SANTA CLARA, Calif. - There might be a new favorite in the San Francisco 49ers’ search for a new head coach.
The 49ers are said to be "very high" on New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, according to a report from the NFL Network. Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was also identified as a "dark-horse" candidate.
McDaniels reportedly interviewed with general manager Trent Baalke, CEO Jed York and team president Paraag Marathe Jan. 3. He also interviewed with the Falcons leading up to the Patriots Divisional Round game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Hiring McDaniels would make sense on a few levels. First, he’s a rare candidate that is both young, 38, and has head coaching experience. He coached the Denver Broncos in 2009 and 2010, before getting fired after Week 13. His record with Denver was an unimpressive 11-17, but he was just 33 at the time, becoming the youngest head coach in the NFL.
McDaniels has been on Bill Belichick’s staff since 2001, starting out as a personnel assistant the same season Tom Brady took over as starting quarterback, guiding the team to its first of three Super Bowl wins in four years. McDaniels was the team’s quarterback coach in 2004 for the team’s last championship before taking over as offensive coordinator in 2006.
After three seasons outside of the Patriots organization - McDaniels spent 2011 as the St. Louis Ram’s offensive coordinator - he returned to the sideline next to Belichick in the same role and reached the conference title game in back-to-back seasons before this year’s run.
Given the offense’s immense level of success with McDaniels at the helm, there’s been speculation around the Patriots indicating he might be Belichick’s heir apparent once the 20-year head coach decides to retire.
”It's part of the process and (you're) always obviously privileged that anybody wants to speak with you about anything like that,” McDaniels said of the interview process last week. “At this point I've moved on and hopefully (I) can help us put together a great plan for our guys heading into this week (against the Ravens).”
San Francisco recently blocked defensive coordinator Vic Fangio from interviewing with Washington for its vacant coordinator position, indicating the 49ers want Fangio to remain with the team, either as head coach or a coordinator. If he is made head coach, he would reportedly want former Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to run the offense. However, Shanahan has been linked to other coordinator jobs, including the New York Jets, after leaving the Browns this week.
Fangio has a year left on his contract, which will reportedly make him one of the league’s highest-paid coordinators in the coming season. And while Fangio is a worthy candidate to become the team’s head coach, he would have a hard time finding someone as sought after as McDaniels to run the offense.
The 49ers are hoping to improve the offense and maintain a defense that finished fifth in the NFL in yardage last season. The defense expects to have linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman back after missing significant time in 2014 due to injuries, which should be enticing enough to convince Fangio to stay on as coordinator if passed over for head coach.
Having spent most of his coaching career with Brady makes McDaniels a strong candidate to continue the development of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who struggled to improve from the pocket in 2014, his second full season as starter. Going with McDaniels could also be a good move for Vernon Davis, who had one of the worst seasons of his career, after McDaniels helped develop Rob Gronkowski into one of the league’s premier tight ends.
[Related: How Kaepernick can improve with Warner]
The 49ers have also interviewed Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, former Broncos and Washington head coach Mike Shanahan, Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, former Jets head coach Rex Ryan, and Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, long viewed as a favorite in-house candidate to replace Jim Harbaugh, has not had a known interview with team officials.