The Jacksonville Jaguars have been on the hunt for a new defensive coordinator since relieving Mike Caldwell of his duties a week ago. With five interviews scheduled so far, we take a deep dive into each of the candidates:
Currently the Tennessee Titans’ “defensive passing game coordinator and cornerbacks coach,” Chris Harris is a rising star in coaching circles. A former NFL safety with 439 tackles in eight years in the league (including a year in Jacksonville to end his career in 2012), Harris immediately transitioned to a sideline role in 2013 - becoming a defensive quality control coach with the Chicago Bears.
Leaning on his innate knowledge of secondaries, it didn’t take long for Harris to move up the ranks, becoming an assistant DB coach with the (San Diego) Los Angeles Chargers in 2016. He was with the Bolts for four seasons, and by the time he was ready to move on the Chargers finished sixth in the league in overall defense, surrendering just 313.1 yards per game. The group also ranked fifth in the NFL in passing yards per game (200.3).
Harris headed to Washington in 2020 to take the role of defensive backs coach. In three years in DC, the Commanders ranked eighth in the NFL in passing defense (213.1 yards allowed per game) and fourth in total defense (323.4 yards per game). Harris gained a reputation for player development, with his work with Kendall Fuller and rookie Benjamin St. Juste garnering praise in particular. Last year with the Titans was more challenging, with Tennessee finishing primarily in the middle of the pack for most defensive passing stats - although the 20 passing touchdowns allowed was eighth-best in the league.
Harris enjoyed a number of interviews for defensive coordinator roles last offseason, and came incredibly close to getting the role with the Green Bay Packers. Hallmarks of working with Gus Bradley at the Chargers are evident in Harris’ style of defense, with his secondaries notorious for playing aggressive, sticky man coverage.
#Jaguars are expected to interview #Titans DC Shane Bowen later this week for their open defensive coordinator job, per sources.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) January 15, 2024
Bowen’s defense got the late-game goal-line stop on Jacksonville in Week 18 to keep the Jags out of the playoffs.
Beginning his coaching career with a decade at the collegiate level, Shane Bowen has spent all of his NFL coaching career in the AFC South, spending two years as a defensive assistant with the Houston Texans before joining the Titans in 2018. Initially starting life in Tennessee as the outside linebackers coach, Bowen was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2021 - a role he has occupied for the last three seasons.
It’s fair to say Bowen made an immediate impact as a DC - and if you’re a fan of a staunch run defense, you’ll be pleased to know his units finished second in rushing yards allowed in 2021 (84.6) and topped the league in the same category in 2022 (76.9 yards).
Aided by Jeffery Simmons and co, Bowen presided over a defense that ranked third in third-down defense in 2022, allowing a conversion rate of 34.2 percent (77 of 225). He achieved this despite some significant personnel losses; the 28 total starters Bowen used on defense was the second-highest total in the NFL, and the 40 total players used on defense led the league.
After a downturn in 2023, the departure of Mike Vrabel as head coach has also prompted Bowen’s exit from Tennessee, meaning he won’t need to be lured away from an equivalent role. If the Jaguars settle on him, they’ll need to be quick - Bowen has already interviewed for the vacant defensive coordinator role with the New York Giants.
The relationship between Giants coach Brian Daboll and former DC Wink Martindale came to an explosive end Monday, less than 24 hours after the team finished a disappointing season.@DDuggan21 on the messy divorce inside the Giants’ coaching staff:https://t.co/bDi1jgWmBs pic.twitter.com/Wtwupdz06r— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) January 12, 2024
Why is there a DC vacancy in New York? Because Don ‘Wink’ Martindale resigned from the position following the end of the regular season. Something of a legend in the NFL, Martindale has been coaching for 38 years - the last 20 at the professional level. He’s had stops with the Las Vegas Raiders, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens and the Giants, the last three of which he was at the helm of the defense.
Employing a hybrid defense that flips between three and four man fronts and likes to utilize the ‘Leo’ linebacker/defensive end role, Wink’s defenses are naturally aggressive. They attempt to stress offensive lines with stunts and pre-snap movement, all in a desire for pocket penetration. Martindale is one of the heaviest blitzers in the league, bringing pressure from anywhere and everywhere - and his units tend to live and die by their ability to get to the quarterback.
During last offseason, Martindale was honored with the 2023 Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award, which is presented for lifetime achievement as an NFL assistant coach. Despite the Giants’ tough season, Wink’s unit finished ninth in the league on third downs - a valuable metric in how effective a defense is at getting off the field. At 60 years old, Martindale may have been hoping for a crack at a head coaching job, but that market has failed to materialize; in fact, to this date the Jaguars are the only team to have offered him an interview for a defensive coordinator role.
.@jeffzrebiec reporting that #Ravens defensive pass game coordinator/secondary coach, Chris Hewitt, will interview for the #Jaguars DC opening.— JC (@JC_DTWP) January 12, 2024
Cincinnati alum that played 3 seasons for the Saints and is a 20+ year coaching vet.
Hewitt has been in Baltimore since 2012. pic.twitter.com/EnPlSlYRau
Similar to Chris Harris, Chris Hewitt has turned a professional career as a defensive back into a coaching career manning secondaries. After eight seasons coaching cornerbacks for Rutgers, Hewitt joined the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as DB coach - and has been there ever since. In 2020 Hewitt added the title of ‘pass defense coordinator’ to his resume, and his success with the Ravens has led to him receiving his first interview request for a coordinator role.
Just because the Jaguars are the only team showing interest in Hewitt should not detract from an impressive coaching career. With Hewitt at the helm of the secondary (since 2015), Baltimore’s defense has ranked at or near the top of the NFL in several categories, including points allowed per game (second – 20.0), yards allowed per game (first – 324.7) and third-down conversion percentage (second – 35.9). During this time, the Ravens also allowed the NFL’s sixth-ranked opponent completion percentage (62.3) and sixth-best opponent passer rating (86.7).
Hewitt has undoubtedly benefited from working under Mike MacDonald in Baltimore. 2024 might be a season too early for him to take the next step, unless he wows the Jags through the interview process - with MacDonald getting HC interviews, perhaps his best bet would be to stay home and be ready to step up.
How about one more “DB turned secondary coach” candidate for good luck? Marquand Manuel began his coaching career with the Seattle Seahawks after an eight year playing career in the league. He spent three years in the Pacific Northwest, working under the likes of Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn - following the latter to Atlanta when Quinn got the head coach role there. Manuel ascended to the DC role with the Falcons in 2017, a job he held for two years - in his first season as coordinator (2017), the defense ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense (eighth), total defense (ninth), rushing defense (ninth), and red zone defense (fifth).
After enjoying a year off in 2019, Manuel resurfaced with the New York Jets, where he has been safeties coach for the last four years. Being kept on by Robert Saleh after the catastrophe that was the Adam Gase era was a testament to Manuel’s ability to coach - and under the new regime he’s padded his impressive resume.
Manuel has been noted for his ability to develop young talent, with names such as Marcus Maye, Ashtyn Davis and Sauce Gardner all becoming elite starters in the league. At 44 years old, Manuel has more experience than the other younger candidates - and has two trips to the Super Bowl on his CV. It’s evident from the names being interviewed that the Jaguars want a coordinator who can tighten up a leaky secondary - could Manuel fit the bill?