JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Jacksonville Jaguars are still waiting on Urban Meyer’s decision about becoming the franchise’s next head coach. But it’s only logical for owner Shad Khan to come up with a Plan B in case Meyer turns him down.
The Jaguars have interviewed four people in addition to Meyer to replace Doug Marrone: Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Atlanta Falcons interim head coach Raheem Morris, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. Unless the Jaguars wait until after this weekend’s games to interview additional candidates (Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, for example), the new coach will be one of those names.
Here’s a look at each candidate, ranked in terms of which might be the best fit and most likely to be atop the Jaguars’ list after Meyer:
Eric Bieniemy: Chiefs coach Andy Reid remains the primary playcaller, but Bieniemy has called plays in games at times, including the 2020 regular-season finale. Reid has said he’d rank Bieniemy with any of his 10 former assistant coaches that have gone on to become head coaches. He also said he has “not seen many guys that are as great a leader as he is of men.”
That’s pretty high praise and should trump any reservations about playcalling. The Jaguars have floundered for nearly all of Khan’s nine-year tenure — losing at least 10 games in eight of those seasons and having a winning record just once (2017) — and the Jaguars need someone with the strength of commitment and vision to reverse the franchise’s direction.
There’s also this: The Jaguars almost certainly will be selecting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and Bieniemy has spent the past eight seasons with Reid learning how to develop and manage quarterbacks. Reid helped Alex Smith turn his career around, taking Smith from a player who posted one winning season in his first seven seasons to posting winning records as a starting quarterback in all five of his seasons with the Chiefs.
Arthur Smith: Remember when Ryan Tannehill’s career as a starting quarterback was essentially over? Back in March 2019, when Miami traded him and a 2019 sixth-round pick to the Titans for a 2019 seventh-round pick and 2020 fourth-round pick?
The Titans wanted some competition for Marcus Mariota, who had not developed as much as hoped since the Titans drafted him second overall in 2015. Mariota floundered through the first six weeks of the 2019 season and the Titans eventually decided to go with Tannehill.
Since then Tannehill has posted the third-best Total QBR, thrown the third-most TD passes, and led the Titans to an 18-8 regular-season record and two playoff appearances, including a run to the 2019 AFC Championship Game.
Smith was the Titans offensive coordinator for all of that (2019 was his first season) and built their offense into one of the league’s best. Derrick Henry was a large part of that for sure, and while James Robinson isn’t in Henry’s class, he is a proven 1,000-yard rusher and should be better in 2021 with improved QB play.
He recently had a second interview with the New York Jets, so he may be off the table pretty quickly, but the former linebackers coach for the Jaguars has quickly become one of the league’s best defensive coordinators.
The 49ers were hammered by injuries all season — notably losing DE Nick Bosa and DT Solomon Thomas in September — but Saleh still put together one of the NFL’s best units. The 49ers ranked seventh or better in total defense, run defense, pass defense and third-down defense. And it was plain to see his players loved playing for him, too.
Saleh would immediately inject some energy and enthusiasm into the franchise, which, quite frankly, has floundered in that area in the past three seasons. From players wanting out and feuding with the team on social media, it has been an awful atmosphere around the Jaguars.
The biggest question Khan would need answered is what Saleh planned to do on offense. Who would his coordinator be and what kind of offense would he run?
Raheem Morris: Morris led the Falcons to a 4-7 record after taking over for the fired Dan Quinn, but he got a lot of support from players to remain as the permanent replacement in Atlanta.
One of the interesting things about Morris is he’s coached on both sides of the ball (DBs, defensive coordinator, wide receivers) and on special teams, which gives him a more thorough overview of how he’d want to operate in his second tenure as a head coach (17-31 in three seasons with Tampa Bay from 2009-11).
Morris is regarded as one of the league’s brightest defensive minds, so he also will have to have a good plan for what he wants to do offensively and whom he wants to hire. As with Saleh, the QB coach and offensive coordinator would be critical hires as the team moves forward with what they believe is a franchise quarterback.