Jets let second candidate leave as coach search drags on

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The Jets are nearly two weeks into their search for a new head coach. When they will find one is anyone’s guess.

On Thursday, the Jets completed a second interview with Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. He’s the second candidate they have interviewed in person in New Jersey. They interviewed 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Both Saleh and Smith left and headed for interviews with other teams. They both have drawn attention from nearly every one of the teams searching for a coach. The Jets are getting to the point at which they must decide whether they want to be the team to strike first for one of these in-demand candidates or wait it out.

“As to when we will have a new coach, this is a broad and deep search,” Jets CEO and chairman Christopher Johnson said on Jan. 4, at the beginning of this search. “We’re going to take our time, this is a process and we want to get it right. Clearly, we aren’t the only team looking for a new coach, time is always of the essence, but we’re going to do this right.”

That is the tricky spot in which the Jets and the other teams find themselves. A coaching search is always a balance between acting quickly to beat other teams to a candidate, but also doing a thorough search. That has been complicated this year by the COVID-19 restrictions. The Jets interviewed nine candidates, but all of the interviews were done virtually. Teams are not going to pick a coach, and vice versa, without meeting in person. But candidates on teams in the postseason cannot interview in person until their teams are eliminated from the playoffs.

That allowed the Jets to bring Saleh (whose 49ers missed the playoffs) and Smith (whose Titans were eliminated Sunday) in for second interviews this week. They did not feel strongly enough to try to lock one of them up during their visits, but will they pounce if one of them is hired by another team? Will they have the patience to wait on an in-person interview if Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy or Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll advance to the Super Bowl? That would mean waiting until Feb. 8 to meet with them. They could do another virtual interview with them during the off week before the Super Bowl, but they surely would not hire anyone they did not meet with in person first.

The danger of waiting that long is any coach hired in February could have difficulty putting his staff together. Most of the coaching spots will be filled by then and it can be hard to lure assistant coaches.

The first coaching hiring was made Thursday, as the Jaguars and Urban Meyer agreed on a deal. But Meyer never seemed to be a true candidate anywhere but Jacksonville. The dominoes will really begin to fall when one of the other six openings is filled.

Saleh and Smith are the two hottest names at the moment. Saleh has interviewed with every team that has an opening except the Texans. He left the Jets on Wednesday and went to Florida to interview with the Eagles. The NFL Network reported he also has a second interview with the Chargers.

Smith has interviewed with every team except the Texans, who have expressed interest in talking to him. He had a second interview with the Falcons before coming to New Jersey on Wednesday. After finishing with the Jets on Thursday, Smith was scheduled to fly to Florida to meet with the Eagles for the first time. He is also going to have a second interview with the Lions on Friday.

If one of those two get plucked by another team, it will be interesting to see if the Jets move on the other. That’s assuming they have those two both high on their list, which one can assume since they had both of them in for interviews this week before anyone else.

Or the Jets may wait to see who loses this weekend to see who they could bring in next week for an interview. Daboll, Bieniemy, Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley and Saints secondary coach Aaron Glenn (a former Jets player) all have interviewed virtually with the Jets and have playoff games this weekend.

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