DeMeco Ryans NFL Coaching Profile: The Next Mike Vrabel

DeMeco Ryans leads the NFL's best defense and is the hottest name in the coaching cycle this offseason. Which team will hire him as head coach?

DeMeco Ryans is one of the hottest names in the NFL coaching cycle this offseason, especially after the success the San Francisco 49ers saw under his direction this year. The 49ers defensive coordinator was already identified as a coach on the rise last year and was invited to a second interview with the Vikings during their coaching search. He declined that invitation because he felt he hadn’t developed enough as a coach to take on the top job.

Now, with another year under his belt, Ryans might be more willing to take on that role and become a head coach and match the career trajectory of Mike Vrabel, another former linebacker who rose up the coaching ranks with remarkable speed.

UPDATE: The Houston Texans have hired DeMeco Ryans as their new head coach

DeMeco Ryans Has Long Been a Head Coach Candidate

Ryans has been in the spotlight as a future head coach for some time, but this year’s 49ers defense makes his case better than anything had before. San Francisco’s defense ranks first in points allowed and points allowed per drive. They rank second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and second in EPA per play allowed.

Ryans’ rise into the ranks of coaching first comes from his background as a player. He was the second player ever drafted by the Gary Kubiak-era Texans, behind Mario Williams. Despite moving inside from outside, Ryans became a star, earning Defensive Rookie of the Year over his first-round teammate and earned All-Pro consideration in 2007, along with two Pro Bowl honors.

Ryans finished out his 10-year career in Philadelphia but found the latter half of his time in the NFL plagued with injuries, which led to him filing a lawsuit against the Houston Texans for the condition of their field. The case was dropped in 2021.

The former Alabama linebacker always seemed like a potential coaching candidate, something Chip Kelly recognized in 2016 when he identified Ryans as the most likely to make a great head coach out of all the players he’s coached.

Ryans Has a Strong History as a Player and Coach

Ryans spent the 2016 season hoping to catch on with a team partway through the season but ended up retiring from football as a player at the conclusion of the season. Immediately, the 49ers hired him as a defensive quality control coach.

After the 2017 season, San Francisco denied the Tennessee Titans permission to interview Ryans for a coaching role under Vrabel despite the fact that Ryans had only coached — at the lowest level in the NFL — for one season.

After their attempt to hire Ken Norton Jr. to be their linebackers coach, who ended up taking the defensive coordinator job in Seattle, the 49ers took the unusual move to promote their one-year quality control assistant to inside linebackers coach.

The move paid off immediately, and Ryans did an excellent job. He identified Fred Warner as a potential draft pick for the team and reined in Reuben Foster. After some time, the 49ers also added Dre Greenlaw under Ryans’ guidance.

After defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was hired by the New York Jets to be their head coach, the 49ers promoted Ryans to defensive coordinator. When it was announced, head coach Kyle Shanahan anticipated it would be a short-term promotion and figured that Ryans would become a head coach sooner rather than later.

MORE: Top Defensive Coordinators Available for HC Positions

Should Ryans be hired as a head coach for a team this year, it would match Vrabel’s career arc before becoming the Tennessee Titans head coach. After a long time playing and a short time coaching, Vrabel was tapped to become a head coach and has been extraordinarily successful.

Right now, the 49ers are vying for the top seed in the NFC despite starting three different quarterbacks. They have the NFL’s top defense by points allowed, expected points per play, and DVOA.

DeMeco Ryans Expected To Make $4 million

First-time head coaches often make similar amounts of money, regardless of how many teams are interested in them. Only when they have outside negotiating leverage — like a broadcasting contract — can they typically demand more.

In the modern NFL, that salary range is about $4 million. Some make $3.5 million, and others make $4.5 million, but the range is typically not far from that.

The good news is that success leads to extensions that can double or triple that salary pretty quickly. But first, owners need to see success.

Teams That Could Target DeMeco Ryans

Teams will likely want to hire a coach with an offensive background, but there will be several owners still interested in Ryans. The most likely candidates are teams that just let go of their offensive head coach and could be looking for a change.

Indianapolis Colts

If the Colts aren’t satisfied with the job that Jeff Saturday has done as an interim coach, they could be looking for a defensive HC to revive the Colts’ defense and work with star linebacker Shaquille Leonard.

Indianapolis’ defense has suffered after former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was hired to be the Chicago Bears’ head coach, and they could use a rejuvenating presence.

Given the relationship that Saturday has with owner Jeff Irsay, it’s possible that they decide to keep Saturday on instead of pursuing an outside coach. But given the defense-forward nature of the team, the importance of linebackers to the team and the stellar defensive unit built by Ryans in San Francisco, it could be a good fit.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos need a culture shift just as much as they need a defensive makeover. Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero is a hot candidate, but he seemingly declined an opportunity to be the interim head coach, perhaps signaling an intent to look outward for a new coaching opportunity rather than staying in Denver.

MORE: Top 5 Broncos Head Coach Candidates

With that in mind, someone to work with Patrick Surtain II to build the defense would be appealing. And if fixing team culture can resolve what’s wrong with the offense, then Ryans might be a great fit.

Houston Texans

Why shouldn’t Ryans return to the team that drafted him? Lovie Smith has been a caretake coach in Houston, and Ryans could fix perhaps the most broken team culture in the NFL. (If the owner lets him.)

A homecoming of sorts would be nice for Ryans, and he’d have the ability to work with an exciting group of rookies on both sides of the ball and, currently, the most valuable picks in the draft.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals might not have any specific appeal for Ryans, but ownership may be looking to replace their offensive head coach from college with an NFL lifer from the defensive side of the ball. The Cardinals’ defense is broken and might be able to use Ryans’ help, though his contacts on offense may be most important.

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