What Might the Future Hold for Jim Schwartz?

Jim Schwartz is out after a strong year as the Bills' defensive coordinator. What's next?

“The Buffalo Bills will be the NFL’s number-one defense” is a very Rex Ryan thing to say in a job interview.

It almost exclusively is a very Rex Ryan thing to say because it wouldn’t make much sense for you or I to make such a claim in a job interview. According to Tim Graham on Twitter, some form of that statement is just what Ryan told Bills owner Terry Pegula when interviewing for the Bills’ head coaching gig last week. It was a sentiment Ryan repeated in his introductory press conference.

Really, Ryan is justified in making such a claim , and Ryan is not necessarily wrong on his part for doing so.

What’s been overshadowed by the Ryan hiring is how good the Bills defense already was in 2014. By our Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Buffalo had the second-best overall defense in the league behind the Houston Texans. For defenses that only played humans and not quarterback-seeking robots, the Bills would be number-one. Much of that success was due to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Square Peg and Round Hole

Ryan and Schwartz accomplish similar things on defense but go about getting there in dissimilar ways. Ryan is a proponent of the 3-4 scheme and blitzes to manufacture pressure, while Schwartz has found success in a 4-3 and creating pressure with his defensive line. Those philosophies don’t mesh very well, and when a team hires a new coach for five years with a reported $5.5 million salary each season, that guy’s philosophy will be the one that takes precedent.

In Buffalo, Schwartz took a defense that was aggressive and blitz-heavy under former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and crafted it into a defense that could get just as much pressure with its front four and leave seven players in coverage. The shift led to All-Pro seasons from Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus and Pro Bowl seasons for Williams, Dareus and Jerry Hughes.

Schwartz finds himself unemployed for the second offseason in a row, though his 2014 performance as Buffalo’s defensive coordinator gives him a much better perception around the league than following his head coaching stint on with the Detroit Lions.

How Did He Get Here?

Over the course of his coaching career, dating back to his time as the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans from 2001-2008, Schwartz has put up inconsistent numbers on the defensive side of the ball. Schwartz oversaw three defenses in Tennessee with a negative Adjusted NEP on defense -- in the case negative is good, as it indicates that they denied points from their opponents -- and rode the defense’s best season into his head coaching gig with Detroit.

YearAdj Def NEPAdj D Pass NEPAdj D Rush NEPAdj D NEP/PAdj D PNEP/PAdj D RNEP/P

Despite the promising metrics in his final two seasons with Tennessee, there was only one instance in Schwartz’s tenure in Detroit when the defense was truly dominant, 2011, but the improvement from 2009 to 2011 shows the type of impact he can have on a defense.

YearAdj Def NEPAdj D Pass NEPAdj D Rush NEPAdj D NEP/PAdj D PNEP/PAdj D RNEP/P

Unfortunately for Schwartz, other responsibilities are required for a head coach, and he did not excel at those.

What’s Next?

Buffalo’s 2014 positioned Schwartz as one of the top coordinators available, but the amount of available defensive coordinator positions is dwindling by the day. Since it was announced that Buffalo would not retain Schwartz for 2015, his name has yet to pop up on any official interview lists. Speculation had floated around that he could be considered for the Cowboys defensive coordinator position after rumors surfaced that Rod Marinelli could be parting ways with the team. Those rumors proved to be unfounded as Marinelli and the Cowboys agreed on a new three-year deal to keep him in Dallas.

In past seasons, it would have made sense for Schwartz to hop on with a young, offensive-minded head coach hired by a new team, but those type of hirings just haven’t happened this offseason. Atlanta could be an option if they go with Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, but there's been little momentum surrounding that match. A majority of the head coaching hires have been for coaches with strong defensive backgrounds, such as Ryan hire and the New York Jets’ hire in Todd Bowles.

At this point, with the openings left, Schwartz may have his best option jumping on with a retread head coach, who will not control as much of the coordinator duties. That could include Jack Del Rio, who was just hired by the Oakland Raiders -- which was a good signing for Oakland -- or with John Fox in a rumored match with the Chicago Bears.

Since Fox was let go by the Denver Broncos, his name has popped up as the top of the list of candidates for the Chicago job. Fox has a strong defensive background, but has employed high profile coordinators during his head coaching tenure, such as Del Rio in Denver. The Bears ranked 28th in Adjusted NEP in total defense, 27th individually against both the run and the pass. Much of Chicago’s woes were magnified by a simple Cover-2 scheme that was also poorly executed. The Bears might have a core of personnel that would interest Schwartz and work to his strengths. A defensive line consisting of Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston has the potential to take a big step forward under Schwartz.

Another option for which Schwartz’s name has only been rumored is the New York Giants. New York fired defensive coordinator Perry Fewell after the Giants fell to 27th in Adjusted NEP on defense in 2014. There are still a majority of players still on the roster that comprised the sixth best defense by Adjusted NEP in 2013. Dating back to the days under Steve Spagnuolo -- also a candidate for the defensive coordinator position -- the Giants have been a defense based on creating pressure with the front four, which fits with how Schwartz schemes. New York has talent on the defensive side of the ball, especially if the team re-signs Jason Pierre-Paul, and a player such as defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins could flourish with more development.

One thing that hovers over the Giants coordinator position is the uncertain future of head coach Tom Coughlin. For the past few seasons, Coughlin’s future has been up in the air. While that lack of security could scare off some other coordinators, Schwartz could see it as a chance to coach his way back into a head coaching position if this is Coughlin’s last year on the New York sideline. That thought might petrify Giants fans, but it might be the exact type of opportunity Schwartz is looking for.