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Few surprises, plenty of intrigue as coaching carousel spins

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By Monday morning, there were no surprises left in the NFL. Chip Kelly was still out, Todd Bowles was still in and Chuck Pagano was still in limbo.

In fact, it was Gary Kubiak's decision to retire from coaching, bowing out of his life's work for the sake of his health, that seemed to spur the most thought on a typically tumultuous day after the end of the season. Kubiak, 55, had two serious health scares, both of which required hospitalization, in a three-year period, but it says something about the business of football that his election to step away from one of the best jobs in the game could be considered an outlier.

The start of the coach-hiring cycle is always a reminder of the desperation of teams and the men who want to lead them. Kubiak broke from that -- admirably -- leaving his close friend, John Elway, to hire yet another coach. That Elway is in charge, and that he has helped construct the Broncos' smothering defense, makes the Broncos the best job available now, because it has one of the most sought-after traits in an organization: stable and smart leadership.

A brief skip around the NFL landscape Monday was a reminder that reassuring management is not always a given.

In Buffalo, general manager Doug Whaley, who is leading the search for Rex Ryan's replacement, stretched credulity by saying that he hadn't thought about whether he agreed with Ryan's firing after he said he knew nothing about it until told Ryan was gone by Terry Pegula.

In New York, owner Woody Johnson, who had a spokesman tell reporters Sunday afternoon that there would be no changes, was said to likely speak publicly in a few weeks.

In San Francisco, 49ers owner Jed York, who will hire his third new coach in three years, faced a feisty media which, at one point, asked why he wasn't being dismissed along with Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke.

"I own this football team. You don't dismiss owners," York said.

There is an old adage that the most important position on any team is the owner. But York himself may have pinpointed the most important job the owner reserves for himself: finding a fit between general manager and coach.

There are six openings now -- with final word on the Colts presumably still to come -- which is actually on the low side. There have been at least seven new coaches in each of the last five seasons, an astonishing rate of turnover that explains, in part, why there is annual keening about the depth of the candidate pool. Owners are simply draining it too often, which doesn't give much time to nurture the next generation of coaches before their time has come.

There is no must-have candidate this season, which might be just as well, considering Kelly was the last one when he was coming out of Oregon. But that opens the door to newer names that may require a Google search by fans but who have garnered interest after years of working their way through the ranks. Anthony Lynn, the interim in Buffalo, is considered the leading contender there, but is also drawing attention from others. Vance Joseph, the Dolphins' defensive coordinator who used to work at the Bengals, has been mentioned in connection with the Broncos' job which, as NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported, he might have gotten if Kubiak had not in 2015. Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons' offensive coordinator who is the son of former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, has multiple interviews scheduled.

While York talked about starting with a clean slate and reestablishing a winning culture -- to say nothing of having to find a quarterback, an issue that hangs over the Bills job, too -- the most coveted jobs may require fewer tweaks. The Los Angeles Rams have a wealth of defensive talent and quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley. The Jacksonville Jaguars have a young, gifted roster and a patient owner. The Chargers have Philip Rivers and a well-regarded roster, although the uncertainty surrounding their potential relocation could give pause to candidates who have other options.

Coaching searches often reveal important information about teams. Beware those, for instance, that hire search firms to do the job, because that indicates a lack of confidence that the top executives, including the owner, know or can find the right candidates. A team that repeatedly and quickly changes coaches may be unable to imagine what they want their organization to look like or have not paid enough attention to the relationship between the coach and the front office.

As the interviews begin this week amid the scramble to fill jobs so that the offseason direction can be set, it is worth remembering a few recent examples.

Last season, the Giants pushed Tom Coughlin aside and then, rather than swing for the fences, elevated Ben McAdoo while also deciding a massive upgrade in defensive talent was needed.

Two years ago, the Atlanta Falcons waited and waited for Dan Quinn as the Seahawks, for whom he was the defensive coordinator, advanced through the playoffs. Other teams wanted Quinn, too -- he was the hot candidate then -- but he didn't commit to them and the Falcons didn't panic as other prospects landed elsewhere. After the Super Bowl, they finally landed their man.

Two different approaches. And both landed their teams back in the playoffs this season.

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