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8 coaching candidates to keep an eye on with Raiders on bye

Updated December 1, 2023 - 7:33 am

The Raiders will open their coaching job to an extensive search at the end of the season. That process could lead them right back to Antonio Pierce, who has done an admirable job since taking over on an interim basis one month ago.

Still, Raiders owner Mark Davis has made it clear he is open to letting the search process lead him to the decision.

Here are some external candidates that are already being talked about as the potential new coach of the Raiders:

Jim Harbaugh (HC Michigan)

The Raiders and Harbaugh have been two ships passing in the night for years, each looking admiringly at the other.

The relationship has never been consummated. Now might finally be the time.

Davis has incredible respect for Harbaugh, a Raiders assistant from 2002-03. Davis considers Harbaugh an undisputed winner. It’s difficult to imagine Harbaugh not having success at his next stop given his track record with Stanford, the 49ers and Michigan.

He’s also the kind of tour de force personality that would embrace the tradition and spirit of the Raiders while fitting in with the bright lights of Las Vegas.

As one league source put it: “Vegas needs a big name and Harbaugh is it. Let him go coach, have some power, and look out. In a good way.”

Ben Johnson (OC Lions)

Johnson is the sort of up-and-coming young football mind teams like the Dolphins and Texans have hit on the past two years in Mike McDaniel and DeMeco Ryans, respectively.

Johnson’s offensive creativity and connections with players create a multi-layered candidate. He’s a tactician and a leader.

His work rebuilding Jared Goff into a top-10 NFL quarterback can not be understated. The Raiders will have competition, as Johnson is one of the most coveted candidates in the league.

David Shaw (Fomer HC Stanford)

Shaw’s Stanford teams produced eight straight winning seasons during his 12 years at the helm, including three Rose Bowl appearances and two Rose Bowl championships.

He stopped down after a 3-9 finish last season. It was the Cardinal’s fourth straight losing campaign.

Some perspective on that stretch is needed. Stanford’s slip coincided with massive changes in college football like the transfer portal and name, image and likeness (NIL) deals. Neither are embraced at academically-acclaimed Stanford. It’s left the Cardinal at a decided disadvantage.

Shaw, who the Raiders had interest in during their 2015 coaching search, has Raiders’ ties as a former assistant from 1998-2001. He’s also the son of Willie Shaw, the team’s defensive coordinator from 1998-99.

Jon Gruden (Former HC Raiders)

Gruden’s inclusion is curious at first glance given how his last Raiders tenure ended. But there are reasons to believe he could be a candidate to watch.

Gruden has owned the abhorrent content of the emails he sent a decade ago that surfaced and cost him his job in 2021. The subsequent lawsuit he filed against the NFL is attempting to figure out who leaked those emails. It raises the possibility someone singled him out while turning a blind eye to others.

The potential problem the NFL faces is what might surface as a result of the lawsuit. The league, to avoid that issue, may allow him to be hired if he drops the case. More than one league source has indicated the NFL could avoid a potential public-relations nightmare by simply letting Gruden be re-hired.

All of this is contingent on Davis being interested in bringing his former coach back, of course. Even if that’s the case, fans would need to be convinced Gruden is truly sorry for his actions.

Frank Smith (OC Dolphins)

Smith, who coached the Raiders tight ends from 2018-2020, has drawn rave reviews for his work as the Dolphins offensive coordinator.

He’s worked with some of the brightest minds in the game during his 13 years in the NFL like Gruden, McDaniel and Sean Patyon. That’s allowed him to understand offense from almost every vantage point. That includes the line, as he blocked for former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when they both played in college at Miami of Ohio.

Smith is on the fast track to a head coaching job. The timing might be right for a return to Las Vegas and the Raiders.

Dan Quinn (DC Cowboys)

Quinn is one of the most respected defensive minds in the game and the former head coach of the Falcons. He led Atlanta to two playoff berths and an appearance in Super Bowl LI during his six seasons there.

Quinn’s experience has to be alluring to the Raiders. He also, despite being a defensive coach, brought in high-profile offensive coordinators during his time with the Falcons. He had 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and Texas coach Steve Sarkisian on his staff at different points.

Ejiro Evero (DC Panthers)

The impressive Evero, like Johnson and Smith, is on a fast track to becoming a head coach.

He delivered solid results as the Broncos defensive coordinator in 2022 and is now the Panthers’ defensive leader. He’s got Raiders ties as well, as he signed with the team as an undrafted free agent in 2004.

Raheem Morris (DC Rams)

Morris is overdue for another chance to be a head coach.

He was 17-31 as boss of the Buccaneers from 2009-11 but has impressed since. His game plan helped shut down the Bengals in the Rams’ 23-20 victory in Super Bowl LVI.

Morris, with high energy at 47-years-old, checks off plenty of boxes.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow@VinnyBonsignore on X.

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