NFL assistants balance playoff prep with job interviews

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — DeMeco Ryans’ day as San Francisco defensive coordinator started with meetings and then went to the practice field as he focused on implementing a defense to slow down Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys.

Then instead of relaxing or diving into more film at night ahead of a key playoff showdown Sunday, Ryans shifted gears and went into job interview mode with an in-person meeting with the Denver Broncos about their head coaching job.

“With everything you do as a coach, you’re trying to crunch a lot of things in,” he said at his weekly news conference Thursday in between practice and his interview.

“You’re trying to dissect a lot of information in a certain amount of time. So time management is a very crucial thing to have. I know I keep the main thing, the main thing, and the main thing this week is the Cowboys.”

Ryans is one of several assistants still alive in the playoffs dealing with the delicate balance of preparing for the most important games of their careers with the most important job interviews.

Among the other assistants, who have interviewed or been requested for interviews for head coaching jobs are Cowboys coordinators Dan Quinn and Kellen Moore; Giants coordinators Mike Kafka and Wink Martindale; Eagles coordinators Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon; Buffalo offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey; and Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.

The NFL tweaked the rules this year, allowing for assistants who were in the wild-card round to do interviews the week of the divisional round in hopes that qualified candidates on teams that make long postseason runs don’t miss out on getting coveted head coaching jobs.

Many of the head coaches still alive dealt with similar challenges before getting their jobs. Giants coach Brian Daboll said it wasn’t difficult to block out other job opportunities while coaching a team trying to reach the Super Bowl after going through it last year as Bills offensive coordinator.

“You work extremely hard to get to this spot,” Daboll said. “All the work you put in in the offseason, the training camps, regular season games, and now the first playoff game, as a professional, that’s where all of your attention is.”

After interviewing with the Broncos on Thursday night, Ryans was set to meet with the Texans on Friday. He also is expected to interview with the Carolina and Arizona during this process as he seeks his first head coaching job.

His Dallas counterpart, Quinn, is scheduled to interview Friday with Denver. Quinn interviewed with the Broncos last year before they hired Nathaniel Hackett, who was fired before the end of his first season.

Quinn said offseason preparation for interviews is important in helping keep the focus on his team’s upcoming game.

“I interviewed during the playoffs years ago during my time in Seattle,” said Quinn, who was hired by Atlanta in 2015 and led the Falcons to the Super Bowl in his second season. “That experience helped me make sure, ‘Hey, your process had better be straight and organized as you’re going.’

“Back in the spring and summer, I had planned for us to be in the playoffs, so I planned for these conversations if I was fortunate enough to have them. I didn’t want to have to do anything differently.”

Ryans’ boss Kyle Shanahan went through a similar process six years ago when he interviewed with San Francisco while going on a Super Bowl run as offensive coordinator in Atlanta. Shanahan’s former offensive coordinator, Mike McDaniel, went through the job search last postseason and got hired by Miami, while former defensive coordinator Robert Saleh interviewed for head coaching jobs during the 2019 playoffs but didn’t get hired until a year later.

Shanahan is confident Ryans can balance the two tasks.

“When you just set the time aside for that, it’s a lot for DeMeco to kind of prepare for it, but I think he is prepared for it,” Shanahan said. “When you’re done with those, you go right back to the most important thing at hand then and that’s us finding a way to win this Sunday.”

The process is a bit easier for coaches on teams that had the bye last week like the Eagles and Chiefs. Those their assistants were able to get interviews done before this week, with Steichen, Gannon and Bieniemy able to take advantage of that opportunity.

“Just focused on the Giants right now,” Steichen said this week. “That’s it.”

Some assistants preferred to wait before starting the interview process with Kafka and Martindale of the Giants choosing to wait until after Saturday’s game against Philadelphia to begin meeting with teams for potential head coaching jobs.

Martindale handled it the same way three years ago when he was defensive coordinator in Baltimore and ended up interviewing with Giants owner John Mara for the job that ultimately went to Joe Judge.

“It’s an honor when they put a slip in because I think it’s harder to get a head coaching job in this league than being in the Senate,” Martindale said. “It’s an honor, but we’re not interviewing this week. When I came here as a Giant, it wasn’t a stepping stone for me. It was a destination. … Honestly, I’ve been locked in on Philly. We’re not interviewing this week. I think that when the time comes, if there’s still time when we can do it, I’d love to sit down and talk with them.”

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AP Pro Football Writers Dennis Waszak Jr. and Schuyler Dixon and AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston contributed to this report.

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