It was the Press Democrat’s 49ers correspondent, Grant Cohn, who asked the question at the now-infamous Why Harbaugh Isn’t Here press conference of Dec. 29: What qualities are the Niners looking for in their new head coach?
Team CEO Jed York offered one of his few clear answers of the day. “I want a teacher,” he said.
Ah, but what kind of teacher? Educators come in many colors of sweaters. My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Seawright, used to pause in the aisle, lean down to my tiny ear and whisper, “You’re the apple of my eye.” On the other hand, I had an eighth-grade math teacher, Mr. Brar, who became so exasperated by my clowning as he worked through problems at his Raiders-style overhead projector that he proclaimed, “If I make one more mistake, Philip, you are going to the office.”
Let’s examine the known pool of 49ers coaching candidates and analyze their teaching styles. And big thanks to the beat writers doing real work and unearthing these meetings.
Dan Quinn, Seahawks defensive coordinator: I don’t know a ton about Quinn, except that his defense is fearsome. Supposedly he’s an obsessive film watcher. But let’s be honest here. Quinn looks like a bullet head. He’s big and tough looking. He looks like the teacher who is given three periods of remedial history so that he can coach the football team, and then gives all the football players a B+ while the non-jocks are terrified to speak in class.
Adam Gase, Broncos offensive coordinator: Unlike most NFL coaches, Gase didn’t have much of a playing career. In high school he designed spread sheets for the football team. He’s the quirky teacher, the guy who organizes egg drops from atop the gymnasium and shepherds everyone to the quad for outdoor lessons on nice days. He puts up posters on his classroom walls of Albert Einstein sticking out his tongue. Think of Mr. Rosso on “Freaks and Geeks.”
Mike Shanahan, unemployed: We’ve all had teachers like Shanahan. Back in the day they were the hotshots of the school – energetic, dynamic, kings and queens of the Teachers’ Lounge. But their prime was long ago. They have become crabby and disillusioned over the years, and less inclined to try new things. Watch closely and you’ll see them steal glances at the clock in third period. They can tell you exactly when their pensions are fully vested.
Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator: McDaniels has long been considered one of the NFL’s top offensive strategists – and also one of its most offensive strategists. His first head coaching stint, in Denver, did not go well. McDaniels was said to be snide, abrasive. His former punter called him “a little punk.” He’s the teacher who embarrasses kids in class. In return, they find his home phone number and make crank calls, and write “FART” on his windshield in the school parking lot.
Rex Ryan, unemployed: Ryan is the campus loose cannon. He teaches wood shop or runs the school radio station, and he doesn’t carry himself like other teachers. He drives a muscle car. If the principal pops into class to say something, the loose cannon waits for him to leave, then mumbles “weenie” under his breath and all the kids laugh. There are rumors that he drinks beer (or worse!) with students, though you can’t substantiate them. He’s… oh, here you go!
Taryl Teryl Austin, Lions defensive coordinator: I’ll be honest with you here. I don’t know anything about Taryl Teryl Austin (see? h/t Eric Branch). Nobody knows anything about Taryl Teryl Austin. He is the substitute teacher about to walk into a nervous classroom. He may be down to earth, he may be boring and unsure of himself, or he may be the crazy sub who wants to talk about the Kennedy assassination for an hour instead of biology.
Todd Bowles, Cardinals defensive coordinator: Bowles, who reportedly interviewed with the 49ers today, is the resident cool teacher of the NFL coaching scene. He isn’t young, per se, but he speaks the students’ language. He says “weed” instead of “marijuana” during the Life Skills course. He knows what Instagram is. He shoots baskets with kids after school, and always wins at H-O-R-S-E.
Vic Fangio, 49ers defensive coordinator: Fangio has been teaching in Santa Clara for a long time. He isn’t particularly charismatic, he is not controversial. He has a dry sense of humor that he sprinkles into lessons, but mostly it’s about the lessons. You sort of take him for granted until you’re out of college and you look back and realize how much of importance you learned from the guy.
I’m not seconding the notion that “a teacher” is what an NFL team should be looking for in a head coach. Perhaps teams should be emphasizing innovation or motivational technique or management skills. But if it’s truly a teacher that York and general manager Trent Baalke want, how could they do better than Vic Fangio? Just ask his current students. If there were a RateMyCoach web site, Fangio would be nailing it.