Update: There are now reports surfacing that Paul Guenther does NOT have an interview scheduled with the Browns, yet.
Despite reports, #Browns never had interview scheduled w/ #Bengals DC Guenther in 1st place. Doesn't mean won't happen, but not on sked yet— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) January 8, 2016
In 2014, the Cincinnati Bengals lost both of their primary coordinators to head-coaching opportunities.
We may see the same situation play out this offseason as at least one Bengals coordinator will likely be a head coach elsewhere when the 2016 season opens. Hue Jackson is the most likely option to be a head man after coordinating one of the NFL's best offenses this season and helping Andy Dalton ascend into the elite tier of quarterbacks.
In today's offensive-driven NFL, leading a top quarterback to success and an offensive unit to high-ranking levels will get you a head coaching job very often, but so too will coordinating a defense that finished the regular season ranked 2nd in scoring defense. That's what Paul Guenther did in Cincinnati this season as he's built a top-10 defense that helped carry the Bengals to a 12-4 record.
Though Guenther has only been a coordinator for two seasons, he's already drawing interest around the NFL for vacant head-coaching jobs. According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Guenther will interview with the Cleveland Browns Sunday after the Bengals play the Steelers Saturday, but another team may be in the running for Guenther.
#Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther will interview with #Browns on Sunday after the game, source said. #Eagles also requested him.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 7, 2016
The Browns are also interviewing Jackson on Sunday in Cincinnati, as well as the 49ers and Dolphins. It's pretty much a given Jackson will be a head coach somewhere next season, but losing Guenther is something that's not seemed possible until this week.
Guenther wasn't getting much, if any hype coming into this season after coordinating a defense that was questionable and had a down season in 2014. However, you cannot ignore how much improvement this unit has seen this season, going from 22nd in total defense last year to 11th this season. The Bengals also went from ranking last in sacks with 22 in 2014 to having 42 in 2015 and ranking 15th in the category.
Even during last year's struggles, Guenther was money calling defenses in the red zone, where opponents scored just 47.46 percent of the time in 2014 (6th best) and just 47.37 percent his season (5th best). He deserves to be in the mix for head-coaching opportunities, so we probably shouldn't be surprised if he too leaves this offseason.
The good news is, the Bengals will have several in-house and outside candidates to fill the job if Guenther does leave. The most obvious would be Vance Joseph, the co-defensive backs coach who was made famous this offseason because of Cincinnati's reluctance to let the Denver Broncos and other teams interview him as a defensive coordinator candidate.
That led to an outcry over Joseph being denied the chance to advance his career, and Mike Brown and the Bengals took a lot of heat for it. However, they look like the smart ones now that Guenther may be leaving and they clearly viewed him as an asset who could rise into that role.
Joseph helped lead a secondary that helped the Bengals finish third in the NFL with 21 interceptions as a team, led by safety Reggie Nelson, who tied for the individual league lead with eight interceptions. Players have praised Joseph for his impact on the secondary,
"He's had a great impact! He's a great teacher, very patient, always puts us in the best position setting us up for success," Dre Kirkpatrick said of Joseph's impact on him last season.
Former Bengals safety Shiloh Keo, who was with Joseph in Houston, said, "He’s (Joseph) hands-down the best coach I’ve ever had."
It may be safe to think he could be in line for a defensive coordinator role soon enough. If however the Bengals pass on Joseph, a familiar name is on the market.
After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprisingly parted ways with Lovie Smith, Bucs defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was also let go. That's significant to the Bengals because Frazier once served as their defensive coordinator from 2003-04 before being let go, a move Marvin Lewis to this day admits was a mistake.
Since then, Frazier has had successful stints as defensive backs coach for the Indianapolis Colts and defensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings while also being their head coach from 2011-13. You could argue his Bucs stint was successful after his defense finished 10th overall in 2015.
If Frazier is willing to let bygones be bygones, Lewis may be interested in having him back in Cincinnati. If it's not as defensive coordinator, perhaps Frazier could fill another role on defense, such as defensive backs coach is Joseph were promoted.
Either way, the Bengals will have several viable candidates to replace Guenther if he leaves. Let's just hope we're not worrying about that for at least another month.