In the aftermath of the firing of coach Lovie Smith the natural question has been who the next head coach will be.The odds-on favorite and "strong candidate" is current offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. One year removed from Atlanta, Koetter's NFL reputation is based on his work on the offensive side of the ball. That's a good thing with a young, potential superstar quarterback in Jameis Winston. But as promising as things are on offense, the Bucs defense has been trending in the wrong direction.
During his interview Koetter will no doubt be asked to produce a plan for the team and discuss how he envisions the improving the defense. He may also suggest someone concrete for defensive coordinator (he can't hire one before he has the job), and the NFL has some worthy candidates out there. Here are a few names that Koetter (Or any offensive-minded head coach) should consider.
Note that those still employed by other teams will have to be allowed to leave by their teams, regardless of their position. That's a problem the Bucs are going to have deal with, though some of these head coaches may be let out of their contract between now and when the Bucs start hiring.
Teryl Austin, Lions defensive coordinator
Austin is currently the defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions and he is drawing some interest from some as a head coaching candidate. Austin's future in Detroit becomes murky if freshly hired GM Bob Quinn decides to relieve Jim Caldwell. Austin became a DC for the first time in 2014 after 9 NFL seasons as a defensive backs coach (with a one-year break to coordinate the Florida Gators defense). His defense in 2014 ranked 2nd in yards and 3rd in points but fell to 18th and 23rd this season. While you would ordinarily prefer to hire a coach coming off a high point in his career, Austin has serious chops and his schemes would fit in nicely in Tampa. Austin would likely employ a larger nose tackle than Smith/Frazier preferred but what pieces of the defense are currently working could easily be included in his scheme.
Perry Fewell, Washington defensive backs coach
Fewell is currently serving as defensive back's coach for Washington. He was previously the oft-criticized defensive coordinator of the New York Giants from 2010-2014. A year after the mutual decision to depart from the Giants, his former team surrendered an NFL record in passing yardage so perhaps some of the criticism was misplaced. Fewell hasn't led a top 10 defense since his days as a coordinator in Buffalo, but in each of his 5 seasons with the Giants they were top 10 in takeaways. They also won a Super Bowl. Fewell's expertise also happens to be defensive backs, probably the Bucs' weakest unit.
Rocky Seto, Seahawks assistant head coach/defense
Seto holds the title of Assistant Head Coach in Seattle though has never been the defensive coordinator (currently that's Kris Richard). Seto has a unique function in NFL coaching circles: he's in charge of installing defensive points of emphasis during the week. If film study shows a guard/center combo has difficulty picking up stunts, he installs those and runs the corresponding practice sessions. During training camp he's in charge of player development and working with younger players on everything from "hawk-tackling" to press coverage techniques. Seto has been with Pete Carroll his entire career through USC and now Seattle. He passed on a number of coordinator positions in the Pac-12 during his tenure there and is one of the NFL's best-paid non-coordinators. Seto turns 40 in a few months and has never worked for anyone else. If he harbors dreams of becoming an NFL head coach someday, he's going to need to diversify his background at some point.
Mike Smith, former Falcons head coach
The former Atlanta Falcons head coach and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator, Smith has an obvious connection to Dirk Koetter. Smith's record as head coach is well known, including the two horrific last seasons, but out of recent memory Smith took over a Jacksonville defense that finished 18th his first season and ranked in the top 10 each of the next 4 seasons before he got the Atlanta job. Smith mixes and matches his schemes and isn't a purist. While he generally runs a 43 he also mixes in some 34 concepts and looks. Smith's defenses are non-turnover fueled: even when he's had top 10 defenses, he's seldom been top 10 in forcing turnovers.
Jim Schwartz, former Lions head coach
Schwartz intentionally took a year off after turning down several defensive coordinator positions last season. He also turned down the Dolphins midway through this past season as they looked to replace Kevin Coyle. The former Detroit head coach and Buffalo defensive coordinator doesn't just want any job, he's looking for the right one. Schwartz's record shows defenses that were either fantastic or pretty awful with very few in-between seasons. His last year at Buffalo was very successful.
Joe Cullen, Bucs defensive line coach
Koetter could promote from within going with Joe Cullen who's been one of the NFL's better defensive line coaches. In nine years with Detroit, Jacksonville, Cleveland, and Tampa, Cullen has gotten production from some below average talent. Cullen also spent 18 seasons in college football but was a defensive coordinator for only 4 (3 years at Richmond, 1 at Indiana). His defenses played reasonably well but those are not exactly recruiting hot spots. The big elephant in the room with Cullen is his former alcohol dependency issues and resulting erratic behavior. Once someone puts that check mark by your name in a public profession it takes a long time to get it removed. He's been a self-identified member of Alcoholics Anonymous since 2007 and his alcohol issues haven't shown up since then, as far as we know. I don't see superstars in his backgrouond in the NFL, though you do see a good many very average players posting career highs in sacks.
Jim Leavitt, University of Colorado defensive coordinator
Jim Leavitt is a familiar name in the Tampa area as he built the USF program into a respected one from 1996-2009. Leavitt was fired following an investigation into player abuse in the locker room and his next job was as linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers under Jim Harbaugh. A Harbaugh favorite, Leavitt was promptly dismissed at the same time Harbaugh reached his "mutual decision" with the 49ers. Leavitt then took over as defensive coordinator for the Colorado Buffaloes. While 4-9 is nothing to write home about, their defense did show marked improvement this past season: for the first time since 2006 the Buffaloes defense didn't yield 50 points to an opponent and Leavitt had them much better organized in terms of coverage cutting down on explosive plays. His NFL experience may be limited but Leavitt could be an interesting choice should the Bucs decide to think a little outside the box.
Josh Boyer, Patriots cornerbacks coach
Boyer has been a New England secondary coach since 2009, developing players like Kyle Arrignton, Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan, and Malcolm Butler. Boyer originally came to the Patriots as a quality control coach after having been defensive coordinator for the NAIA South Dakota School Of Mines & Technology for the 2005 season. The Hard Knockers went 1-9 and gave up quite a few points though I'm suspecting he's learned quite a bit over the past decade since then. Either he or linebackers coach Patrick Graham would seem to be the next man up if Matt Patricia is hired away on a head coaching job.
Mark Carrier, Bengals defensive backs coach
Carrier is former 10 year NFL safety after being taken in round 1 of the 1990 draft by the Chicago Bears. Since 2004 Carrier has been in coaching and after 2 years at Arizona State has been in the NFL. He started in Baltimore as a defensive backs coach under then coordinator Rex Ryan where his unit finished 2nd in the league in interceptions. He followed Ryan to the New York Jet's where he supervised the defensive line. He followed two years of that up with returning to being a defensive backs coach in Cincinnati. Safety play was his forte as a player and seems to still be as he's got one of the most disciplined NFL tandems. Carrier's paid his dues and worked with two of the best defensive minds in the business, if a coordinator position doesn't happen for him this off-season it likely will soon.
Kevin Ross, Cardinals cornerbacks coach
Ross was a team captain at Temple many moons ago under then head coach Bruce Arians. Ross went onto play 13 season as a cornerback in the NFL and after retiring got a position as an assistant with the Minnesota Vikings. He shifted to San Diego after two seasons where he helped the Chargers lead the NFL in interceptions for the first time in their history. Following a Chargers 2009 house cleaning Ross was let go and coached in the UFL for a season and simultaneously with the Oakland Raiders. Ross spent two seasons coaching Oakland's safeties before Arians was hired in Arizona and invited Ross to join him. Ross has had plenty of talent to work with in Arizona but that doesn't diminish his recent achievements and in many ways you have to credit him for finding new and invasive uses for Tyrann Mathieu.