Las Vegas Raiders: Ranking the top-6 head coach candidates

The Las Vegas Raiders made the first of many important offseason decisions Monday when they relieved general manager Mike Mayock of his duties. Interim head coach Rich Bisaccia will likely have to wait multiple weeks for clarity on his coaching future.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Raiders have requested permission to interview New England Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo. Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Bisaccia had a chance to pitch himself for the position Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Raiders owner Mark Davis can take his head-coaching search in different directions, which may include interest in a trade for big names such as Mike Tomlin or Sean Payton, per Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer.

While Tomlin and Payton may seem like long-shot candidates, fans have high hopes for one name to emerge from the collegiate ranks.

Who should land on Davis’ radar during his search for a full-time lead skipper? We’ll take a look at six candidates to be the next Las Vegas Raiders head coach, starting with an honorable mention and then a top-five group.

Related: Predicting NFL playoff bracket and Super Bowl winner

Top Las Vegas Raiders coaching candidates

Honorable mention: Kellen Moore (Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator)

NFL: Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys
Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

At 32 years old, Kellen Moore comes with risks in the leadership department. Could he walk into a room with grown men, immediately command their respect and hold them accountable?

In recent years, the Las Vegas Raiders have struggled with their focus and attention to detail, so Moore would need to assemble a veteran staff that’s dealt with those issues. Nevertheless, he’s an intriguing candidate for the Raiders because of his work with quarterback Dak Prescott and the team’s tight ends.

Though Prescott has a strong supporting cast with All-Pros on the offensive line, a four-time Pro Bowl wideout in Amari Cooper and an ascending star receiver in CeeDee Lamb, he’s a rare fourth-round pick who’s a legitimate starting-caliber quarterback with above-average passing numbers under Moore in two of the last three seasons.

In 2020, Prescott only played five games, and the Dallas Cowboys still fielded the league’s eighth-ranked passing attack with Andy Dalton under center for nine starts. Moore has optimized his quarterback talent in three years as a play-caller.

Moore has made great use of his tight ends. In his offense, 37-year-old Jason Witten had a solid year, logging 63 receptions for 529 yards and four touchdowns. Blake Jarwin showed flashes until he tore his ACL in the 2020 season opener and then Dalton Schultz took over. The latter caught 78 passes for 808 yards and eight touchdowns this past season. By the way, he’s also a fourth-round pick.

If Moore has the same magic touch on tight ends in Las Vegas, Darren Waller and Foster Moreau can become the dynamic duo that fans wanted to see through the 2021 term.

5. Todd Bowles (Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator)

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Todd Bowles went 26-41 with the New York Jets between 2015 and 2018, but he had bottom-tier starting quarterbacks through his four-year tenure.

Bowles led the Jets to a 10-6 record with journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and then everything went downhill. Fitzpatrick re-signed with the team and couldn’t replicate his best season (shocker). In the following two years, Gang Green rolled with 38-year-old Josh McCown and then-rookie Sam Darnold to lead the offense.

Don’t forget, Bowles worked with former Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan, who had a poor record with early-round draft picks. With a better quarterback situation, Bowles could redeem himself and leave his mark on a strong defensive unit.

In four out of six years as a defensive coordinator, Bowles’ unit ranked eighth or better in points allowed. Typically, he’s fielded strong front lines, indicating a tendency to build his units inside-out with a strong pass rush. The Raiders have solid defensive pieces with Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue on the edge.

Under Bowles, the Jets had productive interior pass-rushers in Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, and even Henry Anderson. Under his tutelage, edge-rusher Shaquil Barrett won the sack title with 19.5 in 2019. Rookie defensive end Joe Tryon-Shoyinka has shown flashes, logging four sacks, 27 quarterback pressures and five tackles for loss.

In each of the last three years with Bowles, the Buccaneers have ranked top five in blitzes per dropback and were listed first in 2021. The Las Vegas Raiders play in a division with strong quarterback play from Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, so they should strongly consider a creative defensive mind.

4. Rich Bisaccia (Las Vegas Raiders interim head coach)

NFL: Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In his weekly Football Morning in America column, NBC’s Peter King weighed on the Las Vegas Raiders’ head-coaching search and his leanings on who may have the inside track to the job.

“Smart money says Mark Davis, unless he can get a mega-billboard for the Vegas strip like Jim Harbaugh, is likely to take the interim tag off Rich Bisaccia and give him the full-time gig. Davis probably should,” King wrote.

Peter King, opining on the Las Vegas Raiders’ head coach search

Despite the Raiders’ decision to fire Mayock, Bisaccia has two factors that work in his favor.

First and foremost, the Raiders went 7-5 under Bisaccia, who seemed to learn while on the job. Initially criticized for a conservative style, he adapted to the temperature of the game, going for fourth-down conversions and calling trick plays in crucial moments.

Secondly, key players strongly feel Bisaccia earned the position. Though quarterback Derek Carr doesn’t have a firm future with the team yet, he fully endorsed the interim head coach after the Raiders’ wild-card playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

Defensive end Maxx Crosby would also like to see Bisaccia back with the team in a full-time head-coaching role:

If the Las Vegas Raiders favor continuity, Bisaccia may be Davis’ best option in the event that he doesn’t land a big fish from the head-coaching candidate pond. The 61-year-old is the first NFL interim head coach to lead his team to the playoffs since Wally Lemm did it with the Houston Oilers in 1961.

3. Brian Flores (Free agent)

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Surprisingly, the Miami Dolphins fired Brian Flores after the team won eight of its last nine games. In three years as a head coach, he’s 24-25, coming off back-to-back winning seasons.

Like Bowles, Flores has a defensive expertise, and he’s not afraid to send extra defenders after the quarterback. In 2020 and 2021, the Dolphins ranked second in blitzes per dropback. He’s known for using varied fronts and man coverage on the back end.

While Flores would likely make significant changes in the Raiders secondary, that’s not necessarily a bad thing aside from losing Casey Hayward Jr., who’s better equipped for zone schemes. Vegas could target Clemson’s Andrew Booth Jr. in the first round of this year’s draft and a Day 2 safety to supplant Johnathan Abram.

Flores comes with two concerns though.

He changed offensive coordinators every year in Miami. The Raiders need continuity and stability across the board. Secondly, with rumblings about his “deteriorating” relationship with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Dolphins general manager Chris Grier, Flores would need to fit well with Carr or have the freedom to pick his own signal-caller, which overlaps the front-office executive’s job description. We could see a power struggle there.

2. Brian Daboll (Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator)

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills
Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

In a quarterback-centric era, Brian Daboll ranks higher than defensive coordinators, who would still have to make a critical decision on the offensive coordinator position.

Daboll helped develop Josh Allen into arguably a top-five quarterback. Under his direction, the Bills have fielded a top-three scoring offense over the past two seasons. He’s a former position coach who worked with wide receivers and tight ends, though, as the Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator, he called plays for a unit that featured Peyton Hillis, who rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010.

At 46 years old, Daboll has a lot more coaching experience than Moore, who’s only four years into his pro career. The Bills offensive coordinator had two stints with the New England Patriots on Bill Belichick’s staff and served as a play-caller for the 2017 Alabama squad that won a national title with Tagovailoa taking over for Jalen Hurts in the middle of the game.

Daboll’s experience and his explosive Bills offense should appeal to the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022.

1. Jim Harbaugh (Michigan head coach)

las vegas raiders
Credit: Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

If Davis wants to swing for the fences with this hire, he should push all his chips to the middle of the table for Jim Harbaugh.

At every stop in his career, Harbaugh has elevated the program or team. This past season, he led Michigan to its first College Football Playoff appearance, a Big Ten title for the time since 2004, and a win over Ohio State for the first time since 2011.

On the NFL level, Harbaugh led the San Francisco 49ers to three consecutive NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl in four years. He went 44-19-1 with the club between 2011 and 2014.

How can anyone argue against a near 70 percent winning percentage in the pros?

Furthermore, Harbaugh has some history with the Raiders, serving as a quarterbacks coach for the Silver and Black in 2002 and 2003.

Based on his track record, Harbaugh would bring a physical identity to the offense, which likely means a focus on revamping the offensive line and the usage of multiple running backs, which takes some pressure off of whoever starts under center. In 2021, the Wolverines ranked 15th in rushing offense (214.4 yards per game).

When the Las Vegas Raiders face the Los Angeles Chargers’ and Kansas City Chiefs’ finesse offenses, they can counter with a hard-nosed offensive attack that keeps Mahomes and Herbert on the sideline.

Maurice Moton covers the Las Vegas Raiders for Vegas Sports Today. You can follow him on Twitter at @MoeMoton.

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