Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports



January's have been rough for 49er fans the past four years and 2015's version has been no exception. This is a different kind of anxiety obviously, but thanks to the departure of the 49ers most successful coach in roughly two decades, the fans are predictably on edge. There's a lot of questions to be answered after a disappointing 8-8 season, none of which can really start to getting answered until the next coaching regime is selected. Meaning, the only question that matters right now is who'sgoing to take the reins of this thing and hopefully guide the team to the almighty promised land.

A lot of names have been floated out there for perhaps the most ready-to-win coaching gig in the NFL, some great, some not so great. None of them carry the energy and excitement that came with the last coaching hire the 49ers made, but that kind of situation doesn't really come about every year, but there are some talented names. As a fan first and an analyst second, I'm going to weigh the positives and negatives of some of the candidates that have interviewed so far.

1. Vic Fangio

If there were an "incumbent" candidate in this search, Fangiowould be the most likely one to fill that role. He's overseen one of the league's most talented and consistent defenses for the past four years. This past season may have been his most impressive, with more than a dozen defensive players landing on injured reserve throughout the season, including the best middle linebacker tandem in the league, Pat Willis and Navorro Bowman. Fangio didn't blink and still guided this team to a fine season defensively. His ascension to Head Coach would ensure continuity on the defense and hopefully entice stalwart defensive end Justin Smith to return for the final year of his contract.

The downside for Fangio, at least outwardly, is that he has little to offer in the way of an offensive fix. Defense clearly wasn't the 49ers main problem in this past season, scoring points was. Unless Fangio has an offensive coordinator on deck that can generate some excitement and optimism for the offense, he really has some challenges to overcome in his attractiveness as a head coaching candidate.

2. Jim Tomsula

Perhaps the other "incumbent" candidate in the 49ers search, Jim Tomsula has been floated by many in the local and national media as a personal favorite of Jed York and Trent Baalke. Tomsula's popular with the players (on both sides of the ball) by all accounts and is a humble, self-deprecating figure that provides a stark contrast to Jim Harbaugh whom team management so publicly had a distaste for.

Tomsula has a great mind for the game and a fine resume' as a coach at all levels of the sport. He does not, however, have any experience as a coordinator in the NFL. Making a jump to head coach would be unusual and if we're looking for an example of how it has worked in the past, the name Mike Singletary comes to mind and I think we can say that he was not exactly a shining example of somebody making the jump successfully.

Like Fangio, Tomsula has little to offer to the offensive side of the ball from what we've seen of him so far. Furthermore, should he leapfrog Fangio for the head coaching position, it likely means the departure of Fangio shortly thereafter. Without fully understanding team management's affinity for the guy, it would seem to me Tomsula is a weaker candidate than Fangio and has more consequences than benefits to offer by taking over the team.

3. Mike Shanahan

Shanahan is perhaps the biggest-name candidate the club has interviewed from outside the organization. By virtue of his Super Bowl winning resume' and his reputation for offensive creativity and developing quarterbacks, he has (on paper) the most to offer to the most troubled part of the team. He also has ties to the organization and a direct link to the past successes of Bill Walsh, George Seifert, and the dynastic group that this club so desperately wants to emulate.

As a fan, this name is enticing. The knock on Kaepernickisn't anything to do with his physical attributes, but his mind for the game. Shanahan has a reputation for being a very demanding coach when it comes to the study of the game, at times too demanding to the point of nearly exhausting the mind of Law School graduate Steve Young. But Kaepernickhas a reputation of his own as being a tireless worker and extraordinarily dedicated competitor. If the two were to mesh well, great things could be possible.

Shanahan also leaves the door open for Fangio to return as D.C. for the final year of his contract. It's not a guarantee that Fangio stays, but bringing in a coach of Shanahan's stature would be far from the ego blow that perhaps someone else would be in taking over the team and allow Fangio to stay one more year and potentially find a Head Coaching job elsewhere.

Yet, Shanahan's positives are somewhat shaded by a rocky four years in Washington. Although he had some success, the franchise wasn't exactly better off when he left it than when he took over and a lot of the shine of his past championships has worn off after almost 20 years of football has been played, all without Shanahan returning to the Super Bowl. Shanahan also clashed publicly with Washington owner Dan Snyder and it is obvious the 49ers want to find somebody who can play a little more nicely than did Harbaugh. Were the 49ers entertaining this move 10 years ago, or even 5, there would be a lot of reason for excitement. Time and futility have tempered that excitement around Shanahan significantly.

4. Rex Ryan

Perhaps the only candidate with the personality big enough to fill Jim Harbaugh's shoes, Rex Ryan has plenty of juice to energize a team that is a bit back on their heels after a tough season. His defensive prowess and ability to connect with players is inarguable. The New York Jets, even in their worst seasons under Ryan, had formidable defenses. Ryan also gets the benefit of the doubt in the court of public opinion when it comes to how his exit from the Jets came about. Many believe the Jets GM, recently fired John Idzik, was largely responsible for the Jets dearth of talent on the offensive side of the ball and came under fire for many questionable personnel decisions. Provided a much more talented roster and a GM in Trent Baalke that has had a decent run as a talent evaluator and acquirer of free agents, Ryan could find himself in the perfect position to reboot his career that so many once thought was destined for greatness.

The knock on Ryan, much as with Fangio and Tomsula, is that he's not an offensive coach and that his arrival could again mean the departure of Vic Fangio, even though the two have some experience together working with the Baltimore Ravens. Ryan has trended toward the power-run scheme that the 49ers have the personnel to operate, but without knowing what exactly he would do to address that side of the ball, he has more questions surrounding his candidacy than answers.

5. Josh McDaniels

Josh McDaniels is one of the other offensive-minded candidates on the list and has legitimate name-recognition due to his head coaching stop in Denver and OC experience with New England. He flopped in Denver and may have been a little too young for the job. That and he drafted Tim Tebow in the first round. That move could prematurely end any coach's career.

Nevertheless, McDaniels has legitimate success orchestrating some pretty diverse incarnations of the New England offense. He also still has serious buzz around his candidacy because of the continued success of the Patriots and the confidence he's earned from Bill Belechick in his two stops with New England.

Still, the disaster that was his Denver experience leaves people wondering if this guy is quite ready for another big shot. It would be hard to envision the 49ers handing over the keys to a potential winner to someone so recently removed from a poor outing as head coach.

6. Adam Gase, Todd Bowles, Dan Quinn

These guys have yet to be interviewed although Bowles is scheduled to be in this Friday to have a formal sit-down with team management. He too is a defensive minded coach as is Dan Quinn, both Defensive Coordinators with Arizona and Seattle respectively. They're far from slam dunks although they've had substantial success as of late. Adam Gase is the offensive coordinator for Denver, arguably a lame-duck position considering Peyton Manning's influence over that offense. It's possible that one of these guys could wow the 49ers brass and swing things in their favor but it seems that in Gase's and Quinn's case in particular, there may not be enough time for them to get interviewed and still maintain their duties with their current teams still in the Playoff picture.

In my opinion, the best option would be Shanahan presuming Fangio leaves under any defensive coach that comes aboard. If the 49ers want to win a championship within the next two seasons, and that's the message they're conveying, then maintaining a dominant defense will be crucial to that end and nobody can guarantee that like Fangio. Equally as important will be propping up Colin Kaepernick and making him productive again, something that Shanahan could be uniquely qualified to do not only in tutelage but with the play-action heavy scheme that Shanahan employs. Members of the team have been vocal in their support of Fangio as head coach, but I doubt they'd turn their backs on Shanahan if he got the nod and made Fangio feel comfortable doing what he's been doing with the defense for the past four years.

Beyond that, Shanahan provides that valuable link to the past. If you look at Jed York's Twitter account and the picture that adorns his profile, you know just how much that means to the young CEO. Or at least how much he wants us to know that means to him. Gotta keep those Levi Jeans in those expensive seats after all. Bringing in a familiar name with a direct link to the last Lombardi trophy brought into the building would be cathartic to more than a few fans anxious over the direction of the club, whether he still has that magic in him or not.

*Correction* Adam Case, OC for the Denver Broncos, interviewed with the 49ers on January 2nd.