Coaching carousel (cont.)
Here's what has jumped out at people in and outside of the league this year in terms of the available coaching talent pool: There's no there, there. It's a thin crop at the top, and there's certainly not the pipeline of hot coordinator talent lined up, ready to buy a suit and conduct the introductory press conference.
I heard plenty of reasons for that development this week. For one, a lot of head coaches who have talented offenses call their own plays these days, or at least get most of the credit for their team's success on that side of the ball. Thus the coordinator doesn't get a lot of the attention he otherwise would, and his name isn't thought of when jobs open. Such is the case with Sean Payton in New Orleans, Mike McCarthy in Green Bay, and Jim Harbaugh in San Franscisco.
Secondly, there's just not enough supply to keep up with the demand for new bodies in the NFL coaching ranks. The casualty lists have been too high for too long, and the turnover rates have resulted in this year being considered a down year for candidates.
"I've never seen such a dearth of candidates,'' a long-time league observer told me. "There have been so many firings for so long now that the body bags have started to stack up. It's getting harder to find quality candidates.''
The smartest teams on the hunt this year would be wise to not be too worried about the impact quality of the name they hire. Mike Smith's arrival drew shrugs in Atlanta in early 2008, as did John Harbaugh's in Baltimore that same month. Look wherever it takes, but the teams that find those kind of candidates are going to end up looking good for it.
The most-sought after class
Jon Gruden -- Could still pull a 180 and get back into the game, but I can't find anyone who thinks he will, barring a ridiculous contract offer of landmark porportion. Seems content to stay in TV and provide all the answers.
Bill Cowher -- As one league source told me this week, the longer he's out, the more he's likely to stay out. Only team that might make a big offer would be the Dolphins, but Cowher isn't likely to bite on that bait given Miami's front office structure.
Jeff Fisher -- Still young enough at 53 to coach for quite a while, Fisher stands out in a crowd this year, even though his .538 career winning percentage and one Super Bowl trip in 17 years isn't the stuff of Canton.
Second tier but maybe first choice
Mike Sherman -- He had one bad year out of six in Green Bay, and it cost him his job. Sherman has a good track record with quarterbacks, has been around the block in both the NFL and major college football, and his four playoff trips and three division titles with the Packers gives him instant credibility. In this market, he will get interviewed, and very well could have more than one team interested.
Brian Billick -- He would listen to any interested teams, and might surface as a strong Plan B option in places like Miami, San Diego, Tampa Bay or Jacksonville, where teams are likely to be looking for a hire with an offensive pedigree. But he too is happy with his TV career and won't jump at just any opening to get back on the sideline.
Rob Ryan -- His brother's success with the Jets helps him, and his brother's style with the Jets hurts him, too. Not every team is willing to hire a Ryan brother. If his Cowboys make the playoffs, his candidacy might start getting more oxygen.
Mike Zimmer -- The Bengals defensive coordinator is not a self-promoter, but he's widely respected within the game and has more than paid his dues. It's a year where so many teams are looking for an offensive-minded coach, but Zimmer will make someone glad they gave him a chance some day.
Jay Gruden -- He's only been a coordinator in the NFL for one year, but what a year it was for him in Cincinnati, helping the Bengals to the cusp of a playoff berth despite being led on offense by a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton and a rookie receiver in A.J. Green. Gruden, the kinder, gentler brother of Jon Gruden, is smart, a quick study, and he knows quarterbacking, having been a star at the position in both college and the Arena League.
Mike Mularkey -- The former Bills head coach has been the offensive coordinator for the Falcons during the most successful era in franchise history. He went 9-7 in his first season in Buffalo, no small feat as we have since learned.
Other names to know
Todd Bowles -- The Dolphins interim head coach has done nothing but enhance his reputation since taking over for Tony Sparano, winning big at Buffalo, and dominating the Patriots in the first half last week in Foxboro. A win at home against the Jets this week should make him a factor in Miami's search.
Brian Schottenheimer -- His star might be a bit dimmed at the moment due to the Jets' underachievement, but New York's offensive coordinator is bright and has those good NFL coaching bloodlines. He may have gotten more out of Mark Sanchez in the past three years than anyone had a right to expect.
Karl Dorrell -- Miami's quarterbacks coach is a former UCLA head coach, and he has a very powerful ally in his corner in Bill Parcells, who brought him to Miami in 2008. Dorrell helped quarterback Matt Moore re-invent his NFL career this season, and for teams looking for that particular help, he'll warrant an interview.
Tom Clements -- Packers quarterbacks coach helped groom Aaron Rodgers, and might have another starter-in-waiting in free-agent-to-be Matt Flynn. If you can teach quarterback play in this league, you'll never go unemployed for long.
Tom Cable -- Has drawn good reviews for his first-year work in Seattle, where he helped Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks running game become a force by the second half of the season. Has some baggage, but Cable has his fans within the league and Hue Jackson has essentially coached the team he took to 8-8 last year in Oakland to the same record so far.
Joe DeCamillis -- The Cowboys special teams coordinator is the kind of outside-the-box head coaching hire that once would never have been considered. Then Baltimore hired John Harbaugh, another long-time special teams assistant, and it hasn't missed the playoffs since.
Jerry Gray -- The Titans defensive coordinator has risen and fallen over the years on the "hot'' coordinator list, but he's still someone NFL teams keep on their radar screens and is seen as a future head coach.
Rob Chudzinski -- His work as Carolina's offensive coordinator this season has been noticed. Getting Cam Newton ready to play as a rookie didn't happen magically.
Mike McCoy -- He's only 39, and the league is swinging back away from the ultra-young head coaching trend, but McCoy is the Denver offensive coordinator who justifiably has earned plaudits for helping Tim Tebow get ready for his starting shot this season. Changing offensive schemes in midseason is no picnic, but McCoy has pulled it off in Denver.
Steve Spagnuolo -- No, the Rams head coach won't be someone else's head coaching candidate once he's let go in St. Louis, but he will instantly be the most sought-after defensive coordinator commodity in the league. I wouldn't be surprised if he out-distances the contracts of a couple of the NFL's lower-paid head coaches next season. Philadelphia and the Giants are both distinct possibilities, but he might have even more options to consider than those. Keep in mind a couple things: Spagnuolo still owns a home in Philly, and it's where his wife is from. And he and Andy Reid parted on good enough terms, as he did with Tom Coughlin in New York. Spagnuolo might even surface as the natural heir apparent for both the Eagles and Giants, whenever Reid and Coughlin are done.