Favorites for NFL head-coaching gigs

BY Alex Marvez • December 26, 2012

Remarkably, no NFL head coach will have gotten fired during the 2012 season.

The bloodletting, though, is about to begin.

Based upon this season’s results, as many as 14 teams could begin making changes as early as Monday once Week 17 has concluded. Kansas City (Romeo Crennel), Philadelphia (Andy Reid) and San Diego (Norv Turner) are mere formalities. More dismissals wouldn’t be shocking for Cleveland, Tennessee, Buffalo, Carolina, Detroit, Oakland, Arizona, Chicago, Jacksonville and the New York Jets. Plus, there’s the uncertainty surrounding Sean Payton’s future in New Orleans.

The more jobs open, the greater the likelihood that some former NFL head coaches will get another chance to prove their worth. But the majority of hires probably will be receiving their first crack at the position.

Here’s a look at 12 of those candidates listed alphabetically from A (Bruce Arians) to Z (Mike Zimmer):

Bruce Arians

Team/position: Indianapolis offensive coordinator-interim head coach

Age: 60

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: None that we’re aware of. He was head coach at Temple University from 1983 to 1988. Arians had a 27-39 record, but 10 of his Owls became NFL draft picks, including two first-rounders in Pittsburgh guard John Rienstra and Kansas City running back Paul Palmer. In late 1986, Arians was a finalist for the head coaching vacancy at Virginia Tech. The job went to Frank Beamer, who will soon complete his 26th season in the position.

Why is Arians radar-worthy? One thing an NFL owner need not worry about is how Arians would respond under pressure. He was thrust into one of the worst coaching situations imaginable — having to replace Chuck Pagano four weeks into the season after his close friend was diagnosed with leukemia. Arians proceeded to guide Indianapolis to a 9-3 record and a playoff berth in Pagano’s absence. That marks the best record by an interim head coach since Don Coryell went 8-4 with San Diego in 1978. Keep in mind, too, that the Colts finished with a 2-14 record last season. Along with his head coaching duties, Arians maintained an active role in running the offense and helping develop Andrew Luck, just like he did with another franchise quarterback in Pittsburgh — Ben Roethlisberger.

Potential fit: San Diego. The Chargers could keep John Pagano (Chuck’s brother) as defensive coordinator and much of his staff intact after parting ways with head coach Norv Turner. Philip Rivers also would have another sharp offensive mind to work with as the quarterback tries to regain his standout form of 2010.

Trivia note: Arians, who was Virginia Tech’s team MVP as an option quarterback in 1974, also worked on Bear Bryant’s staff as Alabama’s running backs coach in the early 1980s.

Perry Fewell

Team/position: New York Giants defensive coordinator

Age: 50

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: Fewell was a finalist for four jobs — Cleveland, Tennessee, Denver and Carolina — in January 2011. The previous year, Fewell re-interviewed with Buffalo after finishing the 2009 season as interim head coach. He didn’t interview for another position last January, but that was largely because teams didn’t want to wait until the Giants had finished their Super Bowl run before making a hire.

Why is Fewell radar-worthy? He has emerged as one of the league’s most well-regarded assistants during 15 NFL seasons since leaving the college ranks. New York’s defense has dipped lately, but that often doesn’t hurt the résumé of a head-coaching candidate coming off a Super Bowl appearance the previous year. The 2011 Giants were outstanding under Fewell in defusing the league’s two best offenses during the postseason — Green Bay (divisional round) and New England (Super Bowl XLVI).

Potential fit: With Chan Gailey having posted a 15-32 record the past three seasons, the Bills may have made the wrong decision when not promoting Fewell from his interim post. With hat in hand, one of Buffalo’s first calls for a replacement should go to Fewell if Gailey is ousted.

Trivia note: Fewell was inducted into the Lenoir-Rhyne University Sports Hall of Fame in 2011 as a four-year football letterman from the early 1980s. Two other prominent alumni from the small North Carolina school — Rick Barnes (University of Texas men’s basketball) and Mike Pope (Giants tight ends) — also have forged successful coaching careers.

Jay Gruden

Team/position: Cincinnati offensive coordinator

Age: 45

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: None, but that’s only because Gruden declined them last January out of loyalty to the Bengals for giving him the chance to become their offensive coordinator. Gruden had spent the past two seasons working for the Florida Tuskers of the ill-fated UFL.

Why is Gruden radar-worthy? Jon Gruden isn’t the only offensive guru in the family. Jay has done a masterful job constructing an offense around two second-year cornerstones — quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green. The Bengals will make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 1981 and 1982.

Potential fit: Any team needing to develop a young quarterback. Gruden’s experience as a head coach in the UFL and Arena Football League (Orlando Predators) is also a plus.

Trivia note: Gruden won six AFL championships — two as a head coach and four as a quarterback for the Tampa Bay Storm.

Ray Horton

Team/position: Arizona defensive coordinator

Age: 52

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: Horton met with St. Louis after the Cardinals became one of the NFL’s dominant defenses in the second half of last season. The position later went to Jeff Fisher, who was the clear front-runner before the Rams ever began the interview process.

Why is Horton radar-worthy? All the time Horton spent with the playing and coaching under the great Dick LeBeau with the Bengals and Steelers paid dividends. Horton has built one of the NFL’s stingiest 3-4 defenses during his two seasons with the Cardinals. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington, cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive end Calais Campbell are three of the unit’s blue-chip members who have blossomed under his watch.

Potential fit: If the Cardinals (5-10) decide to part ways with Ken Whisenhunt after this year’s disastrous offensive showing, Horton would be a natural replacement.

Trivia note: Horton would become the first NFL head coach with dreadlocks. No, the magazine cover featuring Mike Ditka in a wig from his days with Ricky Williams in New Orleans doesn’t count.

Chip Kelly

Team/position: University of Oregon head coach.

Age: 49

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: Kelly was offered Tampa Bay’s job last January but stayed at Oregon. The Buccaneers hired another college head coach in Greg Schiano, whose team is 6-9 after losing five straight games.

Why is Kelly radar-worthy? Kelly’s lightning-fast offensive approach and innovative schemes have helped revolutionize college football. Some of those same concepts are being used successfully by NFL teams, most notably the New England Patriots. Kelly has a 45-7 record in four seasons at Oregon. Potential NCAA sanctions because of a recruiting scandal could hasten Kelly’s departure to the pros.

Potential fit: Kelly’s name is being closely associated with Philadelphia, although he is expected to have multiple suitors.

Trivia note: Kelly was a defensive assistant for three of his first four years in college coaching, including a one-season coordinator stint at Johns Hopkins in 1993.

Dirk Koetter

Team/position: Atlanta offensive coordinator

Age: 53

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: Koetter spoke with Denver in January 2011 before the Broncos hired John Fox. Koetter has college head coaching experience at Boise State (1998 to 2000) and Arizona State (2001 to 2006).

Why is Koetter radar-worthy?: During the previous five seasons as Jacksonville’s offensive coordinator, Koetter didn’t have the necessary talent to fully showcase his passing offense. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez gave Koetter that opportunity in 2012 and he ran with it. Atlanta fields the NFL’s No. 5 passing offense at 286.4 yards a game, putting the Falcons on pace for the highest single-season mark in franchise history.

Potential fit: Jim Schwartz should be safe for another season in Detroit despite his team’s 4-11 record and losing streak that stands at seven games and counting. If he isn’t back, Koetter surely would keep the Matt Stafford-Calvin Johnson combination cranking in high gear.

Trivia note: It’s safe to say Koetter loved being raised in Pocatello, Idaho. He attended high school there (Highland) and returned to coach his alma mater in the early 1980s shortly after graduating as a four-year starting quarterback at Idaho State, which is located in Pocatello as well.

Mike McCoy

Team/position: Denver offensive coordinator

Age: 40

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: McCoy met twice with Miami last January for the job that ultimately went to Joe Philbin. Because he had advanced so far in the Dolphins’ interview process, McCoy cancelled a scheduled session with the Oakland Raiders. McCoy also was supposed to meet with Jacksonville, but Jaguars management was unwilling to wait until Denver was finished in the playoffs. The Jags instead hired Mike Mularkey, whose 2-13 record is tied for the NFL’s worst in 2012.

Why is McCoy radar-worthy? McCoy earned high praise in 2011 for radically changing his offense to match the strengths of Tim Tebow, which helped spur the Broncos to an unexpected postseason run. McCoy and new quarterback Peyton Manning have worked together flawlessly this year, with the latter in contention to earn an unprecedented fifth NFL Most Valuable Player award. McCoy also was lauded for his previous work with Jake Delhomme and Kyle Orton in Carolina and Denver, respectively.

Potential fit: McCoy should be intriguing to a team looking to groom a young quarterback such as Jake Locker in Tennessee.

Trivia note: A college quarterback at Long Beach State and Utah, McCoy was on rosters in three pro leagues — the NFL, NFL Europa and the CFL. McCoy’s quarterback competition with the 1997 Amsterdam Admirals was future Miami Dolphins starter Jay Fiedler.

Greg Roman

Team/position: San Francisco offensive coordinator

Age: 40

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: None. In early 2012, Roman was a finalist for the Penn State job that went to former New England Patriots assistant Bill O’Brien.

Why is Roman radar-worthy? His time working under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford was well-spent. Since following Harbaugh to the 49ers in 2011, Roman has deployed one of the league’s most diverse offensive schemes. Roman and Harbaugh helped resurrect the NFL career of 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and did a great job grooming replacement Colin Kaepernick.

Potential fit: The kind of offense Kaepernick is running in San Francisco could be a perfect fit for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. Roman also knows the Panthers organization well from having spent seven seasons (1995 to 2001) as a low-level assistant there before being hired as Houston’s tight ends coach.

Trivia note: Roman’s surrogate father is Dr. Ken Leistner, one of the world’s leading experts on strength training. Roman began his NFL career as an assistant strength coach in Carolina and was once a top-notch powerlifter himself.

Kyle Shanahan

Team/position: Washington offensive coordinator

Age: 33

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: None.

Why is Shanahan radar-worthy? It looks like the berry hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Kyle Shanahan spent his teenage years trailing his father on the sideline while Mike coached the Denver Broncos. Shanahan’s tutelage in West Coast offensive principles was expanded when he went to work under Jon Gruden and Gary Kubiak (another Mike Shanahan disciple) before a 2010 reunion with his pop in Washington. The Shanahans tweaked their system this year with the addition of read-option plays to take advantage of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III’s special skill-set. The result will be Washington’s first NFC East title since 1999 if the Redskins win at home Sunday against Dallas.

Potential fit: This is tricky. First, there is the thought that Kyle Shanahan will become Washington’s next head coach when his 60-year-old father is ready to retire. Mike Shanahan also will warn his son against taking a job with an unstable organization like he did with Oakland in the late 1980s. Even so, it would behoove Kyle Shanahan to accept interview offers. Going through the process is a healthy exercise, plus he may be able to leverage the opportunity to receive something advantageous from the Redskins to stay put if tendered a job.

Trivia note: Shanahan and ex-NFL quarterback Chris Simms were close friends at the University of Texas. So close that Simms and Shanahan have each other's initials tattooed on their legs along with those of other close teammates and a Longhorns logo.

Dave Toub

Team/position: Chicago special teams coordinator

Age: 50

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: Toub interviewed last season with Miami. The Bears signed him to a two-year contract extension shortly thereafter.

Why is Toub radar-worthy? After the success John Harbaugh has experienced in Baltimore, it would make sense for teams to give assistants with extensive special teams backgrounds the same consideration as candidates on offense and defense. Instead, sharp football minds such as Toub and San Francisco’s Brad Seely, who did speak with Indianapolis last January just before Chuck Pagano’s hiring, too frequently slip through the cracks. Toub’s units are consistently among the NFL’s best and most creative.

Potential fit: Chicago, provided Bears general manager Phil Emery fires Lovie Smith and is willing to entertain an in-house candidate.

Trivia note: Five different Bears players (Corey Graham, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Robbie Gould) reached the Pro Bowl under Toub’s watch between 2004 and 2011.

Mel Tucker

Team/position: Jacksonville defensive coordinator

Age: 40

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: Tucker had a 2-3 record as Jacksonville’s interim head coach in 2011 but was edged for the permanent position by Mike Mularkey. Tucker agreed to stay as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. Tucker recently interviewed for the vacancy at the University of Wisconsin (his alma mater) before the Badgers hired Utah State’s Gary Andersen.

Why is Tucker radar-worthy? Entering the season, Tucker’s defensive acumen and work in Jacksonville and Cleveland (2005-08) already earned him mention on the short list of future NFL head coaches. Jacksonville’s defensive slippage this year, which is more personnel-related than because of scheme or coaching, shouldn’t hurt Tucker’s stock too much.

Potential fit: Tucker, a Cleveland native, should draw a look from the Browns if new team management foolishly doesn’t want to give Pat Shurmur a chance to continue the team’s rebuilding project.

Trivia note: Although he is a proud Badger, Tucker cut his coaching teeth elsewhere in the Big Ten. He began as a graduate assistant under Nick Saban at Michigan State in 1997 and was a defensive coach for Jim Tressel at Ohio State from 2001-04 before jumping to the NFL.

Mike Zimmer

Team/position: Cincinnati defensive coordinator

Age: 56

Previous NFL head coaching interviews: Zimmer met last January with Miami and Tampa Bay.

Why is Zimmer radar-worthy? The man knows defense. Cincinnati ranks second in the NFL in sacks with 47 and has 92 over the past two seasons. That total is only eight less than what the Bengals produced in their previous four seasons combined. Zimmer has achieved defensive success largely through the development of draft picks — led by Geno Atkins, whose 12.5 sacks lead all NFL defensive tackles by a wide margin.

Potential fit: Zimmer’s fiery style would serve in stark contrast to that of current head coach Romeo Crennel in Kansas City. It also may help produce better results. The Chiefs (2-13) will clinch the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft with a loss Sunday at Denver.

Trivia note: Coaching is a family affair for the Zimmers. Mike’s son Adam is Kansas City’s assistant linebackers coach.