NFL coaching candidates for 2010
Mike Shanahan likely to have his pick of jobs this offseason
Leslie Frazier of Vikings could be hottest coordinator candidate
Don't laugh, but Charlie Weis could get interviewed for right job
With Dick Jauron's demise in Buffalo this week, the first domino has fallen in the NFL's annual exercise known as hiring/firing season. While nowhere near as many head coaching vacancies are expected this year compared to last year's record bloodletting, when 11 teams changed the guy in the No. 1 headset, you can be sure Jauron won't be the only one shown the door.
From the vantage point of mid-November, Oakland, Washington and Cleveland look like the best bets to join Buffalo in a coaching search. It's entirely too early to tell how things might turn out in other NFL venues, but suffice to say events in Dallas, Green Bay, Carolina, Chicago, San Diego, Tennessee, Jacksonville and Houston bear watching.
I am hearing one pertinent caveat, however, from NFL sources regarding this year's coaching carousel: There might just be more standing pat than expected this time around, given the uncertainty that exists about 2011 and a potential lockout and work stoppage. NFL owners are said to be hesitant to fire coaches who have big money left on their contracts, and then face the likelihood of climbing into new, bigger deals with the replacements they hire. With the coming labor showdown, the mood within the league is for belt-tightening, and that may wind up buying time for a number of embattled coaches.
But not every owner can afford to be patient. So here's our early preview of the leading candidates to interview for and win whatever jobs do come open in the coming two months. After culling names from league sources we trust, we've grouped the likely head coaching prospects from the most popular, to the long-shot names you need to know:
The A List
Mike Shanahan -- The former Broncos head coach should be the fairest girl at the ball this year, and have his pick of the jobs available. Buffalo is reportedly already wooing him, but I can't see the usually frugal Ralph Wilson being willing to spend the kind of money it would take to land Shanny. And I can't see Shanny deciding Buffalo is where he wants to work. And I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict you can cross Oakland off his list, too. The smart money continues to be on Washington and Danny "Warbucks'' Snyder (we could call it the Danny and Shanny show).
Bill Cowher -- The Chin is still playing his cards pretty close to the vest, but it appears he's more open to returning to the NFL this year -- if the right opportunity avails itself -- than at any other point since he left Pittsburgh following the 2006 season. It's still thought that Carolina is his logical destination, but John Fox's Panthers have won four of their past six games, and if that trend continues there won't be any openings in Charlotte in 2010.
Mike Holmgren -- OK, we're fudging a bit here, because Holmgren isn't interested in returning to the NFL grind as a head coach. He wants a Bill Parcells-type czar role, leading a rebuilding team's front office, and there's no more desperate situation than Cleveland's these days. The Browns are interested, and Holmgren is said to not be scared off by the size of the challenge that Cleveland presents. (Of course, they all say that going in.)
Brian Billick -- With Jon Gruden committing to another year or two of television work this week, and Tony Dungy clearly too darn busy to return to the sidelines, the only other remaining available Super Bowl-winning coach is Billick, who is in the second year of his NFL sabbatical. Billick, too, has had success joining the ranks of the media, and enjoys both his TV gigs and the acclaim that has come from his authorship of an excellent new book on life in the NFL. I don't see him taking just any job to get back in, especially since he's still being paid handsomely by the Ravens.
Leslie Frazier, Vikings defensive coordinator -- The sense is that Frazier is in the pole position in terms of the "hot coordinator'' crowd, and it's likely he'll interview plenty again this hiring season. He has interviewed in Miami, St. Louis, Denver and Detroit in the past two years, and if the Vikings' success continues this season, it'll only increase the buzz surrounding his candidacy. Frazier's interview skills are said to have not been his strong suit in the past, but his coaching and rapport with players is widely respected and he has gotten tutorial help on the interview front.
The Next Best Things
Mike Zimmer, Bengals defensive coordinator -- The job Zimmer has done with the Bengals defense this season speaks for itself, and if Cincy rides its magic carpet all the way to Miami, who knows how far it might advance a Zimmer candidacy? Strange as it sounds, Zimmer's time in front of the HBO cameras on "Hard Knocks'' probably raised his visibility level significantly within league circles, even though he was known as a quality teacher of the game long before last summer.
Todd Bowles, Dolphins secondary/assistant head coach -- Just keep an eye on Bowles, because he has the Bill Parcells imprint on him, and that never hurts. He's a New Jersey guy who has worked for the Jets, Browns, Cowboys and now Dolphins. At 46, he's no 30-something phenom in the Mike Tomlin, Raheem Morris mold, but his name and reputation have generated some head coaching buzz.
Pat Shurmur, Rams offensive coordinator -- He's not going to get a job based on the Rams' success this season, but he's well thought of within the league and turned down a couple chances to interview last year after he had already committed to join Steve Spagnuolo's new staff in St. Louis. His 10 years spent on Andy Reid's offensive staff in Philly, working with Donovan McNabb as quarterbacks coach for the last seven of them, are the strength of his résumé.
Mike Mularkey, Falcons offensive coordinator -- His chances to return to the head coaching ranks have probably lessened a bit in recent weeks as the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan have struggled -- sorry, that's how it works to a large degree in the NFL. But Mularkey's track record has been strong in Atlanta and his two years of head coaching experience in Buffalo earlier this decade is a plus. It's worth noting again that he resigned from the Bills job and was not fired.
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