(From left to right) Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt are three of the top head coaching candidates still available.
Fans are fretting, hoping and wondering. Private planes are flying all over the place. Media-fueled rumor mills are spinning at warp speed.
Yes, we’re in the middle of head coach hiring season, that brief-but-intense, unscheduled-but-imminent period that rivals the free agent market, mass mock draft production and even the playoffs in attention-getting on the NFL calendar.
Seven teams have been participating this time, and Houston, Tampa Bay and Washington have finished the task. That’s left Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota and Tennessee to fight over the pool of candidates, many of whom have multiple teams on their interview list.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, in discussing his club’s search last week, revealed 13 categories of potential head coaches he claimed were no better than another in producing on-field success. The popular players in the 2014 version of the annual game beyond the gridiron, though, have fallen into only a handful of groups.
Here’s a look at six of the most-sought-after candidates remaining, in alphabetical order:
DARRELL BEVELL: Seattle’s offensive coordinator for the last three seasons, Bevell helped develop a young Russell Wilson into one of the most-polished quarterbacks in the league. The Seahawks finished tied for eighth in the NFL in scoring despite a ball-control offense that produced the second-fewest pass attempts in the league. Bevell’s prior post was offensive coordinator for the Vikings for five years, and he was Brett Favre’s quarterbacks coach for his last three seasons in Green Bay.
TODD BOWLES: Arizona’s defensive coordinator this season, Bowles supervised a unit that surrendered the fewest yards rushing in the NFL and helped the Cardinals become one of the most subtle surprises of 2013 with a 10-6 record. He was promoted to defensive coordinator by Philadelphia partway through the previous year, and in 2011 he was interim head coach in Miami for the final three games. Bowles was a cornerback in the league for eight seasons, seven with Washington, with which he won a Super Bowl.
ADAM GASE: Denver’s offensive coordinator this season, Gase was quarterbacks coach and wide receivers coach for the Broncos for two years each prior to this post. The 35-year-old preferred to focus on the playoffs and decline interviews until after the Broncos are done, but if teams are patient Gase could get serious consideration. With Peyton Manning at quarterback, success comes a lot easier, but the Broncos scored an NFL-record 606 points this season.
RAY HORTON: Cleveland’s defensive coordinator for one year, Horton served the same role for the Cardinals the two seasons prior to that. The Browns struggled in the standings yet again this year, but they had the semblance of a decent defense, ranking ninth in the league in yards allowed. Horton played 10 seasons in the NFL as a safety with Cincinnati and Dallas, and he won a Super Bowl with the Cowboys.
KEN WHISENHUNT: San Diego’s offensive coordinator this season, Whisenhunt engineered a revamp of the system that helped quarterback Philip Rivers produce one of the best years of his career and the Chargers finish fifth in total yards. Whisenhunt has substantial head coach experience, too, with six seasons in charge of the Cardinals that featured a trip to the Super Bowl for one of the NFL’s most woebegone franchises.
MIKE ZIMMER: Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator for the last six years, Zimmer has 20 years as an NFL assistant on his resume. The Bengals were third in the league in yards allowed and fifth in points against. He’s widely considered the most overdue candidate on the market this time, with interviews for previous vacancies the past two winters. Zimmer also ran the defenses in Dallas for seven seasons and another year in Atlanta.
Honorable mention: Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman.