Five potential Raiders replacements for Paul Guenther
LOS ANGELES, – After three years of subpar results, Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden finally ran out of patience with his hand-picked defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. After an abysmal 44-27 home loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Raiders fired Guenther with three games left in the season. Since starting 6-3, the Raiders have lost three of four games due to horrendous defensive play. The only win in that stretch came in the final seconds against the winless New York Jets on a Hail Mary miracle. That play cost Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams his job and delayed Guenther’s firing by one week.
Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was named the team’s interim defensive coordinator
But there are better long-term solutions available in the offseason. Gruden is entrenched as the head coach with the full confidence of owner Mark Davis. General Mike Mayock is safe as well. The weak link is clearly the defense. Gruden won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by letting Monte Kiffin handle the defense. This freed Gruden up to fix their anemic offense and get them over the hump.
The Raiders have a solid offense due to Gruden’s work with quarterback Derek Carr and Mayock’s draft picks Josh Jacobs and Henry Ruggs.
The Raiders’ defense is the weak link.
Raheem Morris is not listed as a potential replacement because the interim head coach of the Atlanta Falcons will be given the job on a permanent basis. He took over an 0-5 team and has gone 4-4. One of those wins was a 43-6 throttling of the Raiders. If for some reason the Falcons give the top job to someone else, the Raider Nation would demand that Gruden hire his former assistant Morris. Go with the assumption that the Falcons will lock Morris up to a long-term deal to stay, denying Gruden an opportunity to hire him.
With Morris out of the equation, there are five potential replacements for Paul Guenther that would immediately improve the defense.
Wade Phillips —
The Michelin Man and son of the late Bum Phillips is one of the greatest defensive coordinators of all time. Guenther rarely blitzed. Phillips loves creatives blitzes. He is beloved by his players and frees up his head coaches to focus exclusively on the offense. As the defensive coordinator for the 2015 Denver Broncos, he molded Von Miller into a wrecking machine. Gary Kubiak handled the offense, Phillips took care of the defense, and the Broncos won it all. He fulfilled the same role with the 2018 Los Angeles Rams under Sean McVay.
Phillips unleashed Aaron Donald and the Rams made it to another Super Bowl. For inexplicable reasons, the Rams moved on from Phillips after the 2019 season. Even crazier is his remaining unemployed even though he insists he is not retired. As for the downside, there is none. Phillips would be a superior choice that would immediately make the Raiders a legitimate contender.
Jeff Fisher —
Fisher is a Buddy Ryan disciple who runs the 46 defense that involves bringing eight defenders at the quarterback on almost every play. After over 20 seasons as a head coach, Fisher would probably not want to settle for a coordinator job. He has been out of coaching since the Rams fired him as head coach late in the 2016 season. Nevertheless, Fisher’s defenses have always been solid. His teams that lost in the playoffs did so because of a lack of offensive production. Letting him focus solely on the defense would revitalize Fisher and the Raiders.
Rex Ryan —
Like Fisher, Ryan also learned his craft from Buddy Ryan. Unlike Fisher, Rex Ryan learned the craft from birth given that Buddy Ryan was his father. Like Fisher, Ryan has been a head coach of two NFL teams and might not be willing to accept a lesser role. If Ryan has a burning ambition to be a head coach again, a defensive coordinator job might be his ticket back to the top. Like Fisher, Ryan’s teams suffered on the offensive side of the ball. Ryan entered this world to be a defensive coordinator. One downside to him is his bombast. Phillips and Fisher do not provide bulletin board material. Ryan fires up the opposition as much as his own players. This would not be an issue because Gruden is clearly in charge in Las Vegas. Ryan was a loyal lieutenant on the Baltimore 2000 Ravens team that won it all.
Gregg Williams —
Calm down, Twitter mob. This is far less crazy than the armchair quarterbacks think. Williams’s infamous zero blitz in the Jets game against the Raiders was far from the worst call ever made. It was actually a sensible call that was poorly executed. Williams was not the weak link on the Jets. Head Coach Adam Gase has a winless team that is bad at everything. Williams was the defensive coordinator of the 2009 Saints team under Sean Payton that won the Super Bowl. The Bountygate scandal was a black mark, but the Raider history is replete with successful reclamation projects. Williams took over a 1-7 Browns team in 2018 and led them to a 5-3 record as interim coach.
When the Browns bypassed Williams for the permanent head coaching job in 2019 in favor of Freddie Kitchens, the team regressed badly. Williams has nearly 20 years as a defensive coordinator. He runs an aggressive defense that brings pressure. While that can backfire in the worst of ways, it has more often than not produced positive results.
Jack Del Rio —
The Raiders fired Del Rio as head coach after the 2017 season and replaced him with Gruden. It may seem odd for Del Rio to return to a lesser role with the same team, but there is current precedent. Tom Cable was fired as Raiders head coach after the 2010 season. When Gruden returned to the Raiders in 2018, he brought Cable back as offensive line coach.
Gruden loves bringing back former Raiders to spark the team.
Al Davis used to say that “Once a Raider, Always a Raider.”
Del Rio grew up a Raiders fan as a kid. Del Rio is also a winner. As head coach of the Raiders, he led the Silver and Black to a 12-4 regular-season record in 2016. A freak leg injury to quarterback Derek Carr prevented what could have been a deep playoff run. Del Rio was the linebackers coach for the 2000 Ravens that won it all with one of the greatest defenses in NFL history. He was the defensive coordinator for the 2013 Broncos that went to the Super Bowl.
He has been a head coach twice and is currently in his first season as the defensive coordinator for Washington. A move to the Raiders would be lateral but sensible. Washington coach Ron Rivera is a defensive mind. Under Gruden, Del Rio would have much more control of the defense and would be seen as the safest choice outside of Wade Phillips.
Tell me what you think about who should replace Guenther in the comments below.