It’s never too early to predict and project which coaches and coordinators will be hot commodities during the next hiring cycle immediately following the end of the regular season. With six weeks of the 2021 regular season in the books, some notable candidates are already beginning to emerge and one of the best choices doesn’t possess offensive expertise, as many would assume based on recent trends.
After concocting impressive game plans that either limited or completely neutralized two of the most talented young quarterbacks in the league, Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale is probably not long for Charm City.
Martindale is one of the most brilliant, creative, and innovative defensive minds in the game who possess all the intangibles that an organization looks for in a head coach and leader of men. He’s a player’s coach who knows how to motivate, make the best of the available personnel, and puts the pieces at his disposal in the best possible position to disrupt opposing offenses.
Against the vaunted Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, he learned his lesson from Week 3 of last year and was far less aggressive in his strategy to defend the unflappable Patrick Mahomes. He instead caged the former league and Super Bowl MVP in the pocket for the most part and forced him into some uncharacteristic errors with simulated and deceptive pressure.
Four weeks later when the Los Angeles Chargers came to town for what was supposed to be an epic showdown that would be decided by a shootout, Martindale called his best game of the season thus far. He devised a plan that limited one of the most potent offenses in the league to just 208 total yards and utterly dumbfounded ascending second-year signal-caller Justin Herbert, who was among the front runners for league MVP heading into the matchup, with disguised coverages and pressure packages.
“It was a lot of looks that we didn’t see on film and stuff they constructed for us,” said Herbert after the game. “They did a great job at disguising their looks; bringing pressure from one way and hiding from another. It was looks they hadn’t shown all season and stuff that you know we have to be better at to adjust to during the game. But, you know, they played a great game.”
Martindale has been the orchestrator and maestro of the Ravens defense since taking over for Dean Peas following the 2017 season. His units have consistently ranked at or near the top of the most important defensive categories such as points and total yards allowed despite losing several starters and other key pieces for stretches or sometimes even the entire year.
He inspires confidence in players by believing in their ability and not giving them assignments that they are incapable of handling. His ability to make game-to-game, half-to-half, and sometimes even series-to-series adjustments is a testament to his malleability with his game plans and strategy.
Martindale received some interest from some teams looking to fill their head coach vacancies after the Ravens’ record-shattering 2019 season came to an end. He was interviewed by the New York Giants, but they ultimately opted to go with former New England Patriots special teams coordinator Joe Judge and have only managed to win 7 of their 22 games since the beginning of last season including a woeful 1-5 start this year.
Even when Martindale’s units have a bad game, they don’t stay down for long and will rebound with a stout to dominate performance shortly thereafter. The Ravens’ domination of the Chargers this past Sunday came off a short week. They were carved up by Carson Wentz and the Indianapolis Colts for three-quarters last Monday before they were able to stop enough of the bleeding in the fourth to force overtime.
The signs of a good head coach are all the attributes and adjectives listed above to describe Martindale. He’s a seasoned coach who has had the opportunity to learn from one of the best in the game in John Harbaugh for the past decade. As far as which teams could potentially be in the market for his services next off-season, two that received first-hand looks at what he could do against them and their top divisional opponents are the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders.
The Ravens played the entire AFC West in the first month and a half of the 2021 season and were a Week 1 overtime thriller away from sweeping the division. Current Broncos head coach Vic Fangio is a hot seat that could get scorching if his team continues to lose games after a perfect 3-0 start to the year albeit against subpar opponents during that span.
The Raiders are being led by interim head coach Rich Bisaccia who was promoted from Special Teams Coordinator following the resignation of Jon Gruden. He will be auditioning for the permanent promotion for the remainder of the season but unless Las Vegas reaches and makes some noise in the playoffs, the team will likely be looking to bring in an outside option.
Both organizations are storied franchisees who need to find ways to not only consistently compete with but also regularly beat the other two teams in the division who are regarded among the elite in the AFC and the entire league as a whole. Who else is better than the man that just proved he can do it without a stacked deck on the defensive side of the ball.
Some other teams that could be interested in Martindale might include the Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Giants again. He has gone on record saying that it would take the perfect opportunity where he can succeed to pry him away from Baltimore where he and his family feel right at home.
Of the aforementioned teams above, the Raiders, Broncos, and Bears have the most tantalizing group of defensive talent to work with. He’s previously worked with the Raiders from 2004-2008 as a linebackers coach and the Broncos from 2009-2010 including his first time as a defensive play-caller at the NFL level.