland Browns, who are still searching for a head coach, he’d likely be a prime candidate to re-join Whisenhunt, for whom he worked with the Cardinals. It was Horton who went from Pittsburgh to Arizona to run that scheme for the Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeRay Horton
AP Photo/Mark DuncanIf Ray Horton is not retained when the Browns hire a new coach, he could be a prime candidate to join Ken Whisenhunt's staff.
A couple others I think could be defensive coordinator possibilities: Green Bay’s inside linebackers coach Winston Moss and Baltimore’s secondary coach Teryl Austin, who coached Arizona’s secondary for Whisenhunt from 2007-09.

The Packers or Ravens would have to be willing to let them go in order for Whisenhunt to get them.

Steelers linebacker coach Keith Butler is someone Whisenhunt coveted for the role in his first go-round as a head coach. But Pittsburgh wouldn't let Butler go then and it's unlikely it will let him go now.

Gregg Williams was a 4-3 guy coming up with the Oilers/Titans, as head coach in Buffalo, as coordinator in Washington and Jacksonville. He did run some 3-4 in New Orleans, where he coaches a Super Bowl-wining defense.

Williams did well as a senior assistant/defense for Mike Munchak in 2013. His contract recently expired. He seems like an unlikely guy for Whisenhunt to want, but who knows what options the new coach will wind up with?

His two earlier defensive coordinators in Arizona -- Clancy Pendergast in 2007-08 and Billy Davis in 2009-10 -- ran hybrid fronts. But ultimately Whisenhunt landed on Horton and that 3-4.

If Whisenhunt puts the Titans on a course for a 3-4 defense, he’ll likely need some time to get them there. In the traditional version of the scheme, linemen generally take on the man across from them and are expected to clog the gap on either side of the blocker depending on how a play develops. The linebackers fill in and make the bulk of the plays.

The Titans’ best defensive player, Jurrell Casey, is a 4-3 tackle who would surely become a 3-4 end. Big nose tackles who demand a double team are hard to find, though perhaps 328-pound Sammie Hill could make the conversion.

The Titans linebackers were very unproductive in 2013 after a good start. None scream out to me that they’d be better standing up and adding some coverage duties, though Akeem Ayers was projected by many in that role when he came out of UCLA. I didn’t think the Titans had one sufficient middle linebacker, better yet two who could be tackling machines sharing the inside.

Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano got good results running a hybrid in his first season converting a 4-3 to a 3-4 in 2012, and in his second season the team was better stocked for his preferred front. But he had Robert Mathis, a pass-rushing demon at end who’s taken well to playing as an outside linebacker.

When he’s formally introduced Tuesday, we’ll hear from Whisenhunt about his plans for Tennessee’s defense.
MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Minnesota Vikings hired Brad Childress as their head coach in 2006, infamously keeping him in the Twin Cities before he could get on a plane to interview for the Green Bay Packers' head-coaching position, they were taking their chances on an offensive coordinator from a successful team (Philadelphia) who had not been a NFL head coach or a playcaller for the Eagles. That search wrapped up six days after Vikings ownership fired Mike Tice on the final day of the season.

When the Vikings removed the interim tag from Leslie Frazier's title before their final game of the 2010 season, they were taking their chances on a defensive coordinator who'd done good work for them and managed to win three of the final six games in a chaotic year marked by the collapse of the Metrodome. But Frazier, like the man he replaced in the middle of the season, had not been a head coach.

Those two searches were relatively short -- the first likely because of the Wilf family's inexperience as NFL owners, the second because the Vikings were rewarding a candidate who had interviewed for a handful of jobs elsewhere and who had kept the team together during a trying season. The Vikings' current search for a head coach, though, has general manager Rick Spielman criss-crossing the country, talking to coaching candidates. As ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter reported on Saturday and as we discussed on Friday, the Vikings will interview San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman on Saturday.

That would make Roman the sixth known candidate the Vikings have talked to. And all of those -- Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and Roman -- are current coordinators who have never been NFL head coaches beyond an interim level.

After the Vikings fired Frazier on Dec. 30, Spielman outlined his process by talking about the research he'd already done on previous head coaches. NFL coaches can come from 13 different backgrounds, he said, and none had proven to be more successful than any other.

"That can be anything from head coaches that are currently offensive coordinators, former head coaches that are currently defensive coordinators, defensive coordinators [and] offensive coordinators without head-coaching experiences, college head coaches with and without NFL coaching experience," Spielman said. "So there is a long list of areas that you can look for in a head coach."

We'll say this with the disclaimer that the Vikings could certainly be talking to candidates whose names haven't been publicized, but the list so far has zeroed in, almost exclusively, on coordinators who haven't been permanent head coaches yet. As ESPN's John Clayton pointed out this week, the Houston Texans decided to go away from a coordinator because of how many have failed at the NFL level -- 60 percent, in Texans owner Bob McNair's estimation.

If the Vikings have found the coordinator pool to contain the best candidates, great. Spielman has too much riding on this hire -- his reputation as a GM and possibly his future with the team -- not to turn over every stone, and he has gone through this search in his typical diligent manner.

Roman certainly has the wares to be conducting an extensive interview tour this year, too; he's helped the 49ers get to the NFC title game and the Super Bowl with two different quarterbacks, and has designed one of the league's most diverse offenses behind quarterback Colin Kaepernick and a power running game. The Vikings could certainly use someone with that kind of offensive know-how, especially if he's able to develop a young quarterback.

But it's worth pointing out the considerable risk in the coordinator pool, and the Vikings should be well-acquainted with that, based on the past two coaches they've hired (and fired). The search, at least so far and at least with the names that have become public, hasn't included as much diversity in coaching backgrounds as we thought it could. We'll have to presume that's because Spielman is finding the right people in a class of coordinators that's historically been fraught with risk.

"There is no specific [type of coach we have to have]: offense, defense, college coach, high school coach, whatever," Spielman said on Dec. 30. "It is a coach that we feel is the best fit for our organization."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings suddenly found themselves with an opening in their schedule today, after Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden -- whom the Vikings were scheduled to interview in Cincinnati -- accepted the Washington Redskins' head coaching job. Gruden is believed to be the first candidate to come off the market that the Vikings had planned to interview, and now, it will be interesting to see how they react.

Bowles
Zimmer
To this point, we know they've talked to five people: Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton, and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. They've requested interviews with San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. At this point, the Vikings could talk to the 49ers candidates this week, and then not again until their season is over. They'd have to wait until after the Broncos' season is over to talk to either Gase or Del Rio, and can't go back to Bevell or Quinn until the Seahawks are done.

So the Vikings, in other words, have a few options at this point: They could talk to one of the 49ers' candidates between now and Sunday, conduct interviews with candidates they haven't talked with yet, or double back to some of their previous candidates. Considering they're believed to be high on both Zimmer and Bowles, they might well pursue the third option.

John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, said general manager Rick Spielman was very impressed with Bowles, but added that the Vikings would want to talk again with Bevell and Quinn. Spielman said last week that he planned to bring two or three finalists to Vikings ownership after an initial round of interviews, and that the Wilfs would make the final call at that point.

Here's where things get interesting, though: Zimmer, whom ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter said has emerged as a favorite for the Vikings, was interviewing with the Tennessee Titans on Thursday, and Bowles has also talked with the Cleveland Browns. Do the Vikings risk waiting on the Seahawks to be eliminated from the playoffs, or do they move forward with the candidates who are available now in hopes of securing one of their top guys before he goes somewhere else? Spielman had said he wanted to have a coach in place by the Senior Bowl, and while he would still have time to make that happen, it's possible the Seahawks could wind up in the Super Bowl, keeping Bevell and Quinn off-limits until February.

The Vikings aren't at a point where they have to rush their process, and they could well be talking to other candidates we don't know about. But the candidate pool does appear to have split into two groups -- those who are available now, and those who might not be available until much later. It will be interesting to see if Spielman has to alter his process because of competing teams, and what will happen if the 49ers, Seahawks or Broncos should happen to lose this weekend. The results of those games could help steer the Vikings firmly in one direction or another.
Erin Henderson, Leslie FrazierHannah Foslien/Getty ImagesThe coach hired by Minnesota to replace Leslie Frazier, right, must be able to relate to a younger generation of players, according to former Viking Chris Doleman.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings are continuing on with their coaching search this week, talking to Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton today after interviewing Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on Monday. They will talk with Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden on Thursday, according to a league source, and likely still have interviews coming with Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt, and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. They have already talked with the Seattle Seahawks' offensive and defensive coordinators (Darrell Bevell and Dan Quinn). If their coaching search goes until the Denver Broncos' season is over, they could wind up talking to Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase or defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, too.

It's a long list with a range of different options. But one consideration I've been wondering about lately relates to something former Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman said in an interview last month: How much weight should the Vikings give to a coach's ability to manage millennials?

Ah, yes, 'millennials' -- the buzzword for my generation that's colloquially come to describe a group of people in their teens, 20s and early 30s who are narcissistic, overstimulated by technology and in constant need of and affirmation. Or, at least, that's been the scouting report on us in countless magazine articles about millennials in the workplace -- which, curiously enough, always seem to quote analysts the age of our parents, the same people who helped condition us to so much privilege and praise.

At any rate, Doleman related the concept to football in an Inside the NFL interview last month in which he described many millennials as "soft, soft players" who might not want to work as hard as previous generations of players did.

"This is a class of players that feel like they deserve so much more. I don’t know if the work ethic is still there," Doleman said. "I think these guys want to win. I think they want to be good players, but are you willing to do the hard stuff? This, ‘I’ll ease into the game’ type of attitude is just not good enough. You have to be able to step up there and make it happen.”

Doleman pointed out Vikings linebackers coach Mike Singletary's time as the 49ers' head coach as an example of a disconnect with today's players, because Singletary couldn't understand why every player didn't have his drive. Both Doleman and Singletary were Hall of Famers as players, so they're naturally on the far end of the bell curve, but Doleman does raise an interesting point.

While I'd say the stock criticism of millennials is overly simple and often refers to affluent suburban kids who grew up as hyper-achievers in school (present company admittedly included), there's little doubt young professionals come to the workforce from a different background than previous generations. Football players do, too. Millennials grew up in organizational environments that place a strong emphasis on teamwork and collaboration, and as a result, they draw greater meaning from experiences where they feel like their ideas matter. Generally, they're less used to being screamed at, more used to being asked what they think and more likely to buy into an idea when they've been told the rationale behind it. Former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier seemed to get that -- he met each week with a players' leadership council consisting of players as young as 23 or 24 -- and in an era where salary-cap restrictions have pushed more and more teams toward younger players, the Vikings' next coach will have to find the right style to connect with millennials.

That doesn't necessarily mean every coach has to be like Pete Carroll; Jim Harbaugh has certainly been able to get the most out of young players, first at Stanford and then in San Francisco. But even as gruff as Harbaugh can seem in public, his leadership style is different than that of the coaches he played for (Bo Schembechler or Mike Ditka). A Sports Illustrated profile of Harbaugh in October quoted players who said Harbaugh "thinks of himself as part of the team." Receiver Anquan Boldin said of Harbaugh, "He's definitely not a screamer. He's usually calm when he talks to guys. He's more of a teacher."

Is that a softer way of relating to players? Is it more refined? I'll let someone else be the judge of that, but today's player probably requires a different kind of leader than players did in the 1980s or 1990s. It's a tough thing to quantify, but as Vikings general manager Rick Spielman continues his tour of coaching candidates, he'll have to find the coach that can connect with a generation of players who respond to something different than their predecessors did.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings wasted little time in expanding their coaching search to include coordinators whose teams played in the first round of the playoffs over the weekend. And as expected, they went right to Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

They are one of four teams to request an interview with Gruden, according to a league source. Gruden, who has won praise around the league for his work with Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, is free to interview for jobs now that the Bengals are out of the playoffs, and could emerge as one of the hottest coaching candidates this offseason.

It's telling that four of the five teams with coaching openings -- Washington, Tennessee, Detroit and the Vikings -- have requested permission to talk to Gruden and even though the Bengals' offense sputtered in the team's loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, Gruden has built plenty of momentum before this season. He interviewed for four jobs -- Seattle, San Diego, Philadelphia and Arizona -- after last season, and seemed likely to get strong consideration this year. The Bengals jumped from 18th to sixth in the league in offense in Gruden's three seasons, and they've made the playoffs in each of his three seasons working with Dalton, who was drafted after the Vikings took Christian Ponder.

Gruden, the younger brother of ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden, would follow the Vikings' interviews with Seattle offensive and defensive coordinators Darrell Bevell and Dan Quinn over the weekend. They also have scheduled talks with Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton on Monday and Tuesday, and had requested to talk to Denver offensive and defensive coordinators Adam Gase and Jack Del Rio.

San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer are also able to interview for jobs this week, and both could wind up on the Vikings' radar.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- So who’s next in line to be coach of the Tennessee Titans?

My first choice would be Stanford coach David Shaw, but I don’t think the Titans could lure him away from Palo Alto.

General manager Ruston Webster is connected to a lot of coaches who could be candidates from his time in the front offices in Tampa Bay and Seattle.

[+] EnlargeRich Bisaccia
AP Photo/James D. SmithCowboys special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia is a possible candidate for the Titans' head job.
I pondered many of those connections on Christmas Eve. Lovie Smith is off the board, hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His ties to ownership there would have made it tough for the Titans to get involved even if they had fired Munchak earlier and liked him. Jim Mora appears set on staying at UCLA.

But a few other coaches Webster knows could surface. Dallas Cowboys special teams coach Rich Bisaccia is a name I’ve already heard Webster will consider. Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden or Chicago Bears offensive coordinator and line coach Aaron Kromer might be of interest.

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, whose current office is only a couple miles from LP Field, is a high-energy coach who’s very popular in Nashville. He has a bit of NFL experience. Adam Schefter says Franklin interviewed with the Houston Texans before they hired Bill O'Brien.

A Pennsylvania native, Franklin is reportedly in line to talk to Penn State about its opening. I feel he’s a better fit with college kids than the NFL, but Webster certainly could feel differently.

Like Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean before me, I’ve heard Bisaccia and Seattle Seawhawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are guys Webster is likely to interview.

Before the Titans hired Munchak in 2011, I wrote about why I thought Bisaccia would be a good candidate for the job. It included a rave review from Jon Gruden and Derrick Brooks. (And a bad assessment by me of Raheem Morris.)

From what I’ve heard about Bisaccia, I think he might be a Franklin-type in the energy department. He’d bring far more experience coaching guys in the pro ranks. Already on Twitter some are crushing the idea. I’m asking them if John Harbaugh was a bad hire for the Baltimore Ravens. He won the Super Bowl with Baltimore last year and was hired by the Ravens with a resume that was predominantly overseeing special teams with the Philadelphia Eagles. A top special teams coordinators should have head coaching qualities, and it's an outside-the-box idea worthy of consideration.

Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton have been popular names with regard to remaining openings and it would be no surprise if Webster considered them. Greg Roman of the San Francisco 49ers is among the most popular offensive coordinators in the NFL right now.

One guy I do not think will draw Webster's attention: San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, the former coach of the Cardinals. I don't think Webster is a big fan.

Mike Mularkey (not working this season) and New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell interviewed with the Titans when Munchak was hired in 2011. Mularkey got the Jacksonville Jaguars job in 2012 and was a one-year disaster.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Passing along a few coaching search tidbits as the Vikings get started with interviews this weekend:
  • After talking with Seattle Seahawks coordinators Dan Quinn and Darrell Bevell this weekend, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman will move onto Phoenix. He'll talk to Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on Monday and Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton on Tuesday, according to Fritz Pollard Alliance chairman John Wooten. Both men have built impressive defenses in their current jobs and would invigorate the Vikings on that side of the ball. And if it's a coincidence Spielman is heading out west this weekend, it's also a lucky one; he'll be in Phoenix just as wind chills are supposed to drop to -40 in the Twin Cities.
  • If you're seeing a common theme among the coaches the Vikings are talking to so far, it's that the three defensive coaches all have experience with a 3-4 scheme. As we discussed earlier Friday, the Vikings would have some flexibility to make the move to a 3-4, given their current personnel, and while Spielman's process is partially about gaining insight and evaluations on his own team from people around the league, it seems hard to believe the Vikings wouldn't at least consider the possibility of switching. It's safe to assume, at the very least, they won't be going back to the Tampa 2 scheme they played under Leslie Frazier; the Vikings allowed the most touchdown passes in the league in two of the last three seasons.
  • The Vikings are able to start talking Monday with coaches whose teams are playing in the first round of the playoffs this weekend. That would mean San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer could enter the process next week. If Spielman hasn't talked in any detail with Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase or defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio by Sunday, though, he'd have to wait until the Broncos' season is over. Same goes for Bevell, Quinn, Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott or any other possible candidate from a team with a bye this weekend.
  • Lastly, Leslie Frazier's chances of winding up as the defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay seem to hinge on whether the Dallas Cowboys will allow Lovie Smith to talk to Rod Marinelli. But even if Marinelli ends up as Smith's defensive coordinator in Tampa, Wooten said Frazier would still join Smith's staff as an assistant head coach.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has his first interview of the offseason scheduled, according to a report by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Bowles
Bowles will meet with the Cleveland Browns to discuss their head coaching vacancy, Schefter reported Thursday. Although the Minnesota Vikings have requested permission to interview Bowles, a meeting has not been scheduled.

The Browns need an offensive-minded coach more than a defensive one, after their offense finished the season ranked 18th overall, tied for 27th in the run and 11th in the pass. But Bowles saw first-hand this past season the importance of a head coach trusting his assistants. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had been an offensive assistant throughout his entire career. He hired Bowles to run the offense and was mostly hands off, letting Bowles mold the Cardinals into the sixth-best defense and top-ranked unit against the run.

Bowles replaced Ray Horton as defensive coordinator in Arizona. Cleveland's defense was ranked ninth overall under Horton, 18th against the run (Arizona was 28th facing the run under Horton last season) and eighth against the pass. Bringing Bowles on board won't be a tough transition for the Browns because Horton also runs a 3-4, as the Cardinals found out last year.

It's likely that, like this past season, Bowles will make sure his defensive coordinator runs single-gap 3-4.

Then it'll be up to Bowles to find an offensive coordinator who's in line with his philosophy.

Redskins to interview Caldwell

January, 1, 2014
Jan 1
4:35
PM ET
The Washington Redskins will interview former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell next week, according to John Wooten, the chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation. It's uncertain what day he will interview.

At this point, he's the third name that has surfaced in the Redskins' quest to replace fired Mike Shanahan. They've spoken to Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and will interview Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott this weekend. Also, the Redskins have requested permission to speak with New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson.

Also, Wooten said their foundation has recommended that Washington interview Cincinnati's assistant head coach/running backs Hue Jackson, also a former Redskins running backs coach and ex-Oakland Raiders head coach. But Wooten said he did not know if the Redskins have contacted the Bengals for permission to speak with him. They can't interview him now anyways because the Bengals play a first-round playoff game this weekend.

Caldwell has served as the Raiders' offensive coordinator since late last season and also is the quarterbacks coach. He posted a 26-22 record as the Colts' head coach from 2009-11; that mark included a 2-14 final season with quarterback Peyton Manning sidelined. He went 26-63 in eight seasons as the head coach at Wake Forest.

The Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation compiles a list each season of coaches they feel are deserving of interviews. In addition to the above two, that list also includes former Redskins secondary coach Jerry Gray, Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, Cleveland defensive coordinator Ray Horton, former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, Carolina assistant head coach/defensive backs Steve Wilks, Indianapolis offensive line coach Harold Goodwin, Green Bay assistant head coach/linebackers Winston Moss, Chicago defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. They also included college coaches James Franklin (Vanderbilt), Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M), David Shaw (Stanford) and Charlie Strong (Louisville).

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