Ask most players and front office personnel around the NFL, and they’ll say quarterback is the most important position in the league and the toughest to fill. The second-hardest? Head coach.
Thanks to seventh-year Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons have a leg up on many of the teams around the league looking for their next head coach. Ryan threw for more than 4,000 yards for the fourth straight season and tossed 28 touchdowns, and the Falcons nearly won the NFC South and a postseason spot despite a losing 6-10 record.
Possessing Ryan makes the Falcons vacancy that much more attractive to prospective head coaches. Teams like Buffalo and the New York Jets have been searching for a consistent quarterback for the better part of a decade, and now they too are seeking new head coaches.
With Ryan and a dynamic receiving corps of Julio Jones and Roddy White already in place, the next Falcons head coach could instead focus they’re attention on one of the poorest defensive squads in the NFL. The Falcons ranked No. 32 against the pass, No. 21 against the run, and were last in the NFL in total defense, allowing 398.3 yards per game.
And that’s why several of the candidates linked to the Falcons have had tremendous success as defensive coordinators in the NFL. According to ESPN, the Falcons requested permission to speak with the four coaches below.
Adam Gase, Denver Broncos
The Falcons reportedly met with the Broncos offensive coordinator on Friday. He represents a coach who could make Ryan even better, judging by his considerable effort to help Peyton Manning return to top form after missing an entire season due to a career-threatening neck injury.
Like the other coordinators on this list, Gase hasn’t been a head coach at the NFL level but his experience of molding an offense into championship form is well documented. However, the Falcons may have to fend of San Francisco’s interest in Gase.
Todd Bowles, Arizona Cardinals
A former safety in the NFL, Bowles could step in and turn around the Falcons D just like he did the Cardinals. The 51-year-old joined Arizona in 2013 after the team ranked 17th in points allowed and 12th in total yards. In one year, Bowles retooled and the Cardinals were ranked in the top 10 in both categories. This season, the Cardinals were once again one of the top defensive units in the league, ranking fifth in points allowed per game.
Similar to Gase, another Bay Area team is interested in Bowles. The Oakland Raiders have reportedly lined up an interview with Bowles after Arizona was eliminated from the postseason.
Teryl Austin, Detroit Lions
Detroit’s Austin is another coordinator who wasn’t available for interviews right away because he was preparing his defense for Wild Card Weekend against Dallas. And like Bowles, Austin completely revamped the Lions defense in less than a season.
Previously the secondary coach for Baltimore for three seasons, Austin helped turn the Lions defense into the No. 2 ranked squad in the league. If his squad can bump off the high-scoring Cowboys, Austin could see his demand shoot way up.
The Falcons may have to act fast, with the 49ers and Bills also reportedly expressing interest.
Dan Quinn, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks defensive coordinator for the last two seasons, Quinn arguably has the easiest case to make to the Falcons. He’s already won a Super Bowl with one of the best defenses in league history and could repeat this season.
Since Seattle earned a first-round bye, Quinn was available to speak right away and already met with Atlanta and the New York Jets, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora.