As offensive coordinator search widens, Jets face potential roadblocks

The Jets spoke with former Denver Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett about their offensive coordinator job. Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets will have a new offensive coordinator in 2023, their ninth different OC in the last 13 years. There's probably less turnover at the local burger joint, but coach Robert Saleh hopes to start a new trend with his choice for Mike LaFleur's replacement.

Saleh is well into his search, having interviewed at least six candidates for the vacancy, said sources familiar with the search. On Wednesday, he spoke with former Denver Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett, ESPN's Dianna Russini reported. Hackett has a distant connection to the Jets; his father, Paul, was the offensive coordinator from 2001 to 2004.

Since Paul Hackett's four-year run, only one coordinator has lasted longer than two years -- Brian Schottenheimer (2006-11), who probably deserves a gold star for longevity. Saleh thought LaFleur would hold the job until he graduated to a head-coaching position, but things went sideways in 2022, as the Jets were a bottom-five scoring team for the second straight year. Under pressure, the two sides parted ways last week.

In the coming days, perhaps weeks, Saleh will pick someone to lead his offense -- a decision with potential make-or-break ramifications. The offensive-coordinator choice is always critical for a defensive-minded head coach, but it's especially important in this case because of the urgency to win immediately and the pressure to solve The Great Quarterback Question.

In addition to Hackett, Saleh has interviewed former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady (now a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles), New England Patriots tight ends coach Nick Caley, Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson and Eagles passing-game coordinator Kevin Patullo, said sources familiar with the search. There was interest in Miami Dolphins quarterbacks coach/passing-game coordinator Darrell Bevell, but he withdrew from consideration Wednesday, one of the sources confirmed.

A few other names in the rumor mill: Buffalo Bills quarterbacks coach Joe Brady, Los Angeles Rams senior offensive assistant Greg Olson and former Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. There also could be candidates whose names haven't surfaced.

Let's examine a few questions swirling around the job:

What are the Jets' challenges in trying to find a good coordinator?

Saleh was asked last week to explain why the opening would be attractive to a prospective candidate.

"I can give a sales pitch," replied Saleh, who proceeded to do just that.

He said the Jets have a top-5 defense and a "really, really, really good, young group of skill guys" on offense. What they don't have is a proven quarterback, which could be a major deterrent. Unless Saleh can find a quarterback guru who sees Zach Wilson as a worthwhile reclamation project, his mission is to convince someone to take the job without knowing the identity of the Week 1 starter. The Jets, who probably will be in the market for a veteran, may not secure that guy until March, if then.

The Jets, Patriots, Commanders, Rams, Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans are looking for OCs. Of the six, the Jets and Commanders have the least attractive quarterback situations. Five other teams are without a head coach, which means more competition for the Jets in the coordinator market.

Will Saleh try to hire someone with a connection to a veteran quarterback?

It's always fun to play connect the dots, right? It certainly adds some intrigue to the interest in Hackett.

Hackett developed a good relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers while serving as the Green Bay Packers' coordinator from 2019 to 2021 under Matt LaFleur, Saleh's best friend. Hackett wasn't the playcaller -- he was heavily involved in red zone strategy and devising early-week game plans -- but he received positive reviews from Rodgers, whose uncertain future in Green Bay is one of the major offseason storylines.

Rodgers aside, Saleh has his own connection to Hackett, as they spent 2015 and 2016 together on the Jacksonville Jaguars' staff. Hackett would be a tough sell to the fans, though. He lasted less than one season in Denver, where his offense ranked last in scoring. He also doesn't have much experience with developing young quarterbacks, which wouldn't make him an ideal match for Wilson if the Jets decide to keep him.

Olson, also a former member of that same Jacksonville staff, is interesting because he was Derek Carr's coordinator for three years with the Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders are expected to trade or release Carr, who could be on the Jets' list of quarterback targets. If the Jets dig deep into the free-agent market, Eagles backup Gardner Minshew has obvious connections to Johnson and Patullo.

Saleh said the new coordinator "absolutely" will have input into the quarterback decision.

Has Saleh extended his search beyond the Shanahan coaching tree?

Yes, definitely. Saleh said he's not married to the idea of hiring a Kyle Shanahan disciple, as he did with LaFleur. This is noteworthy because he has called the West Coast/Shanahan offense the greatest scheme in the world. Saleh is willing to venture outside his comfort zone, evidenced by the early interviews. Of the known candidates, only Hackett has an indirect tie to the Shanahan tree.

After starting out with a first-time coordinator in LaFleur, Saleh's logical move would be to hire an experienced playcaller, right? Not necessarily. If he identifies a young, can't-miss coach, he could go that route again.

Brian Johnson could fit that profile. Only 35, he's a fast-rising coach who has done wonders with the Eagles' Jalen Hurts. He was a record-setting college quarterback at Utah who coached Dak Prescott at Mississippi State. Problem is, he'd be a tough get. Johnson is drawing considerable interest and has been mentioned as a head-coaching candidate.

Once he finds a coordinator, Saleh will try to pair him with an experienced offensive line coach such as Keith Carter, formerly of the Tennessee Titans.

Could there be a mystery candidate?

It can't be ruled out. Every coaching search is a fluid situation.