Unpopular Opinions

Unpopular Opinions: Saban, Jim Harbaugh deserve NFL redux

Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.

In this space, I articulate positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Here is my take on some good coaches who deserve another shot at NFL glory.

When the Chicago Bears were in the middle of their coaching search after parting ways with John Fox at the end of last season, I wanted them to follow the NFL coaching trend of hiring some millennial hipster who would call an actual offense suited for 2018. You know, someone who doesn't think punt yards are equivalent to pass yards. I definitely didn't want another retread like Fox -- the only one the Bears have ever hired in their history (not counting when George Halas returned to take over the team) -- because, well, the results speak for themselves.

So when they went with Matt Nagy I was totally on board. And I still am. He's been everything Bears fans could hope for.

That said, earlier this week I saw a few promos for NFL Films' "A Football Life: Mike Holmgren" and I was reminded of how successful Holmgren was with the Seahawks after taking the Packers to two Super Bowls. (Two more than they deserve, am I right?) That then spiraled into me diving deep into other retreads and realizing some of the most respected coaches in NFL history are guys who received a second chance. Guys like Don Shula, Marty Schottenheimer, Tony Dungy, Tom Coughlin, Andy Reid and, oh yeah, Bill Belichick -- the greatest coach of all time. (No, I'm not counting the whole napkin-resignation-Jets fiasco.)

While I haven't completely changed my stance on retreads, I have softened a bit. And that got me thinking as to which coaches I'd most like to see get a second crack at running a team. Here's my list (not yours, so don't complain to me about guys I left off):

7) Rod Marinelli
Current position: Cowboys defensive coordinator/defensive line coach

I give big ups to Hue Jackson for doing Marinelli a solid by having his Browns finish 0-16 in 2017 so poor Rod wouldn't be the only coach who had to live with the dubious distinction of going winless for an entire season. OK, so maybe Jackson didn't mean for it to turn out that way, but it's nice that it did ... at least, for Rod. But Marinelli should be given another chance to run his own franchise. After all, he's been one of the brightest defensive minds in the game for decades. He's done an excellent job working young players like Leighton Vander Esch into the Cowboys' defense this season: They currently rank third in points per game, seventh in total yards per game, ninth in passing yards per game and sixth in red-zone percentage.

6) Gus Bradley
Current position: Chargers defensive coordinator

Maybe it's not Bradley's time for a second chance in the NFL right now (he wrapped up a four-year run as Jaguars head coach in 2016 with a ghastly record of 14-48). The best route for Bradley might be to follow the Pete Carroll career path, including going to USC. He can rejuvenate that program and then jump back into the NFL down the road. It could happen (although I have no inside info about this). The Chargers' defense ranks 14th in yards per game but fifth in red-zone defense. And while it might not look that impressive on paper, you have to give Bradley a lot of credit for keeping this defense credible without Joey Bosa, who has yet to play this season but is on the mend.

5) Jim Schwartz
Current position: Eagles defensive coordinator

As with Marinelli, I don't think leading the Lions, as Schwartz did from 2009 to 2013, should be your only coaching opportunity in life. That's like putting a 5-year-old behind the wheel of a car and then, after the inevitable crash, saying the toddler should never be allowed to drive again for the rest of his or her life. I mean, it's not fair. Of course, the toddler is going to jump at the chance without knowing how futile that effort is going to be. So, they really can't be blamed. If anything, it will likely make him or her a better driver in the future. Although Schwartz really does appear to be much better as a coordinator than head coach, he seems like the kind of guy who could be paired with an up-and-coming offensive mastermind as his top assistant and have success.

4) Josh McDaniels
Current position: Patriots offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach

I guess this would technically be a third chance for McDaniels because he was the coach of the Indianapolis Colts for a few hours earlier this year. But that would mean he's really just following in the footsteps of his boss Belichick, who coached the Jets for a matter of hours before, as legend goes, he penned his resignation on a cocktail napkin that he turned in right before what was supposed to be his introductory press conference. The gall of that guy! I mean, obviously, it did work out for Belichick. I would like to believe that it will for McDaniels, too. He's like one of those artists who is just ahead of his time. Kind of like when Steve Austin was part of the Hollywood Blonds with Brian Pillman. It was a great tag-team, but the audience was not ready for it at that time. They would be the biggest thing in wrestling if they had started out today. Though you could argue DIY) was kind of the same thing.

3) Bruce Arians
Current position: CBS analyst

I'm thrilled the Bears have Nagy. But passing on Arians to hire Marc Trestman in 2013 has to be considered one of the worst coach-hiring missteps of all time. I don't mean to throw this out there lightly, but Jay Cutler would probably be going to the Hall of Fame if Chicago had hired Arians instead. The Bears would have gone to Super Bowl XLVIII and finally got over on Peyton Manning. But I'm not mad about it or anything. I will say, Arians raised eyebrows recently when he said he would only come out of retirement for the Browns job. How has he not been hired yet? Cleveland's new coordinator, Freddie Kitchens, already knows Arians' offense, having coached on his staff for the previous five seasons. Let's make this happen. His Cardinals teams were highly entertaining and always competitive. And just think of the Arians/Baker Mayfield mic'd up segments.

2) Jim Harbaugh
Current position: Michigan head coach

There was a time when many members of my family were holding out hope that Harbaugh was going to return to the NFL and coach his former team, the Chicago Bears. And I loved that idea for a while, at least until Nagy became the greatest coach in NFL history. All right, I might be jumping ahead of myself. But we still need Harbaugh in our NFL lives. He was a great NFL coach, going 44-19-1 during his four years with the 49ers. His final campaign in San Francisco, when the team finished 8-8, was his worst of the four. In the three years before that, he delivered three NFC Championship Game appearances and advanced to one Super Bowl, which he would have won if he had just run the ball more with Frank Gore or had Colin Kaepernick call his own number instead of throwing to Michael Crabtree three times in a row from Baltimore's 5-yard line coming out of the two-minute warning.

The ideal situation would be for him to jump back into the NFC West with the Cardinals, although the team might be happy to give first-year coach Steve Wilks more time to grow despite a rough start to his career in Arizona. However, Carroll, Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan and Harbaugh would make the NFC West the greatest coaching division in NFL history.

1) Nick Saban
Current position: Alabama head coach

I mean, what more is there to prove at the college level? He's the best to ever do it. The loss to Clemson in the title game a couple seasons ago seems more like the kind of loss that happens when your mother tells you to let your little brother win a game of "Madden." And watching college football this year suuuuucks because there just doesn't seem to be any chance anybody gets within 21 points of Alabama. I know all of you haters want to believe Clemson, Notre Dame or Michigan has a chance. But it's not happening.

Saban now has two options. He could go to a program like UNLV, Colorado State or San Jose State and make them national championship contenders to really prove there is nobody at his level. (God, I would love to see that. Or even take a defunct program like Cal State Fullerton and have it rise from the dead.) Or else he can go back to the NFL. He went 9-7 in his first season with the Dolphins, which was good. And I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt about his second year. Miami went 6-10 and lost four of its last five games, but the rumors of his departure for Alabama would have sunk any football team. Still, dude. Anytime Saban walks into the Alabama pro day or whatnot, as great as he is, every coach and general manager in the room will be thinking of his failure in the NFL. You know it has to be eating at him. Time for him to give us all what we want and make another leap into the league.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @AdamRank.

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