Top candidates to replace Jim Harbaugh as 49ers’ head coach
Jim Harbaugh is gone, and the 49ers will now begin the search for his replacement. Here are several candidates who would make sense in San Francisco.
The San Francisco 49ers are officially without a head coach. After four seasons that included three NFC Championship appearances and one Super Bowl appearance, Jim Harbaugh and the team officially parted ways. While Harbaugh is likely to land at Michigan, the 49ers will begin a search for his replacement. Despite a down season and general dysfunction of the team this year, Harbaugh leaves a pretty significant void to fill.
Following four seasons and a combined winning percentage near 70 percent, Harbaugh was more successful than the majority of head coaches who get a chance in the NFL. San Francisco is an organization that will be expecting similar success right out of the gate from his replacement. But, who will his successor be? Is there someone from within that the team feels can take control, or will there be an extensive interview process to determine who will operate under owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke?
At this stage of the process, the list of potential head coach candidates generally includes current offensive and defensive coordinators, NFL head coaches who could be fired or are on expiring contracts, college head coaches and an increasingly short list of former head coaches currently out of the league.
With months of speculation around Harbaugh’s status, several coaches have already been mentioned as candidates. The list of potential replacements includes a couple coaches already on staff and several notable names. Here’s a closer look at potential candidates.
The current defensive line coach in San Francisco, Jim Tomsula is a favorite of the ownership and has been with the team since 2007. Tomsula took over the interim head coaching duties when Mike Singletary was fired prior to Harbaugh joining the team, and he was successful in the one game when he was in charge. When Harbaugh took over, it was reported that Tomsula was one of the few people that the ownership wanted to keep around when Harbaugh built his coaching staff.
Tomsula is an interesting candidate given how much he’s liked within the organization. He’s also a player favorite, and would likely have no problem leading a locker room that was reportedly upset with Harbaugh’s methods from time to time. The big question with Tomsula is whether the 49ers would be able retain (if they want to) either offensive coordinator Greg Roman or defensive coordinator Vic Fangio if Tomsula is promoted above them.
There’s less talk about Fangio, the team’s defensive coordinator, taking over than there is Tomsula, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a candidate. Had the San Francisco offense performed even marginally better this year, we’d likely be talking about how the 49ers made the postseason on the back of a defense that performed way out of its league given the injuries on that side of the ball.
Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were out for most of the year and Aldon Smith was suspended for much of the year. They had multiple injuries at the cornerback position and eventually ran out of nose tackles. Despite this, the defense was consistently great for much of the year and Fangio is a big reason for that. It stands to reason that the 49ers want to maintain as much of their defensive staff as possible, and promoting Fangio would likely be the best way to do that.
The current New England Patriots offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels was considered one of the top candidates to land the San Francisco job prior to Harbaugh’s hiring. McDaniels was reportedly scheduling an interview when Harbaugh finally relented and chose the 49ers. McDaniels has had nothing but success in his current role with the Patriots since then. His last effort at being a head coach was a disaster — he was fired during his second season with the Denver Broncos following a 3-9 start and a videotaping scandal. However, his name is once again getting popular in head coaching discussions and he’s a quarterback guy, which is important to the 49ers.
Sure, Adam Gase has the advantage of having Peyton Manning as his quarterback, which translates to a certain amount of guaranteed success. But the current Denver Broncos offensive coordinator has played his part perfectly in recent seasons, including in 2013 as the architect behind Denver’s record-setting offense. He’s a marquee offensive-minded coach and the 49ers may need that. Gase briefly spent time in San Francisco during the 2008 season as an offensive assistant.
Jim Mora, the current head coach at UCLA, is a name that keeps popping up due to his past connection with the team. He spent seven seasons as a 49ers assistant coach and is well-liked by the ownership. Mora hasn’t had much success as a head coach in the NFL, though, sporting just a 31-33 record in four seasons with the Falcons and Seahawks. But, if he’s looking to make a jump back to the professional game, the ties with the 49ers are there.
The coaches listed above are notable names with connections to the 49ers, yet the search for a new coach likely won’t be limited to just them. Niners Nation put together a comprehensive list of possible Harbaugh successors, including coaches from the NFL and college ranks.
Other potential candidates for the 49ers’ job:
Darrell Bevell – Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator
Dan Quinn – Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator
Teryl Austin – Detroit Lions defensive coordinator
Todd Bowles – Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator
Jack Del Rio – Denver Broncos defensive coordinator
Pep Hamilton – Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator
Hue Jackson – Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator
Gary Kubiak – Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator
Kyle Shanahan – Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator
Sean Payton – New Orleans Saints head coach
Rex Ryan – New York Jets head coach
Mike Holmgren – Former NFL head coach
Mike Shanahan – Former NFL head coach
Kevin Sumlin – Texas A&M coach
Gus Malzahn – Auburn coach