Posted: Tuesday January 1, 2008 3:50PM; Updated: Wednesday January 2, 2008 12:52PM
Kirk Ferentz (52), head coach, Iowa. One of the best, and most underrated, coaching candidates, with a varied resume. He was an offensive line coach under Bill Belichick with the Browns and then when the franchise moved to Baltimore before taking the Iowa job starting with the 1999 season. He's a two-time Big Ten coach of the year, and very well respected because of how well he has developed players at the college and pro level. One interesting aspect of his candidacy in Baltimore would be this: Jonathan Ogden, the left tackle on the verge of retirement, loves Ferentz and might well reconsider his plans to play one last season for the team in Ferentz got the job in Baltimore.
Jason Garrett (41), offensive coordinator, Dallas. The heir apparent to the Cowboys job may never make it to the seat now occupied by Wade Phillips because he's going to be in demand this offseason. Garrett has become the mentor Tony Romo needed to take his game to a top-five-in-the-NFL level, and he's done it by concentrating on the little things. Only New England scored more points this year than the Cowboys, even with Dallas' late-season slide. Garrett, the classic smart backup quarterback (he played collegiately at Princeton and Columbia) will be an excellent NFL coach, whether it be this year or next, if he chooses to do on-the-job training for more than one year as a coordinator.
Jeff Jagodzinski (44), head coach, Boston College. He had the Eagles in contention for the national title as a rookie head coach through November. His credentials -- pro and college offensive coordinator (Green Bay, 2006), pro and college position coach -- and teaching acumen make him a logical NFL candidate. I wouldn't be surprised to see him emerge in Miami if Bill Parcells makes a change with his head coach.
Josh McDaniels (31), offensive coordinator, New England. I don't see him coming out this year, because I think he thinks he needs more polishing time after only six years of pro coaching. He's a perfect, unassuming Belichick type, seen and not heard but very studious and a smart game-planner. This year, he did a superb job keeping Randy Moss dangerous for 16 weeks by diversifying the offense so defenses couldn't steadily blanket him.
Rex Ryan (45), defensive coordinator (dismissed in the staff purge Monday), Baltimore. I really like Ryan a lot, and no defensive coordinator has done a better job in the last several years. The Ravens finished fifth, first and sixth in team defense in his three years as Baltimore's coordinator, and he had to do it this year down the stretch with Corey Ivy, Derrick Martin, David Pittman and Willie Gaston as his corners, with opponents using a majority of three-wide looks. He's imaginative, and players love playing for him. There's nothing not to like about him.
Marty Schottenheimer (64), not coaching. He'll be picky this postseason, and rightfully so. After aborted stints when he'd turned teams around in Washington and San Diego, he can afford to choose the right spot with the right authority. He'd bring instant discipline and a winning resume; he's got 12 more careers wins than Bill Parcells in one fewer season. The question is: Would he consider going to a quasi-startup job in a place like Atlanta, even if good friend and Arthur Blank consultant Ernie Accorsi urges him to do so? Or would he view Baltimore as the just-add-discipline, ready-to-win-now team?
Jim Schwartz (41), defensive coordinator, Tennessee. Quite likely the only economics major from Georgetown on the list, Schwartz finished second to Mike Nolan in San Francisco two years ago. He's an outside-the-box thinker who read Moneyball and learned some things he could adapt to football. Smart, obviously, but tough enough to get players' respect. Any owner who has an opening should talk to Schwartz, if only to learn what a strong, bright mind can do to energize a program.
Mike Singletary (49), assistant head coach/linebackers, San Francisco. Blank considered him very seriously before hiring Bobby Petrino last year, and I'm sure now Blank would love to make that call all over again. I'd almost hire him just to hear him talk to the team preacheresque zeal and football fire, the kind only a Pro Football Hall of Famer and ordained minister can pull off. The 49er defensive struggles this year will hurt him, but he helped a slew of linebackers -- rookie Patrick Willis, the NFL's leading tackler this year, being the latest -- achieve to their fullest.
Tony Sparano (46), assistant head coach/offensive line, Dallas. I talked above about an understated smart guy his peers swear by, in Caldwell. Ditto Sparano. His imaginative play-calling with a new quarterback (Romo) was the key to Dallas' offensive rise in 2006, and he responded to Garrett coming in to call the offensive shots this year with class. You can be sure he'd be in Parcells' thoughts in Miami, and his studious, stolid approach to offensive football would be a boon to a lot of teams, including Atlanta.
Mike Tice (48), assistant head coach/offense, Jacksonville. Had a bit of a crash-and-burn time in Minnesota, but he did lead the Vikings to some great wins, including the unlikely playoff ouster of Green Bay in 2004. Time has mellowed Tice, and a tough nut like Parcells might look at him and say, "He's tough enough to get the players' respect, he's been through the wars and survived, and he's smart enough to delegate.'' A commanding presence with room to grow, Tice will interview extremely well.