Coaching carousel (cont.)
Miami -- The Dolphins might be in a tough spot in that they appear to be seeking a headline hire in a market almost devoid of them. They might throw a stupid number at either Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher, but the remaining presence of GM Jeff Ireland complicates their courtship of either man, and again, both Super Bowl-ring winners seem content to again watch the game from the booth/studio in 2012.
That likely puts the Dolphins hot on the trail of Fisher, who at least has some of the cache that owner Stephen Ross is seeking and might help generate a little buzz and ticket sales among Miami's dispirited and flagging fan base. On top of that, Fisher looks really cool in shades, which of course flies in SoFlo, even if he doesn't have to wear them all the time, a'la the departed Tony Sparano.
All kidding aside, I don't think Fisher really covets the Miami job, for the reasons I earlier referenced (quarterback issues, not a great draft slot to get a starter, and a tough division), not to mention the somewhat confusing role of ex-Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson in the Dolphins front office. What exactly will be King Carl's job description, if any, and how will the lines of authority be drawn between him, Ross and Ireland? Somebody's got some 'splainin' to do.
Boil it all down and the Dolphins might be putting all their coaching search eggs in a basket that's almost certain to get crushed once again. Unless a Super Bowl-winning coach like Brian Billick enters the equation as a Plan B option, the Dolphins might have to abandon their quest for a headline name and get real, meaing get into the second-tier market. I could foresee a scenario where Ireland lets Ross kick the tires on the big names, but then reminds him of last year's chasing-Jim-Harbaugh fiasco and guides the focus back on someone who actually wants to be Miami's head coach.
Schottenheimer's experience in the AFC East seems to make some sense for Miami, and I could see a scenario where Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan could make the Dolphins' radar screen as well. (Take that, Jets. The Ryan brothers in the same division. Wouldn't that be something?) Sherman is another possibility, given that he'd likely be willing to work under the confines of Miami's front office structure, and could help the team's endless quarterback search, which began the second Dan Marino retired.
Jacksonville -- I look at the Jaguars and think they have to find an offensive-minded head coach this time, given the state of rookie quarterback's Blaine Gabbert's game, and the anemia that has inflicted that side of the ball in recent years. Still, one club executive in the NFL told me he believes interim head coach Mel Tucker, the team's former defensive coordinator, might have a shot to hang on given the franchise being in transition to new ownership under Shahid Khan. I'm not sure. In a market where it's always difficult to keep the tickets selling, Tucker's hiring won't move the needle much, if any.
I'm told by sources that Khan is quite aware of how much he doesn't know regarding the way the NFL works, and is going to lean almost entirely on general manager Gene Smith and former Jags owner Wayne Weaver for guidance and counsel. That means it's Smith's call to make, and he's known for his off-the-radar approach to making decisions (see the NFL draft).
Smith will do his due diligence, trying to find the next John Harbaugh, Mike Smith or Chuck Noll type -- meaning the little-known assistant who was an excellent head coach selection in waiting. One candidate he would be wise to keep in mind is Packers quarterback coach Tom Clements, a longtime NFL assistant who has done strong work on Mike McCarthy's staff in Green Bay since 2006. If Clements gets a job with a team in need of a quarterback, look for Packers backup Matt Flynn, a potential free agent in 2012, to perhaps follow him and serve as a potential starting option.
Another name I believe will surface in Jacksonville's search is that of ex-Raiders head coach Tom Cable, who did superb work this year in resurrecting the Seattle running game as the Seahawks first-year assistant head coach/offensive line coach. Cable's 8-8 in Oakland last year looks better all the time (he at least didn't mortgage the franchise's future in the draft) and his running game credentials would fit very nicely with a Jacksonville offense that is rightly built around its one true star, running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
Cable knows MJD and Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis from their days together at UCLA, where he was on staff at the time, and getting Lewis' game back to its pre-contract extension 2010 levels is one of the primary concerns in 2012. In addition, Cable may be able to bring Dolphins quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell with him to Jacksonville to work on Gabbert's game. Dorrell did exemplary work with Matt Moore in Miami this season, helping the ex-Panthers starter revive his career. Dorrell was head coach at UCLA, and Cable served under him there. Both Jones-Drew and Lewis would likely applaud those moves.
Indianapolis -- Two-game winning streak or not, I'm almost certain Jim Caldwell will be coaching his final game with the Colts Sunday at Jacksonville. The firing won't be what Colts president Bill Polian would have preferred, but by bottom-line analysis, even a 3-13 record would render the decision defensible when you consider teams like the Dolphins, Chiefs, Jaguars, Bucs and Chargers will all win more games than that and still wind up making coaching moves. It just feels like the right time for a bit of a clean break in Indy, and Caldwell will be part of the collateral damage. And just to clarify, the Polians, both Bill and his son, Chris, the team's general manager, aren't going anywhere.
Given the quarterback situation the Colts face next season, maybe Andrew Luck, maybe Peyton Manning, maybe both, I would be shocked senseless if Indy didn't opt for an offensive-minded head coach. The Colts also won't go for an outside-the-box candidate like Rob Ryan, because image is very important within the franchise and the Indianapolis market, and the Polians would sooner divulge detailed injury reports than turn into daredevils on the hiring front.
I could see a proven and solid commodity like Mike Sherman making a lot of sense in Indy. Maybe a Jay Gruden, a Mike Mularkey, or even a Brian Schottenheimer. But whoever it is, he'll have a passing game pedigree and hopefully be able to pick up the pieces of a disastrous 2011 in Colts-dom.
NFC East -- A quick word about the division that once looked like it would be Coaching Hot Seat Central in 2011: There's a very good chance that all four head coaches will return for next season. Andy Reid coming back for Year 14 in Philly now looks assured and has been headed that way for weeks. I also don't think Tom Coughlin will lose his job in New York should the Giants fall at home on Sunday to Dallas, thereby missing the playoffs for a third straight year. By no means has Coughlin lost the respect of his team, and the Mara-Tisch ownership is one of the most patient in all of football.
That said, I talked to one league source this week who maintains he won't be surprised if Coughlin walks away after this season, playoff trip or no playoff trip. Coughlin is 65, and the thought is that he has tired of coaching every year on the hot seat, with one-year extensions being given by the Giants to keep him out of a lame-duck situation. The source said he thinks Coughlin has had enough of that arrangement and will leave on his own terms after this season. I'm not convinced, however. I think Coughlin still loves coaching, wouldn't know what to do with himself without it, and might have to be dragged kicking and screaming from his corner office. My dollar says he's back in blue in 2012.
As for Dallas, Jason Garrett isn't going anywhere, no matter what happens against the Giants Sunday. Owner Jerry Jones is invested in his young head coach, and he's not about to pull the rip cord on him, thereby making his hiring look like a hasty mistake.
Then there's Washington. All indications point to Mike Shanahan returning for a third season, and I'm hearing no rumblings to convince me otherwise. Still, there's almost always one surprise coaching departure at some point every January (Jeff Fisher last year, Jon Gruden in 2009) and my instincts tell me not to put Shanahan in the 100 percent safe category just yet.
What if the Redskins get blown out in ugly fashion in Week 17 at Philadelphia, falling to 5-11, which is even worse than Shanny's 6-10 debut last year in D.C.? After this year's hopeful 3-1 start, that would really have to sting for owner Daniel Snyder. There's still no certainty the Redskins are in the position to draft a franchise quarterback in the first round next April, and what if Sndyer might ask the head coach to address any perceived shortcomings of his son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan?
All I'm saying is at least keep an eye on Washington for the surprise factor. An 11-21 record in two seasons, combined with the quarterback issues and the Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth fiascos of 2010, shouldn't make the Shanahans too comfortable as we wind our way through the early days of firing season.