NFL Head Coach Carousel: Which Coach Is the Best Fit for Every NFL Team?
By my estimation, there could be as many as 10 head coaching vacancies when the 2012 NFL regular season wraps up in early January. Front offices will look at where their teams are and make a decision from there.
Yes folks, we are about to get to the silly time of the year. A time when one individual, say a Bill Cowher, is thrown out for five openings that have not even been created yet. Such is the beast of the media in this digital age.
Today's article is going to go one step further. I am going to take a look at what coach would be the best fit to lead each team in the NFL. This is more of a fun look at the best possible fits around the league. Definitely take it with a grain of salt.
Chip Kelly, David Shaw and even Bob Stoops are possible NFL hires in January. A multitude of assistant coaches may also get a look. What about Jason Garrett getting fired in Dallas and finding a better fit somewhere else? Yes, I will even go in that direction.
Time to take a gander.
Kyle Shanahan, Offensive Coordinator, Washington Redskins
It might be time for the Arizona Cardinals to get some young blood in there at the head coaching position. While Ken Whisenhunt has had some success in the desert, he continues to lead mediocre teams to near contention on a yearly basis.
Shanahan would bring experience and pedigree as well as an offensive mindset to the table in Arizona. He is going to be an NFL head coach sooner rather than later, and this just seems like a really good fit.
Of course, success in Arizona is predicated on building a solid offensive line and getting that franchise guy at the quarterback position. Without that, it is going to remain an afterthought in the NFC West.
Mike Smith, Head Coach, Atlanta Falcons
In 2008, Mike Smith took over an Atlanta franchise that was reeling from the Michael Vick dog fighting incident. It also had to deal with the enigma that is Bobby Petrino quitting on his team in the middle of the season.
This organization was in complete shambles.
Just five years later, Atlanta boasts the best record in the National Football League and has one of the best organizations from top down. It has a franchise quarterback, two top-tier wide receivers and a solid core on the defensive side of the ball.
Despite a lack of postseason success, Smith has done wonders for this franchise and its city. He is a prefect fit for Atlanta moving forward. It is now time to bring that elusive Lombardi to Atlanta.
John Harbaugh, Head Coach, Baltimore Ravens
It might not be the run that the Pittsburgh Steelers have had (more on that later), but the Baltimore Ravens have had a tremendous amount of continuity as it relates to their head coaching position.
Brian Billick and John Harbaugh are the only two head coaches for this franchise since the end of the 1998 season, a span of 14 years.
For his part, Harbaugh has been as successful as any coach in the NFL in his five seasons in Baltimore. He has a .692 winning percentage and has led Baltimore to the postseason each year. Not bad for someone that was the special teams coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles the decade before taking over in Baltimore.
Perry Fewell, Defensive Coordinator, New York Giants
One of the top assistant coaches in the NFL was actually the Buffalo Bills interim head coach for the final seven games of the 2009 season after replacing Dick Jauron. He went 3-4 to end the season and was in consideration for the full-time role.
As you might already know, it didn't work out for Fewell in Buffalo.
Instead, he took over as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants the following season. The veteran coach proceeded to turn around New York's defense a great deal in his first season. It finished No. 3 in total yards, up 23 spots from the previous season.
Last season saw Fewell and the Giants defense pick it up big time during their playoff run. They allowed an average of 16.5 points against the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots.
Needless to say, Fewell would be a tremendous fit for a Buffalo team in need of improvements across the board on the defensive side of the ball.
Greg Roman, Offensive Coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Roman aided in the development of Andrew Luck at Stanford and has to be considered one of the primary reasons Alex Smith seems to have turned the corner in San Francisco over the course of the last two seasons.
The up-and-coming coach started his career with the Carolina Panthers in 1995 as their strength and conditioning coordinator and defensive quality coach. He spent seven seasons in Carolina.
More importantly, a lot of people credit Roman for the sophisticated blocking scheme used both in San Francisco and at Stanford. The 49ers rank No. 1 overall in rush offense this season utilizing that very same scheme that he popularized in Palo Alto.
Needless to say, Roman would be a great mentor to Cam Newton at quarterback. Equally as important, he would help balance out an offense that has continued to struggle throughout the 2012 season.
Lovie Smith, Head Coach, Chicago Bears
Another down season in Chicago in 2012 might have led to some questions about Smith's job security, but it has been a good season thus far for this club. It is currently second in the NFC with a 7-2 record and has played consistently solid football on both sides of the ball.
Chicago's defense ranks first in forced turnovers, second in points per game and fifth in yards allowed. Smith, as a defensive guru, is one of the primary reasons for this.
More importantly, the head coach has entrusted the offense to coordinator Mike Tice, who has done a tremendous job creating balance and protecting Jay Cutler behind a lackluster offensive line.
Despite only leading Chicago to the postseason in three of his eight seasons as its head coach, there is no doubt in my mind that Smith is entrenched here long-term.
Jay Gruden, Offensive Coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals
Depending on how Cincinnati finishes the season, Marvin Lewis could actually find himself out of a job. The long time head coach was firmly placed on the hot seat following a disastrous 2010 campaign. After Cincinnati got rid of an under-performing group of veterans such as Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson and Terrell Owens, the train of thought was that it was going in a new direction.
It didn't happen.
The powers to be in Cincinnati decided to keep Lewis on, despite the fact that this franchise was going with a youth movement on both sides of the ball. The Bengals drafted A.J. Green and Andy Dalton with their first two picks in the 2011 NFL draft. For all intents and purposes, 2011 had the look of a rebuilding year.
Lewis went on to lead Cincinnati to nine wins and a surprise postseason appearance. With that success came higher expectations entering 2012. A four-game losing streak sent Cincinnati to 3-5 before a much needed win over the New York Giants last week.
If the Bengals finish strong and earn another playoff trip, Lewis will remain as their head coach. If not, you can expect them to kick the buckets on offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, who has drawn interest in both the collegiate and pro-levels in the past.
Mike McCoy, Offensive Coordinator, Denver Broncos
No matter your thoughts on the hand that was dealt to Pat Shurmur when he agreed to become the Cleveland Browns head coach prior to the 2011 season, we can all agree that he has not been successful to date.
Shurmur has won only six of his first 25 games as Cleveland's head coach. That just isn't going to get it done.
Adding more fuel to the fire, Jimmy Haslam has taken over as owner of the Browns and will be looking to put his own imprint on his new franchise. I am expecting wholesale changes when the 2012 season draws to a conclusion.
Mike McCoy drew rave reviews in what he did with the Broncos offense last season. Without as much as a legit forward passing game with Tim Tebow at quarterback, McCoy was able to change their offensive philosophy in midstream. The end result was a dynamic college-like power run offense that helped propel Denver to the postseason.
In short, McCoy is one of the hottest head coaching candidates in the NFL today. He now leads a much improved Broncos' offense that has reversed course to the traditional philosophy with Peyton Manning at quarterback.
I would love to see what McCoy would do in Cleveland with Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon.
Sean Payton, Head Coach, New Orleans Saints (Suspended)
Why not? The Dallas Cowboys are going nowhere fast with Jason Garrett and their core of "stars" on the football field. They are 4-5 through nine games and will sit a couple games out of the final playoff spot in the NFC.
Payton is suspended for the entire 2012 season due to Bounty Gate and has seen his contract voided by the NFL. He is currently, by all possible measures, a man without a job.
The Super Bowl winning head coach worked with Kerry Collins and the New York Giants from 1999-2002, winning the NFC in 2000. He then moved on to become the Dallas Cowboys quarterback's coach and assistant head coach for three seasons, at which point it was believed he would eventually take over for Bill Parcells.
Well, that didn't happen.
Seven years later we could be looking at Payton going full circle on us. Some "experts" out there actually believe this is a real possibility.
We will find out in the matter of a few short months.
John Fox, Head Coach, Denver Broncos
As shocked as I was to see Mike Shanahan get fired by Denver a few years back, I was even more surprised when John Fox got the ole' heave-ho from the Carolina Panthers following the 2010 season. He had led that organization to one Super Bowl and three playoff appearances in nine seasons. They then bottomed out to the tune of a 2-14 record in his final season.
Fox then took over for Josh McDaniels in Denver and led it to a playoff appearance in his first season. He did so without as much as a forward passing game, which surprised a great deal of onlookers.
Denver is now 6-3 through the first 10 weeks of the 2012 season and one of the favorites to win the AFC. It has future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning leading the offense and a wide array of talent on both sides of the ball.
In short, Fox has proven to be the perfect fit here.
Jim Schwartz, Head Coach, Detroit Lions
Some might not agree with the attitude and/or antics of Schwartz, but this dude has to be given a ton of credit for what he has done in Detroit. Following an eight-year stint as the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator, Schwartz took over a Lions organization that was coming off a 1-15 year and had missed the postseason the last nine seasons.
It was a slow start as Detroit finished 2-14 in Schwartz's first year, but after just two years he turned the franchise around and led it to the playoffs.
Despite struggling to the tune of a 4-5 record thus far in 2012, Schwartz is clearly the face of the Lions from the sidelines. He has given this team a new identity, worked well with general manager Martin Mayhew and has turned it around.
Green Bay Packers
Mike McCarthy, Head Coach, Green Bay Packers
It is hard to imagine that one of McCarthy's first gigs in the NFL was coaching Joe Montana with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993 and 1994. It is equally hard to imagine that it took him 14 years to get a head coaching job in the league.
McCarthy finally got his shot when he took over for Mike Sherman in Green Bay following a disastrous 2005 season that saw the team win just four games. It wasn't smooth sailing initially as McCarthy failed to finish with a record of over .500 in two of his first three seasons in Green Bay.
There was even talk about his job following a disappointing 2008 campaign that saw Green Bay win just eight games.
The rest is history.
McCarthy is 42-14 since the start of the 2009 season and led Green Bay to a Super Bowl Championship in 2010.
This is a match made in heaven for the head coach and his franchise. You can take that to the bank.
Gary Kubiak, Head Coach, Houston Texans
Prior to the 2011 season, Kubiak made multiple stops on fictitious "hot seat" lists throughout the media world. There was one simple reason for this: He failed to lead Houston to the postseason in each of his first five seasons with the team, compiling a 37-43 record in the process.
It seemed that the Texans just weren't living up to the talent level on their roster. Kubiak had to take a majority of the blame for this.
Then came 2011. Houston finished with 10 wins despite injury-plagued seasons for both Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Its defense was among the best in the NFL, and if it wasn't for those aforementioned injuries, Houston would have definitely been top contenders in the AFC.
The Texans now have the best record in the conference and a clear road to the Super Bowl this season. Barring a meltdown of epic proportions, Kubiak's job is safe moving forward.
Chuck Pagano, Head Coach, Indianapolis Colts
Loyalty, trust, family and friendship. These are four factors that a lot of "experts" fail to look at when it comes to team building in the NFL. They are also four things that can make or break a team. Just take a look at the New York Jets on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Despite coaching just three games in his initial season after being diagnosed with cancer, Pagano seems to have both the trust and respect of his players. It is a bond that extends much further than the football field as it seems those players would go to the deep ends of the Earth for their first-year head coach.
This type of relationship off the field has led Indianapolis on the field, with the help of interim head coach Bruce Arians, to a surprising 6-3 record.
Urban Meyer, Head Coach, Ohio State (NCAA)
We all know that new Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is a savvy businessman that will bring that type of experience to his new franchise.
This was out in full force when it was reported that Jacksonville was interested in Tim Tebow prior to his trade to the New York Jets in the offseason. There was an immediate rift between the new owner and his front office.
It's grandstanding at its absolute best.
Jacksonville has now won one game this season and continues to struggle at drawing in fans and actually competing at home. Khan will not accept this moving forward.
This seems to indicate that he is going to make a huge splash in the offseason. What better an opportunity than to bring in this former University of Florida head coach to turn around a struggling franchise.
Heck, he could even bring his former prodigy at Florida with him. Realistic? No. Interesting concept? Yes!
Kansas City Chiefs
Jason Garrett, Head Coach, Dallas Cowboys
Common sense seems to indicate that Garrett will be out of a job following this season if he fails to lead Dallas to the postseason. Considering that the Cowboys are under .500 through the first 10 weeks of the season, this is a likely scenario.
By no means would this spell an end to Garrett's head coaching career in the NFL.
He did wonders in terms of helping Tony Romo become a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback back in 2007 and seems to have what it takes to help mold youngsters at this position.
Needless to say, the Kansas City Chiefs are going to be in the market for a quarterback when the 2013 NFL draft comes around in April. Why not get a guru to help that quarterback progress early in his career. It also wouldn't hurt to have a head coach with somewhat of an offensive leaning following the disaster we have seen this season.
Joe Philbin, Head Coach, Miami Dolphins
Miami might be in the middle of a bad stretch, but it has definitely opened some eyes in 2012. This former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator had done wonders working with Ryan Tannehill and a young offense, molding the talent around a hybrid west coast offense.
For the first time in a great while this organization has a bright future ahead of itself, and Philbin has to be considered one of the primary reasons for it.
I cannot wait to see what he does with this team moving forward. Give him another draft class or two and some seasoning for rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and you are looking at a contending team in the AFC East.
It really is that simple.
Leslie Frazier, Head Coach, Minnesota Vikings
Some had come to the conclusion that 2012 would be a defining season for Frazier in Minnesota. He was coming off a disastrous rookie campaign that saw the Vikings win a total of three games and completely fall apart in the second half of games on a consistent basis.
Questions arose about his ability to actually make the necessary game adjustments to be a successful NFL head coach.
Those questions have been answered and then some this season. Minnesota is 6-4 and in the midst of a playoff race in the NFC through 10 weeks. Christian Ponder, despite some recent struggles, has improved 10-fold from his rookie season. Meanwhile, Minnesota's defense has stepped it up in every possible way.
A seat that was once considered hot has to be pretty darn cold at this point. Good for Mr. Frazier.
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick, Head Coach, New England Patriots
Nothing to see here, move on.
Belichick has now taken New England to a record five Super Bowls and has firmly entrenched himself as one of the greatest head coaches in the history of the National Football League.
The job in New England is his as long as he has the desire to coach. If there was ever a lifetime contract, Belichick has it.
New Orleans Saints
Chip Kelly, Head Coach, Oregon (NCAA)
Imagine Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Jimmy Graham running Oregon's up-tempo offense in New Orleans. That would revolutionize how offense is played in the NFL.
Furthermore, Kelly's Oregon offense would definitely suit Chase Daniel pretty damn well moving forward, once Brees has to call it quits.
The Saints have the speed and talent to utilize this hurry-up spread offense. I think this is a match made in heaven if they were to let Sean Payton walk following the season.
New York Giants
Tom Coughlin, Head Coach, New York Giants
This two-time Super Bowl winning coach has been on the hot seat multiple times in his nine seasons as the Giants head coach. First in 2006 then again in 2007, immediately prior to his first championship.
The Coughlin family need not worry about being uprooted anymore. He is, along with Eli Manning, one of the primary reasons New York is a title contender on a yearly basis now.
It is that "tough as nails" approach that seems to keep a roster full of stars grounded and prepared to go to battle for its head coach on a weekly basis.
Don't expect any changes here in the near future.
New York Jets
Chris Peterson, Head Coach, Boise State (NCAA)
The New York Jets are a complete and utter mess right now. They continue to struggle on the football field and seem to be a team divided off the field.
Mike Silver over at Yahoo! filed a report on Thursday that seemed to show that this division is even more widespread than initially thought. The respected reporter quoted Jets' running back Shonn Greene saying:
Something's got to change... When you get to the point where you're 3-6, and losing and losing, a couple of guys are like, 'Oh, what would happen [if Tebow played]?' But guys at the same time have faith in Mark, so it's kind of an up-and-down thing...If somebody's not getting the job done, you see if somebody else can do it. It's the same with coaching, or any position. You don't mean to belittle someone or say 'he sucks.' That's just the harsh reality.
You simply cannot have these types of issues within the locker room. In the matter of just a calendar year, Rex Ryan has gone from toast of Jersey to firmly entrenched on the hot seat.
Maybe the time has come for some new blood in New York. Peterson has one of the best track records in college football and seems to be a groomer of young men. He has led a small school to the pinnacle and created a powerhouse out of it.
It is impossible to have this type of success at the college level without being considered a genius on the sidelines. I fully expect Peterson to get some real play once the 2012 NFL season draws to an end.
David Shaw, Head Coach, Stanford (NCAA)
If at first you don't succeed, try again. The Oakland Raiders, under their previous regime, would have loved to have pried Jim Harbaugh away from the San Francisco 49ers at the last season, but it didn't happen.
Instead, they retained Hue Jackson for another season before ultimately showing him the door unceremoniously following the 2011 season.
Al Davis passed away, an unfortunate trade was made in the form of two top picks for Carson Palmer and a new regime was brought in.
Reggie McKenzie's first act as the Raiders general manager was to bring in former Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who immediately became the youngest head coach in the NFL.
The results haven't added up. Oakland has lost six of its first nine games and failed to compete in its last two outings. More importantly, Allen just might be over his head at this point in his career.
Shaw was one of the few holdovers from Harbaugh's tenure in Palo Alto but has definitely picked up where the reigning NFL Coach of the Year left off. He led Stanford to an Orange Bowl berth last season and has them playing some solid football in 2012.
There is no doubt in my mind that Shaw will be a serious contender for a head coaching position in the NFL this offseason. It remains to be seen whether Oakland will have one of those openings.
Time will tell.
Jon Gruden, Retired NFL Head Coach.
Talk about coming back to where you made your name known. Gruden was the offensive coordinator for Philadelphia from 1995-1997, a span that saw the Eagles make the postseason twice and finish in the top 10 of the NFL in yards three times.
He was immediately hired by Al Davis and the aforementioned Oakland Raiders. Well, the rest is history.
Despite struggling to the tune of a 22-27 record in his final three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Gruden has major appeal around the NFL. He has now had success at two different stops and brings a different type of mentality to the locker room and sideline.
Meanwhile, it is becoming abundantly clear that Andy Reid's long tenure in Philadelphia is coming to an end following this season. He has led this team to just a 3-6 record this season and is going through some off field issues following the death of his son.
At some point all great things must come to an end. It appears we have reached that boiling point with Reid in Philadelphia.
While it might make sense for the Eagles to go the "youthful" route, they still have the talent to contend on both sides of the ball. Gruden would be a damn near perfect fit here.
Mike Tomlin, Head Coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
A few slides ago I focused on the Oakland Raiders, who have had five head coaches over the course of the last seven seasons.
I now take a look at a Steelers franchise that has had just three head coaches since 1969: Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Tomlin.
Talk about continuity.
For his part, Tomlin has been just as successful as the two head coaches before him. He boasts a 61-28 regular season record, winning two AFC Championships and a Super Bowl in his six seasons in Pittsburgh.
It goes without saying that he is going to be the man to lead this franchise for the foreseeable future.
San Diego Chargers
Bill Cowher, Retired NFL Head Coach.
The San Diego Chargers love to go the veteran route when calling on new head coaches. The hiring of Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner as their last two head coaches proves this point.
Now that it appears Turner will be out of a job if San Diego doesn't make the playoffs this season, you can expect the Chargers to go to the veteran pool once more.
While Cowher has shown no real indication that he wants to return to coaching, San Diego could be a real draw for him. First, its location is absolutely amazing. Secondly, the talent is definitely here for him to field a contending team.
Pure conjecture, but San Diego seems like a great fit for Cowher.
San Francisco 49ers
Jim Harbaugh, Head Coach, San Francisco 49ers
A match made in heaven. Harbaugh took over a struggling San Francisco franchise last season and led it to a 13-3 record and the NFC Championship Game.
He turned around Alex Smith's career, built a strong foundation within the locker room and seemed to get the best out of a talented but under-performing roster.
San Francisco now sits at 6-2-1 through 10 weeks and appears to be one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl this season. For his part, Harbaugh is now 19-5-1 in his first 25 games as the 49ers head coach.
The former Stanford head man is going to be around The Bay for quite some time. You can definitely bank on that.
Pete Carroll, Head Coach, Seattle Seahawks
Well, that crow tastes mighty good right now. At the start of the season I predicted that Carroll would be on the hot seat. After all, he hasn't really been a successful head coach in the NFL up until this season.
Through the first 10 weeks of 2012, Carroll has Seattle at 6-4 and right in the thick of the NFC West race. In fact, if the playoffs were to start today Seattle would be in.
He has done so with a rookie third-round pick at quarterback, veteran castoff at running back and a mix of talented youngsters on the defensive side of the ball.
The future appears to be bright in the Emerald City and Carroll will be just that guy to lead them forward.
St. Louis Rams
Jeff Fisher, Head Coach, St. Louis Rams
Fisher might be one of the most overrated head coaches in the NFL, but he couldn't be in a better position than he is currently in with St. Louis.
The long time head coach of the Tennessee Titans took over a downtrodden franchise and has turned it around in the matter of mere months. Despite a lackluster 3-6-1 record, St. Louis appears to be on the right path. It has a whole host of youngsters on both sides of the ball, most notably Sam Bradford at quarterback.
More importantly, St. Louis possesses multiple first-round picks in the 2013 NFL draft and has a solid foundation upon which to build.
While the Rams might be a year or two away from real contention, they should be players in the NFC West in the not so distant future.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Greg Schiano, Head Coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Raise your hands if you had Tampa Bay with a 5-4 record through 10 weeks. I didn't think so.
What Greg Schiano has done here is just a continuance of recent success, started by Jim Harbaugh in 2010, of collegiate coaches having seamless transitions to the NFL.
This is a trend you can expect other teams around the league to continue this offseason.
As it is, Tampa Bay possesses the talent to be viable playoff contenders heading down the stretch this season. Josh Freeman is playing some ridiculous ball, while Doug Martin is making his presence known as a rookie in the backfield.
While the Buccaneers have struggled to an extent on the defensive side of the ball, they just seem to be getting so much better in Schiano's system on a weekly basis. That is a testament to the rookie head coach and his ability to get the best out of his players.
Bob Stoops, Head Coach, Oklahoma (NCAA)
Is Stoops a great fit in the NFL? I am not entirely too sure how to answer that question. What I can say is that he has done some amazing things with his quarterbacks at Oklahoma. More importantly, he seems to be that type of head coach that can literally get water from a rock.
No matter how much talent Oklahoma might be lacking due to graduates and underclassmen entering the NFL draft, it is a program that seems to contend on a consistent basis. While a lot of that has to do with recruiting, it does speak volumes in regards to his ability to coach the team.
I don't envision this to be a likely scenario. Mike Munchak has been a part of the Tennessee Titans organization for the last three decades, and that promises to play a role in their coaching decision moving forward.
Despite struggles in 2012, expect him to get another season or two.
Bruce Arians, Offensive Coordinator, Indianapolis Colts
Arians helping a young quarterback through the maturation process. This is a story that has been repeated over and over again throughout his impressive NFL coaching career.
Actually, being the head man is a different story.
Despite 19 years of coaching experience at this level, Arians has never received a shot to be a head coach. That doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to me.
Additionally, the veteran coach could even make Robert Griffin III a more fundamentally sound quarterback than he is today.
That being said, Mike Shanahan seems entrenched as the Washington Redskins head coach. He is, by all accounts, attached to RGIII by the hip.