San Francisco 49ers

Raves and red flags: Breaking down the 49ers’ coaching candidates

FILE- In this Dec. 26, 2015, file photo, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly watches from the sidelines before an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Philadelphia.
FILE- In this Dec. 26, 2015, file photo, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly watches from the sidelines before an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Philadelphia. AP

The first round of the 49ers coaching search is over and one of the names on the list, Hue Jackson, can be crossed off after he accepted an offer from the Browns.

The 49ers are not planninng to interview any new candidates, although officials may want to talk more with those they already spoke with, at least by phone.

It's also possible that candidates from last year's search, especially Mike Shanahan, will re-enter the conversation. Shanahan, 63, interviewed this month with the Dolphins, who tapped Adam Gase as their head coach. He has had conversations -- but no formal interview yet -- with the 49ers this go around.

Another candidate San Francisco met with last season, Josh McDaniels, is preoccupied with the Patriots' postseason and has not interviewed anywhere yet. The 49ers also met last year with Jaguars assistant Doug Marrone. The team has no interest in Marrone this year, a league source said.

Here are the five available candidates the 49ers met with over the last week. As one league observer noted, none is perfect. Each comes with notable flaws, which are documented below:

Tom Coughlin

Former Giants head coach

Age: 69

Pros: He was one of the longest-tenured coaches in the NFL with the Giants and would give instant credibility to the organization. He may not be the hard-edged "Colonel Coughlin" he was at the beginning of his career, but he remains a disciplinarian and doesn't suffer fools very well. A 49ers team that ran amuck under Jim Harbaugh and had an easy go under Jim Tomsula could stand a tough, no-nonsense coach like Coughlin. Coughlin turns 70 in August, which may be a "con" in itself, but that also may attract smart, young lieutenants who could take over when Coughlin steps down. His vast experience in the NFL also means he should have no issues attracting assistants, something at which Tomsula struggled a year ago.

Cons: Seventy is the new 60, so there's no reason to think that Coughlin couldn't coach the team through the life of his initial contract. (Coughlin is three months younger than Presidential candidate Donald Trump). But he's unlikely to be coaching at age 80 and his health and energy level at lest must be considered. Coughlin has a background as an offensive coach, but he's not known as an Xs and Os genius like some other candidates. The Giants went 6-10 -- one more win than Tomsula -- in a bad division in 2015. What happens when he's placed in a division with Arizona, Seattle and a Rams franchise that's about to get the ultimate shot in the arm by moving to L.A.? Finally, Coughlin has 11 grandkids, all of whom are on the east coach. That might make Philadelphia, where Coughlin interviewed Monday, a more comfortable spot.

John DeFilippo

Current Browns offensive coordinator

Age: 37

Pros: He's considered an up-and-coming candidate, one who has both worked with quarterbacks and run an NFL offense. The 49ers likely are curious about adding him as an offensive coordinator with the possibility of promoting him to head coach in the future. In that way, his relationship with Coughlin is intriguing. DeFilippo's first NFL job was as offensive quality control for the Coughlin-led Giants. DeFilippo is from Youngstown and his family has known the DeBartolos and Yorks for decades. His father, Gene DeFilippo, is the former athletic director at Boston College.

Cons: DeFilippo's experience as a play caller is limited to 2015, and that came on a bad Browns team. Cleveland ranked 25th in offense. The Browns reportedly would like him back while the Rams have interviewed him about their opening at offensive coordinator. He has options.

Chip Kelly

Former Eagles coach

Age: 52

Pros: The 49ers went into their coaching search seeking someone who could come in and instantly upgrade the 49ers' offense. That's Chip Kelly, who went 10-6 in his first two seasons in Philadelphia and left defensive opponents -- as well as his own team -- gasping for breath. The 49ers are in a division with at least two powerhouses that are defined by their charismatic head coaches. Kelly has the ego, ambition and smarts to match. He also is believed to covet Colin Kaepernick. A head coach who can lift Kaepernick after his 2015 season would make everyone look like a genius.

Cons: It didn't take Kelly long to create a tidal wave of drama in Philadelphia -- in the front office and among the players. The latter has to be a big concern for the 49ers since the complaints -- that Kelly pushed too hard, that he was too accustomed to college players -- were similar to the ones from 49ers players after Harbaugh left. Kelly also misused the personnel power he gained after the front office flap. The quarterback he attained in a trade, Sam Bradford, ranked 26th in the NFL in passer rating, one spot ahead of Blaine Gabbert. That's a red flag for a franchise that wants its next head coach to identify and groom its quarterback of the future. Finally, Kelly's defenses finished 28th or worse over the last three seasons. Could the 49ers attract a good defensive coordinator with Kelly running such a fast-paced offense?

Dirk Koetter

Current Buccaneers offensive coordinator

Age: 56

Pros: He has solid history of developing good quarterbacks and worked with Gabbert, the quarterback the 49ers prefer to hang onto, during Gabbert's rookie season in Jacksonville. Koetter has never been an NFL head coach but he's run college programs at Boise State and Arizona State. He's received positive reviews from Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who coached with Koetter at San Francisco State in the mid 1980s. Tampa Bay's offense finished fifth overall this past season.

Cons: How do you pronounce his last name? You're probably unsure because Koetter is not a well-known name and is unlikely to excite a 49ers fan base that largely stopped coming to games at the end of 2015. Could the 49ers tap a defensive line coach as head coach one year, fire him and then hire a Tampa Bay offensive coordinator the next? Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston finished 11th in passing yards in 2015, not too shabby for a rookie. But how many of those yards came in garbage time? His completion percentage (58.3) and passer rating (84.2) were among the worst in the NFL. The biggest con of all: Koetter’s probably first in line to get the Bucs’ head-coaching job.

Anthony Lynn

Current Bills running backs coach

Age: 47

Pros: He has the additional title of assistant head coach in Buffalo, which implies Rex Ryan thinks highly of his leadership skills. He was recommended as one of the top minority coaching candidates from the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which has correctly identified top coaching candidates in the past.

Cons: He has no experience calling plays in the NFL or even collegiate level. The 49ers would be hard-pressed to replace a relatively unknown defensive line coach with a relatively unknown running backs coach.

Mike Shanahan

Former Washington head coach

Age: 63

Pros: He has something no one on this list does: ties to the Bill Walsh era having run the 49ers offense from 1992-94. His two Super Bowl titles as head coach in Denver give him automatic clout and he would bring the same type of order and discipline Coughlin would carry. Shanahan took over a very bad Washington team in 2010 and went to the playoffs two years later.

Cons: Shanahan has been out of coaching for two years. And while he went to the postseason in one of his four years in Washington, he had a combined 14 wins in the other three seasons. He squeezed plenty of production from quarterback Robert Griffin III as a rookie in 2012. But he may have squeezed too hard. No one would say he developed Griffin, who was injured at the end of that season and who hasn’t been the same since. If the 49ers hired Shanahan, they would have to explain why they passed him over in 2015 only to hire him a year later. That is, it’s clear he’s not their top choice. He’s also someone who’s had roster control as a head coach; would he really want to relinquish that in San Francisco?


Here’s what I wrote about Jackson before the Browns’ deal was revealed:

Hue Jackson

Current Bengals offensive coordinator

Age: 50

Pros: Of all the candidates, Jackson seems to check off the most boxes. He's worked with quarterbacks, he's run offenses, he's been a head coach and he has a strong ego. He has the cult of personality to make the 49ers distinct in the hard-to-shine NFC West. General manager Trent Baalke probably likes Jackson because he runs balanced offenses. Quarterback Andy Dalton, receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert all shined this past season for Cincinnati. The Bengals finished 7th, 5th and 8th in rushing attempts in the last three seasons.

Cons: Perhaps the biggest negative is that he's coveted by two other teams, one of which, the Browns, is willing to give him more personnel control than the 49ers are likely to offer. Jackson's strong personality also has a flip side. It got out of control during his one season as Raiders head coach, and he overplayed his hand as far as wanting more personnel control in that organization. The 49ers will be rebuilding in 2016, which means there will be all sorts or reefs and currents to navigate. Does Jackson have the steady hand to man the wheel?

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at

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