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5 candidates to replace Patrick Graham as Giants’ defensive coordinator

‘Wink’ Martindale, Vic Fangio have to be among candidates

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers
Vic Fangio
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

With Patrick Graham having reportedly decided to bolt the New York Giants to become defensive coordinator for Josh McDaniels with the Las Vegas Raiders, the Giants obviously need someone else to run their defense.

Let’s look at five potential candidates.

Don ‘Wink’ Martindale

Martindale was let go last month after 10 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, the last four as defensive coordinator. The Ravens had a top 5 defense in Martindale’s first three seasons as coordinator, but slipped to the middle of the pack in 2021.

Martindale, 58, was also defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos in 2010.

Martindale interviewed for the Giants’ head coaching job in 2020 when it went to Joe Judge, and is said to have a lot of respect from within the Giants’ organization.

Vic Fangio

The 63-year-old Fangio was one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL for more than two decades before getting his chance to be head coach for the Denver Broncos the past three seasons.

Except for a one-year stint at Stanford, Fangio has been coaching in the NFL since 1986. Fangio has been defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers (1995-1998), Indianapolis Colts (1999-2001), Houston Texans (2002-2005), San Francisco 49ers (2011-2014) and Chicago Bears (2015-2018).

Fangio’s name has been connected to several defensive coordinator openings in recent weeks.

Before he had even been fired by the Broncos, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports wrote this about Fangio:

Fangio is high atop the wish list of several of the top head coaching candidates who are about to start making the rounds for interviews, league sources said, and is also coveted by several teams who do not anticipate making a head coaching change but would like to upgrade at their defensive coordinator spot if possible ... Fangio’s reputation as a master tactician on that side of the ball would lead to competition for his services.

First-time head coaches who come from an offensive background are particularly drawn to Fangio because he can essentially run half of the team for them and allow them to focus on cultivating relationships throughout the team and developing the quarterback position. Fangio having head coaching experience in the NFL — and being able to relate to much of what a first-time head coach will be going through — further adds to his resume.

Mike Zimmer

Zimmer, 65, was fired by the Minnesota Vikings after being head coach from 2014-2021. If he wants to coach in the NFL in 2022, he is going to have to return to his roots on the defensive side of the ball.

Zimmer was a highly successful defensive coordinator before becoming Vikings’ head coach. He held the defensive coordinator position with the Dallas Cowboys from 2000-2006, the Atlanta Falcons in 2007 and the Cincinnati Bengals from 2008-2013.

Zimmer apparently does want to get back on the sideline this season.

Many of the reasons for a first-time head coach to hire Fangio would also apply to Zimmer.

Bob Babich

I know. You’re probably sitting there going ‘who’s that?’ So, let me tell you.

Babich, 60, has been linebackers coach of the Buffalo Bills for the past five seasons. We know, of course, that head coach Brian Daboll and GM Joe Schoen worked with Babich in Buffalo.

Babich has been coaching in the NFL since 2003 and has been a defensive coordinator twice. Babich was with the Chicago Bears from 2004-2012, spending the 2007-2009 seasons as defensive coordinator. In his three seasons running the Chicago defense, the Bears were 16th, 14th and 19th in points allowed. Babich was defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2013-2015. The Jaguars went just 12-36 during that time with Gus Bradley as head coach.

Babich was head coach at North Dakota State from 1997-2002.

Jerod Mayo

He might be a darkhorse, and under current circumstances the Bill Belichick connection might complicate it, but we have to consider the New England Patriots’ former All-Pro linebacker and current inside linebackers coach. During this hiring cycle the 35-year-old Mayo drew interest from at least two teams — the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos — for their head coaching jobs. He drew interest from the Philadelphia Eagles for that job before last season.

Mayo, obviously, is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks. Daboll is familiar with him after working as a Patriots assistant while Mayo was still a player.

Here are a couple of quotes about Mayo:

“This guy was an excellent football player and he’s an outstanding young coach who has everything you want from a head coach other than previous experience at that job,” an NFL executive said. “Jerod is a winner, and he will continue to win on and off the field, period.”

This one is from former Patriot Vince Wilfork:

“I think Mayo will be an unbelievable head coach because he learned from the best coach (Belichick) to ever coach and he ran a defense as a rookie that has so many levels of complexity to it. It’s just a matter of time when his number will be called.”

[UPDATE 11:38 a.m.]: The Giants have reportedly begun interviewing candidates.