When the new boss Chris Grier took the stand to explain how he intended to handle the Miami Dolphins from this point on, he briefly mentioned how he would be looking far and wide for new candidates to take over for newly fired coach Adam Gase.
"You can’t rule out anything." Grier said. "There’s good football coaches – pro and college – and I think we’re going to investigate every avenue. For us, the important thing will be finding the right guy that kind of believes in some of the same things I do in terms of building a team, but I’m also flexible enough that if he presents his ideas and we think it’s good, it’s going to be a collaboration, everything we do still. I know we talk about having control and I’m over it, yeah; but it’s not going to work if he and I don’t share a vision to implement that plan throughout the organization.”
It sounds like a decent balance, Grier is in charge but he wants to be able to work with his head coach. Nothing wrong with that, and the names being thrown around as potential candidates for Miami to hire is one brimming with promise and potential; so far, they have requested interviews with five individuals.
First is New England Patriots de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who took over the role after Matt Patricia left to become the head coach of the Detroit Lions.
The 37 year old Flores has been with the Patriots in various roles for the past 14 years, spending time as a scouting assistant from 2004-05, a pro scout from 2006-07, special teams assistant from 2008-09, his title was changed to assistant coach of offense and special teams in 2010, then in 2011 he was named a defensive assistant, he coaches safeties in 2012-15, linebackers in 2016-17, before finally getting to call defensive plays this past season.
Flores actually got interviewed for the Arizona Cardinals job last season (which is now open again thanks to the firing of Steve Wilks), and now the Dolphins (among other teams) want to do so again. One thing to point about Flores is his ability to teach, which Bill Belichick himself praised back in August.
“I think Brian and our defensive staff has done a good job in teaching the players and installing our system,” Belichick said. “We haven’t done much game-planning to this point, but we’ll see how that goes as we get into the real games."
Next is veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who at 60 years old would buck the trend of young, offensive-minded "gurus" that seem to have made up the majority of recent coaching hires.
Despite being a respected defensive mind for many years, Fangio has never actually been a head coach before, but defenses he's coaches have always been stout, ranking in the top ten in the league for six of the last eight seasons he's been coaching, including the number two ranked defense with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 and 2012, and the number one ranked defensive in the NFL in 2018.
Fangio has also worked under both Harbaugh brothers, and with Grier having roster control, it's unlikely either Harbaugh could be persuaded to come to Miami. With Fangio, the Dolphins would be hiring the closest thing to a Harbaugh, but Fangio would need to hire an offensive coordinator who can handle an offense since he's spent his entire coaching career working on defense.
The Dolphins are also looking at offensive minded coaches, the first of which is current Steelers OL coach Mike Munchak (58), who has some experience as a head coach as he coached the Tennessee Titans from 2011-13, leading them to a 22-26 record with no playoff appearances. Since being fired from that job, Munchak has spent the last five seasons (2014-18) as the OL coach for the Steelers.
Munchak was a former first round draft pick of the Houston Oilers (8th overall) back in 1982, where he spent 12 years as their starting left guard. During that time, he was nominated for the Pro Bowl nine times, a four-time All-Pro, a nine-time second-team All-Pro.
Given Miami's struggles with the offensive line for the past decade or so, Munchak would be expected to come in and fix the problems there, but his past head coaching stint does cause some skepticism. Maybe he's learned some things since then, but there's no way to know without trying.
The fourth coach Miami has requested to interview is Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy (49), who young superstar QB Patrick Mahomes has stated would make an excellent head coach.
“He’d been an awesome head coach. He has that mindset, that work ethic, and that determination that you need to be a head coach in this league,” Mahomes said. “I know that he’s had the interest and stuff like that. You know he’ll still be 100 percent in on what we’re doing here. He’d be an amazing coach, and I’m excited that I still have him right now on this playoff run.”
Like Flores, Bieniemy would also qualify to fulfill the NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires that all NFL teams at least interview a minority candidate before hiring a new head coach or senior football operation jobs. Bieniemy spent five years (2013-17) as the Chiefs running backs coach before being promoted to offensive coordinator, and comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree, which has spawned many successful coaches in the past.
Besides the NFL level, Bieniemy has also been an offensive coordinator at the college level, and with his background as a former NFL running back, playing for the Chargers, Bengals and Eagles in his nine-year career, he'd be a fiery head coach that knows how to get players motivated.
Last, for now at least, is the Dallas Cowboys' passing game coordinator and DB coach Kris Richard (39), who is another Rooney Rule qualifier and is considered largely responsible for the success of the Cowboys this season.
“He’s an incredibly intense, unbelievable football coach who teaches Xs and Os, teaches technique, has brought an unbelievable amount of knowledge." Linebacker Sean Lee said earlier this year. "He’s a guy we rally around because of the intensity he brings every single day.”
Another intense candidate, Richard's teaching skills (like with Flores) are being cited. Given that technique has been an issue for the Dolphins in the past several seasons, he would be another excellent candidate for a team set to bring in a lot of young players in the next couple of seasons. He's been a defensive back coach for several years now and even got an opportunity to be a defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks back in 2015-17, in which time he earned the respect of star cornerback Richard Sherman, who expressed his support of the Dolphins requesting an interview.
Both Fangio and and Richard cannot yet be interviewed due to their playoff status, but Munchak can be interviewed due to the Steelers missing the playoffs, while Bieniemy and Flores both have first round bye weeks, meaning they can also be interviewed as well.
If there's one trend that can be taken from these candidates, it seems to be their abilities as teachers, something that young phenom coach Sean McVay has been heralded for with the Rams. If this is the initial list of candidates, then GM Chris Grier is doing a terrific job starting off the head coach search.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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