To everything turn, turn, turn.
The NFL season begins with hope for every fan and a training camp which includes 90-odd players hoping to make their NFL dreams a reality. That dream ends for many when a team assistant approaches them late in camp and gives them the line "coach wants to see you and bring your playbook". A few moments later an NFL coach is thanking them for their efforts but informing them that their work just isn’t good enough ending their NFL journey.
Then the season begins with ravenous fans and owners (fans who pay the bills) cheering in hope that they may get into the dance and have a shot to hoist the Lombardi trophy. For some this dream of a miracle season will fade quickly, while for others the dream will end on the last week of the season but for 20 teams (62.5%) the dream of a Lombardi Trophy will end without ever taking the Field of Mars in the postseason. For those coaches who fail to get to the playoffs the tradition of Black Monday has been created. The first day after the regular season when a team owner will call them in and thank them for their efforts but tell them they just were not good enough. For many who are living their career dream as an NFL Head Coach the dream will end at this point as well.
Yet seasons turn and the Black Monday firings will open the door for many looking for either their very first chance at NFL Head Coaching Glory or a second chance after their first ended with an owner telling them thanks for their efforts but clean out your office please. Perhaps like children on Christmas the potential NFL Head Coaches will be waiting with their cell phones fully charged and eagerly awaiting a call from an NFL executive for their chance to reach the pinnacle of their profession. Here is my list of potential Head Coaches along with a case for each and which teams might be interested.
Candidates who should have a Cell Phone with a full charge and a backup battery
Darrell Bevell (OC, Seattle Seahawks)
Known as a passing game specialist and QB guru, Bevell is a fast riser with a history of success. Served as QB coach of the Packers from '03-'05, before becoming offensive coordinator of the Vikings during '06-'10. He left the Vikings after Leslie Frazier was promoted to head coach. He’s a West Coast Offense proponent who has worked with Brett Favre, Tarvaris Jackson (twice), and Russell Wilson. Based on the individual talent he’s tended to get the best out of his QBs.
Who Might Call: The Minnesota Vikings would be an obvious connection. Everywhere else Bevell has a resume strong enough to interview on his own terms. The only downside for Bevell could be that Seattle appears ready to make a long run into the post season and, while he can interview, he can’t be officially hired until Seattle is eliminated.
Bill O’Brien (HC, Penn St.)
Had O’Brien coached for another NFL team he might have been able to go straight from being an assistant to taking over the top job. But with epic failures of former Patriots assistants Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Josh McDaniels, and Eric Mangini, O’Brien was tabbed first to take over for Penn State. Under sanctions he guided Penn St. to an 8-4 inaugural record winning the Paul Bryant Coach of the Year award and garnering two instant interviews (Philadelphia & Cleveland).
Who Might Call: The Houston Texans and the Detroit Lions are the most probable. Of concern to me though is that he’s only coached in the pros for the Patriots and hasn’t been exposed to a variety of systems having coached at Brown and in the ACC prior to the Patriots stint.
Lovie Smith(Currently Unemployed)
Lovie began his coaching career at Big Sandy High School in Texas as a defensive coordinator. He would work his way up to being an NFL assistant, getting his first crack at the pro leagues in 1996 under new Bucs head coach Tony Dungy. After 5 seasons Lovie would take over as defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams as their offense was building the greatest show on turf. From 2004-2012 he would serve as head coach of the Chicago Bears amassing a 84-66 career record and leading the Bears to the 2006 Super Bowl, where his defense kept Peyton Manning in check but Rex Grossman was unable to score points as the Bears fell 29-17.
He’s credited as a co-architect of the Tampa 2 popularized by Tony Dungy, though Lovie has gone to a more aggressive 43 based scheme in his later years in Chicago. If allowed to choose his own offensive coordinator Lovie is very likely to want to employ a variation of the Stanford offense with two power tight ends and a strong running game. In Chicago he was working with Mike Tice and Mike Martz proponents of a vertical offensive scheme. With likely several offers headed Lovie’s way expect whichever team agrees to terms with him to give him his preferred offensive style this time around.
Who Might Call: Houston already has. Lovie is also highly likely to be interviewed by Tennessee if Mike Munchak is fired as Lovie has connections with Ruston Webster (Titans general manager) from their days together in Tampa. The Washington Redskins head coaching job may also be a fit (given Washington’s poor defensive performance) and Lovie might be very intrigued by RGIII, he has ties to Redskins GM Bruce Allen as well. The Detroit Lions would also be a potential fit as GM Martin Mayhew played in Tampa during Lovie’s tenure as LB coach and after watching Matt Stafford throw interception after interception in a vertical scheme with an underachieving defense, Lovie likely would change the offense to a more conservative scheme and the thought of him coaching Detroit's talented defense is downright scary. He could also return to Tampa if Greg Schiano gets the boot since Lovie still maintains good ties with many of the Bucs front office and following in the footsteps of his pro mentor Tony Dungy would be appealing.
Ken Whisenhunt (OC, San Diego Chargers)
Whisenhunt is one of the few head coaching candidates with a winning post-season record (4-2) who is available but did amass a 45-51 overall record from 2007-2012 as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Most of that losing record is due to three seasons without finding a quarterback after the retirement of Kurt Warner; Wisenhunt tried Derek Anderson, Max Hall , Kevin Kolb, Josh Skelton, and the immortal Ryan Lindley. He was dismissed along with his GM after sustained offensive futility, a large departure for a man who got the head coaching job based on his tenure as Steelers offensive coordinator in which he won Super Bowl 40. Whisenhunt, a former NFL WR, is known for a vertical passing attack out of multi-WR sets.
Who Might Call: Whisenhunt doesn’t have strong personal ties to any of the potential teams with head coaching opportunities aside from the NY Jets but has a strong enough resume to garner legitimate interest from anywhere. Rod Graves was the GM in Arizona when Whisenhunt was hired and is now the #2 man with the Jets, though with announcement that Rex Ryan will be retained Wisenhunt could make a play for the Browns job.
Candidates who need a full cell phone charge
Todd Bowles (DC in Arizona) : As interim head coach of the Dolphins following Nick Saban's premature departure Bowles went 2-1. He’s been a lifetime defensive backs coach and well respected in the league but has only 1 full season as a defensive coordinator (this one) in his professional career. Bowles’ stock has never been higher given the lights out nature of the Cardinals defense and his previous body of work coaching secondaries in Dallas, Miami, and Philadelphia.
Who Might Call: Bowles was one of the top recommendations of the NFL Career Development Advisory Panel. He might actually fit in with Jerry Jones (as well as anyone can) if Garrett were to be replaced. Washington might also be a possibility, though Bowles would appear not to have a big enough name, but he has a reputation for being able to handle big egos around him so that may have some appeal.
Jay Gruden (OC, Cincinnati Bengals)
It's not every day you can hire a guy with a more unique resume than Jay Gruden. An Arena Football League Hall of Fame QB with the Tampa Bay Storm, Gruden also was head coach of the rival Orlando Predators in two different stints, head coach of the Florida Tuskers, and has served as offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals since 2011. Gruden has done more with less physical talent at QB than any other successful offensive coordinator. His elder brother won a Super Bowl for Tampa and if Jon maintains the job at ESPN, Jay may get some preferential press for a new head coaching hire. He had 3 interviews last season (Arizona, Philadelphia, San Diego) so hopefully, for him, he’s learned some and is more prepared to land the job.
Who Might Call: Gruden boasts one of the most complicated offenses both in terms of movement and verbiage around. That maybe a detractor for some teams particularly with Chip Kelly and Trestman having success in Philly and Chicago with fast-paced, easy-communication offenses. Having noted that, Ruston Weber is familiar with Gruden from their days in Tampa together so Tennessee would be a prime fit especially with cerebral but limited QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jake Locker on the roster. Would Tampa hire him after firing his brother? – Perhaps.
Aaron Kromer (OC, Chicago Bears)
Kromer made a great career decision leaving the Saints to take the offensive coordinator position with Marc Trestman in Chicago. Seen primarily as a Sean Payton invention Kromer got to, again, show the man knows how to fix an offensive line. Chicago’s line play improved dramatically under Kromer and while Trestman handles most of the offensive design being exposed to three of the NFL’s best offensive minds is a huge feather in his cap.
He’s worked for Jon Gruden, Sean Payton and Marc Trestman as an offensive line coach since leaving Northwestern in 2000 to join Gruden’s Raiders. Kromer went 2-4 as Saints interim head coach before the return of Joe Vitt. If selected Kromer is likely to delegate play calling on both sides while focusing on "in the trenches" play with the offensive and defensive lines. Having worked with the matchup centric style of west coast offense, vertical passing attack, and high speed spread what system Kromer installs may come down to the personnel.
Who Might Call: Kromer has direct ties to Bucs GM Mark Dominik if he’s retained, would fit well in Tennessee with Ruston Weber, has worked for Mark Davis in Oakland before, and has lesser ties to the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings front offices. The only detraction may be Kromer’s personality: he’s been described as both "stiff" and "rigid" in person; something I can relate to I guess. From my own experiences once people get to know you they like you better, but for interview purposes Kromer will need to go in with a game plan if those character traits are going to come through.
Dan Quinn (DC, Seattle Seahawks):
It's been a long road to relevancy for Dan Quinn who has been a defensive line coach since 1994 before getting his first coordinator job with the University of Florida in 2011. This season he replaced the departed Gus Bradley as Seattle’s defensive coordinator and under guidance of Pete Carroll maintained the league’s most physical defense (though San Francisco might argue otherwise).
Who Might Call: Quinn’s name has come up often and he too came up on the advisory committee’s recommended list for head coaching positions. Quinn has numerous ties due to being well traveled but with just a season or two at each stop has he built the relationships necessary to secure a job?
Mike Zimmer (DC, Cincinnati Bengals)
Mike Zimmer is a high school QB who played LB in college and is one of the game's most respected defensive coordinators having been a DC at Washington State, Dallas, Atlanta, and for the past 6 seasons Cincinnati. Zimmer runs an attacking 43 style with heavy man coverage and while he prefers to get pressure with his front 4 he has no problems dialing up a blitz. Zimmer is a tough, strict disciplinarian who runs a pretty clean ship. He’s likely to also want to bring his son Adam along as his special teams coordinator.
Who Might Call: Zimmer, by accounts, comes off as blunt and direct. May favorite quote about him is that "He does not suffer fools well". I guess that means you can eliminate the Redskins and Cowboys given their ownership. Zimmer doesn’t have overwhelming ties to any single organization but his body of work will certainly have his phone ringing with interview requests.
Keep the charger close by in case things run long
Jim Caldwell (OC, Baltimore Ravens)
Caldwell spent 7 years as the Head Coach at Wake Forest(26-63) and 3 as the head coach for the Indianapolis Colts(26-22). While he’s done well developing QBs, the past two seasons in Baltimore have been his first as an offensive coordinator. Caldwell does have two Super Bowl rings as an assistant but while his passing games have always been excellent his teams have consistently underperformed while rushing the football.
Who Might Call: Tampa, and Tennessee have ties to Caldwell and are familiar enough with him he might be called in for an interview.
Pete Carmichael Jr. (OC, New Orleans Saints)
A professional assistant coach since 2000, Carmichael became Saints Offensive coordinator when current Buffalo HC Doug Marrone left for Syracuse. He’s influenced by Sean Payton and Marty Schottenheimer and pays particular attention to the passing game.
Who Might Call: Carmichael lacks direct ties to NFL front office executives with coaching openings but his resume says he’s been the assistant on 4 of the league’s #1 offenses over the past decade.
Tom Clements (OC in Green Bay)
Clements never seems to garner much publicity because he’s overshadowed by Mike McCarthy. Clements is a former Notre Dame starting QB, 8 time all-star in the CFL (he’s a short man), and has mentored Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn. Prior to becoming offensive coordinator in Green Bay, Clements also did QB Coaching stints with Elvis Grbac and revived the NFL career of Tommy Maddox. Together with McCarthy they built the "school of the QB" at Packers camp which helped develop Aaron Rodgers into one of the NFL’s elite QBs (Brett Favre skipped these sessions). His offensive scheme is centered on a horizontal passing attack with multiple WRs running routes to create space.
Who Might Call: Clements is a QB guru and even though he doesn’t have a "big name" he could garner some interviews and perhaps land a job with Houston, the Cleveland Browns, or Minnesota Vikings.
Jon Gruden (Current ESPN Analyst)
Former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, he won a Super Bowl in Tampa after being traded to the Glazers by Al Davis. Gruden is well known to everyone in Tampa using a matchup centric heavy verbiage offense that best benefits veteran QBs. He has a career 95-81 and 5-4 in the post season. He seems happy at ESPN and is perennially linked to numerous jobs without interviewing or accepting them.
Who Might Call: Oakland. Gruden always seems to feel he has unfinished business there and if Mark Davis offers him significant personnel control (might require him to hire former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum) Gruden might leave the booth. Who would take over for ESPN to "love" every player on Monday Night Football remains to be seen.
Hue Jackson (RB Coach, Cincinnati Bengals)
That he went 8-8 as Head Coach for the Oakland Raiders with Jason Campbell and Carson Palmer (acquired mid-season) under center should have earned Jackson some job security. Instead he was unpolitely showed the door. His work on the field led to a great rushing attack with Darren McFadden running behind Marcel Reece. The only thing he shouldn’t be allowed to do is provide player personnel input as the Carson Palmer trade was terrible. Jackson is very well versed, one of the only assistant coaches to have been running backs coach, wide receivers coach, quarterback coach , and coordinator all at the NFL level. He’s worked for Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier , Marvin Lewis (twice), John Harbaugh, and Tom Cable. He’s a ball control dynamic running head coach who has some of the most unpredictable (but effective) blocking schemes and would utilize a fullback.
Who Might Call: I think Ray would be a great fit in Minnesota certainly with Adrian Peterson there. He also mentored Joe Flacco in Baltimore so perhaps he could convince Rick Spielman that he can do something with Josh Freeman if Minnesota is locked out of a QB. He also has ties with Cleveland GM Michael Lombardi.
Mel Tucker (DC, Chicago Bears)
The Bears defense is downright terrible this season and it’s the worst Tucker has ever done as a coordinator. He just can’t seem to get on a winning staff but has been a successful defensive coordinator in both Cleveland and Jacksonville. Tucker served as interim head coach for Jacksonville several seasons ago going 2-3. He’s low key and a defensive specialist who worked for college scions Nick Saban and Jim Tressell in his tenure. Tucker is a chess player in a classic matchup perspective as opposed to being tied to a single defensive scheme. He seeks to take away an offenses best area and force them to beat him with "something else".
Who Might Call: I’m guessing more teams next season with the Monsters of the Midway turning into the Care Bears on defense this past season. Tucker though has some connections and might make sense for either the Texans or Cowboys.
Greg Roman (OC, San Francisco 49ers)
After last season's Super Bowl Roman looked like an offensive genius for his ability to take advantage of Colin Kaepernick's athleticism and design a system for both him and Alex Smith. This season with a regression in Kaepernick’s passing productivity and accuracy, assessments of Roman are not as high but still quite high. He has been an offensive coordinator at Stanford (working with Andrew Luck) and for the past 3 seasons with the 49ers. He has also done stints with the Panthers, Texans and Ravens working with offensive linemen and tight ends.
Who Might Call: Could be a fit for the NY Jets if Rex Ryan had been dismissed. Anyone who has or wants a multi-threat QB might also be highly interested in Roman. He has ties to Michael Lombardi in Cleveland.
Joe Vitt (Assistant HC, New Orleans Saints)
To give you an idea of his longevity, Vitt’s first job as an NFL assistant was with the Baltimore Colts. He’s amassed a 9-12 record in two separate stints as an interim head coach (St. Louis & New Orleans) and despite being a "defensive guy" is highly regarded by Drew Brees. He has been Sean Payton’s right hand man in New Orleans since 2006 but his failure to properly handle problem assistant coaches (Gregg Williams) may be a black mark on his resume.
Who Might Call: His family, extended, has deep NFL ties; his son in law is Adam Gase (see below) and his son has worked as a scout in different NFL organizations. He doesn’t have deep ties to any GMs currently in position to make a hire but has tangential connections with virtually everyone. Fit wise, it would probably be a package deal for him acquiring a whole family of NFL connections could appeal to either the Glazers or Zigi Wilf of Minnesota.
Don’t get too excited…..but don’t get too far from your phone, maybe it’s your season
Kevin Coyle (Miami DC): Has spent two years as a defensive coordinator in Miami following a long 10 year tenure as defensive backs coach in Cincinnati. He may get some interviews but is seen as a military style disciplinarian and has a light resume on pro achievements having working only with Cincinnati and Miami in the pro’s along with 8 different college programs.
Adam Gase (OC in Denver): Working with Peyton Manning is a double edged sword, you have the best QB in terms of brains to execute your gameplan, but no one gives you much credit for success. Gase has been in Denver for 5 years serving as QB coach first before becoming the league’s 4th youngest offensive coordinator this season. He’s regarded as intelligent and engaged. Right now he maybe a tad young for some of the openings but could parlay Peyton Manning’s record setting year into a few interviews.
Ray Horton (DC in Cleveland): One of the NFL’s better defensive coordinators, Horton was the defensive coordinator in Arizona for two seasons under Whisenhunt before accepting the Browns job this season. Horton’s longest tenured job was in Pittsburgh as the secondary coach under Bill Cowher and later Mike Tomlin. Horton’s best opportunity for a head coaching job may be internally with Cleveland as he is somewhat scheme agnostic on defense and has excellent connections with both vertically schemed and West Coast offensive coaching minds.
Sean McVay (TE Coach in Washington): Considered one of the NFL’s brightest minds under 30 years of age at just 27 he’s worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Florida Tuskers, and Washington Redskins for three seasons as TE coach. Well regarded by the NFL advisory committee and his fellow head coaches. He’s a comer, probably a few seasons too early but he’s considered something of a coaching prodigy so if you have an owner who wants to make a bold move McVay could be a choice. Either way, write the name down: he’s likely to be heard from again for the next few seasons.
Winston Moss (Assistant Head Coach Green Bay): Former Bucs linebacker who has been a linebackers coach in New Orleans and Green Bay. Right now the second in command of the Packers even though he’s not a coordinator. Well respected and liked by the players he’s considered a possibility to interview for some jobs though it maybe a season or two early for Moss.
Mike Pettine (DC in Buffalo): A well liked defensive coordinator having worked for the Ravens, Jets, and Bills. He’s a student of Rex Ryan’s and one of the few head coaches to jump directly from high school to the pros. Pettine has earned his keep working on some of the league’s most aggressive and best 34 defenses since 2002. His dad was a famous high school coach in Pennsylvania for decades providing prospects to many college programs. It's not a direct link to the pros but he has indirect coaching connections all over college and the NFL so seeing him get a head coaching job at some point seems quite possible.
David Shaw (HC Stanford) : Could Shaw leave Stanford? I don't think so. So far he's refused every interview opportunity he's been given. He would be highly sought after but if he doesn't want to move would someone put together an offer big enough to force him to rethink his current "I'm not listening to offers" mentality?
Charlie Strong (HC Louisville): No NFL coaching experience but well respected in NFL circles and a defensive guru known for his time at the University of Florida and as being the head coach who brought Louisville to the ACC. Tony Dungy is a big proponent of Charlie Strong so a few teams will pick up the phone when Dungy tells them he merits an interview.
Eric Studesville (RB Coach in Denver): Probably the most well respected RB coach in the NFL having held the position for the NY Giants (working with Tiki Barber), Buffalo Bills (where he developed Fred Jackson, Willis McGahee, and Marshawn Lynch), and Denver Broncos (working with Knowshon Moreno). Studesville served as interim Head Coach following the dismissal of Josh McDaniels going 1-3. His work with runningbacks is well respected and he’s been an NFL assistant since 1997 but he’s going to need just the right GM or owner to give him a Head Coaching gig unless he can land an offensive coordinator post at some point in the future.
Kevin Sumlin (HC Texas A&M): Has no pro coaching experience but his name has surfaced on a number of occasions. The former Houston Cougars and current Aggies coach runs a wide open spread style offense amassing a 53-23 career record. He might get a call from either the Redskins or Texans though and has experience with running QBs as well as spread schemes.