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Raiders coaching search: Las Vegas is getting defensive

Looking at head-coaching candidates who specializes in defense is prudent move

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins
The Las Vegas Raiders were slated to interview New England Patriots defensive assistant Jerod Mayo, right, on Tuesday.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

While the flood gates for rumor and innuendo opened up fast for the Las Vegas Raiders head coach search, actual known candidates is a trickle. Like severe-drought conditions trickle.

As of now, the three known external candidates that are getting sit-downs (and potential interview) with Silver & Black brass are Jerod Mayo, DeMeco Ryans and Todd Bowles. Interim head honcho Rich Bisaccia had his interview with owner Mark Davis last week, and by all accounts, it went well.

Yet, the Mayo, Ryans and Bowles candidacy and (potential) interviews are intriguing, nonetheless. It’s a trio of defensive-minded coaches. Mayo, from the New England Patriots coaching tree, Ryans, currently the San Francisco 49ers defensive boss, and Bowles, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator, would represent a shift in tone in Las Vegas. But that shift — looking at a defensive-minded el capitan — is a prudent move.

As Bill Williamson and others have astutely pointed out, the AFC is littered with young quarterbacks. And playing defense against said young gunslingers is going to be quite the task. Mayo and Ryans would be up to the task as both teacher and motivator.

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, center, is a known external candidate for the Las Vegas Raiders head coach gig.
Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Let’s start with Mayo. His interview with the Raiders was slated for Tuesday as he’d be the first “official” external candidate to speak with team brass. (Official being in quotes as the Raiders don’t make a habit of confirming or denying rumors as they love to be in the news cycle.) Currently the Patriots inside linebacker coach, Mayo was a hardnosed inside linebacker for New England during his eight-year playing career that saw him as a defensive captain, two-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion. He moved into the coaching realm after the 2019 season and is a rising young coach at age 35.

Mayo served as an assistant coach for Bill Belichick’s Patriots and has both learned New England’s defense as a player and now coach. Mayo combines with Steve Belichick, Bill’s son, to form a stout trio orchestrating the Pats’ defense that finished second in total points allowed (303), points allowed per game (17.8), second in interceptions (23) and fourth in yards yielded per tilt (310.8).

The major issue with Mayo: He hasn’t been the primary play caller and just how much of the success in New England is due to the Patriot way? While he did carve out a standout playing career and could relate easily to his players, Mayo is untested as a decision maker.

Let’s move to Ryans. San Francisco’s defensive play caller put his name on the coaching search map with the 49ers impressive playoff win over the Green Bay Packers this past weekend. Ryans defense shellacked the Pack by sacking quarterback Aaron Rodgers five times and limiting the team to 263 total yards of offense. Ryans’ group was the backbone of the 13-10 win as the defense helped overcome a pedestrian game from 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (11 of 19 for 1341 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception and four sacks).

Certainly San Francisco’s roster helps Ryans tremendously as he’s got terrorizing edge rushers Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead (both had two sacks against Green Bay and 15.5 and six in the regular season, respectively) at his disposal. But San Francisco’s secondary was decimated by injury and the group still got it done.

Under Ryans, the 49ers ranked 10th in total points allowed (365), third in total yards yielded (5,270) and tied for sixth in sacks (48) in 2021.

Unlike Mayo, Ryans is the chief play caller and orchestrates the 49ers defense. Like the aforementioned candidate, however, Ryans had a strong playing career and can motivate and relate quite well. Questions linger just how Ryans would do with a lesser roster and more responsibility.

Now, let’s shift to Bowles. Like the other two, Bowles played in the league. But he’s got the feather in his cap of being an NFL head coach before. Bowles was the New York Jets head coach from 2015 to 2018 with his initial season as boss being the best (10-6 record) and the interim captain for the Miami Dolphins in 2011 (2-1 record). As Bucs defensive boss, Bowles’ unit finished fifth in total points allowed (353), 13th in total yards yielded (5,635), fifth in takeaways (29), and eighth in interceptions (17). His defense finished behind Ryans’ 49ers in sacks (47).

Bowles was one of the first names to be mentioned as a potential head coach for the Raiders, and word is Davis likes him as a candidate. The first step of interviewing Bowles (permission) occurred Tuesday.

Both the Patriots and 49ers defense finished tied for fifth for least missed tackles in 2021 (95). The Buccaneers, on the other hand, had 120 missed tackles. For reference, the Raiders finished with 109 missed tackles, which was middle of the pack amongst the 32 teams.

Roster and talent will differ for Mayo, Ryans and Bowles if they were to captain the Raiders, of course. And replicating the impressive defensive performance at either New England, San Francisco, or Tampa Bay in Las Vegas is just as hard a task as defending the AFC young guns. That’s why the choice for general manager by Mark Davis is paramount. Said personnel person likely dictates who the Raiders eventual head coach is, whether it’s the in-house option of Bisaccia or an external candidate the ilk of Mayo, Ryans or Bowles.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis’ choice for general manger likely sets everything in motion for his football team.
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Draft Compensation

An interesting item relating to both Mayo, Ryans, and Bowles is the adjusted Rooney Rule — encouraging teams to hire minority candidates in head coach and top executive roles. A new provision in 2020 means any team that losses a minority assistant coach to a head coach job elsewhere lands a third-round compensatory picks in each of the next two drafts. So, if any depart to captain another team, their current teams would then get comp picks in the 2022 and 2023 NFL Draft.

Out Route

Add another head coach vacancy to the NFL list as the New Orleans Saints’ Sean Payton is stepping away from the game. Slated to walk into retirement, Payton’s departure is another major question mark for the Saints as the team is approximately a whopping $74 million over the salary cap. First came Drew Brees riding into the sunset last offseason and now Payton. Losing a franchise quarterback and head coach in back-to-back years isn’t easy to overcome.