This is a funny league sometimes. Especially when it comes to coaching searches.
Take, for instance, the curious case of Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. The man can flat-out coach, he continues to oversee an elite defense in Baltimore -- albeit one that isn't exactly loaded with pass rushers – and he is coming off an absolutely master-class performance against a coordinator who all six teams seeking a head coach wanted an audience. Yet not a single request to interview Martindale. Beyond, odd, to me.
This, a year after the Giants talked themselves out of finalizing a deal with Martindale to instead freak out over Mississippi State (yeah, that Mississippi State) possibly hiring the Patriots 38-year old special teams coordinator, Joe Judge, and decided to basically give him the job instead of waiting to see how far the Ravens advanced in the playoffs (turned out they lost in the Divisional Round after their Wild Card bye). Martindale went on to lead Baltimore to a top defense in many key metrics, despite playing a lot of the season without getting his best defensive linemen on the field together with any regularity due to Covid and injuries, he has the strong backing of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, and he is beyond prepared to take over an NFL team.
Alas, apparently, he is not this year's flavor. The trend on the defensive side of the ball is trending decidedly younger, not that Martindale, is by any means over the hill at age 57; in fact, his fire, ability to connect with very young players and unique teaching style should be exactly what is attracting him to NFL teams. To say nothing of his ability to call a football game, exert great pressure on the opposing quarterback despite an outside pass rusher who is gifted with superior moves. He is aggressive and creative with his blitz packages, and perhaps someone interviewing Smith should check out the film of last Sunday's game. It was the first time in two years where the young offensive coordinator looked his age, and he had no answers for the swarming approach to suffocating Titans 2,000-yard running back, Derrick Henry.
Consider that the Titans held the ball for over 10 minutes of the first quarter … and then 15:59 of the final 45 minutes of the game. Tennessee ran 22 times for 51 yards. Almost two-thirds of Henry's 18 rushes (11) went for two yards or less, four went for zero or negative yards, and just two went over five yards (with a long of eight). The Titans rolled up 121 yards on 20 plays with 10 points in the opening quarter, Martindale altered his coverages and match-ups, doubled A.J. Brown, switched up assignments on the tight ends, and Tennessee could only muster an astonishing 88 yards on 29 plays over the final three quarters.
Perhaps the ultimate sign of respect -- or surrender -- was Smith calling two passing plays on second-and-two from the Baltimore 40, with 10 minutes to play and trailing just 17-13, and then coach Mike Vrabel punting on fourth down. From the Baltimore 40!. Was Martindale's defense that in their heads on the opposite sideline? On a day they could not run with Henry, there were no real designed runs or bootlegs for Ryan Tannehill. No real deep shots or calculated adjustments. The Titans were 5-of-5 for 68 yards and a touchdown throwing to tight ends in the first half and attempted all of one pass to them in the second half. Teams, like the Titans as recently as November, have gashed the Ravens in the screen game at times, but the Titans' third-down back saw precious little of the ball.
Martindale had perhaps his finest moment, during a stint in Baltimore that has included no shortage of them. Maybe some inquisitive owner or general manager might want to find out a little more about what goes into his game plans and what makes him tick. Sure, the window to interview him easily (this week) has passed, and you'd have to wait until the Ravens lose -- or the Super Bowl bye week -- to get an audience with him, but it just might be worth the wait.
The fact that no team pounced yet as of Wednesday afternoon on any of the "hot" candidates making the rounds seems fairly telling. Martindale is more than ready and deserving.
Carroll's vision complicates coordinator search
No matter who is hired as the next offensive coordinator of the Seahawks, you have to wonder about the outcome. It's pretty clear that Pete Carroll is more about running the football now than he ever has been before, and that is a shocking statement when if you have paid any attention to his career because running the ball has always been at the forefront of his mind.
There isn't a lot of wiggle room here. Creativity has its place, in small moderation. Brian Schottenheimer, and the rapid process by which he was hired three years ago, was by no means a bold selection or robust search, but Schottenheimer's reach was always going to be somewhat limited. And I'm told things finally fell apart between Carroll and his offensive play caller during season-review meetings when it was clear their philosophies as to how to right an offense that went south in the second half of the season were far apart. The mandate was essentially to find ways to keep pounding the rock, and a change that was not originally planned went down quickly.
There is definitely some skepticism in the coaching ranks as to how attractive this job is, even with a talent the likes of Russell Wilson to work with (and those receivers). If I was the Seahawks I would reach out to Chiefs quarterback back Mike Kafka and Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban and Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. I'd be looking for the most inspired choice to find ways to attack all quadrants of the field through the air and tap into Wilson's unique skillset. But it's fair to say there is skepticism within the industry about this search actually playing out in that manner.
More NFL insider notes
- I'm glad to see the Texans reach out to Leslie Frazier about their head coaching opening. Was very surprised he did not get overtures in the initial round of interviews and he is more than qualified for the job.
- University of Cincinnati's Luke Fickell is very much a name to watch in NFL circles. Teams really like him and I wouldn't be surprised if the Eagles pursued him.
- Brian Daboll would make a heck of a lot of sense with the Chargers. The Bills offensive coordinator continues to impress, doing so despite Buffalo's defense sagging some and knowing he needs to score in bunches to win.
- Don't discount the chances of the Lions giving very serious consideration to retaining interim coach Darrell Bevell.
- The young defensive coach I am most intrigued by is the Rams Brandon Staley. Plenty of quality candidates out there, including the 49ers Robert Saleh, who the Jets are very high on. But the job Staley has done and his background with Vic Fangio standout to me.
- Most people in this industry expected at least half of the coaching vacancies to be filled by Wednesday, and instead by midday, there were actually more openings (seven) than we had a week ago. As I said, this is a funny business sometimes.