Profiling the Hottest NFL Head Coach Prospects in the College Ranks

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

Profiling the Hottest NFL Head Coach Prospects in the College Ranks

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    NFL teams hire their fair share of failed retreads, but every so often they think outside the box and dip into the college ranks for a fresh new hire. 

    With teams such as the Chargers, Browns and Eagles likely already beginning the early stages of their coaching searches, here's a list of six hot prospects from the college level who could be dragged into some NFL rumors over the coming weeks.

Chip Kelly, Oregon

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    Chip Kelly, who has already been linked to the Cleveland Browns' potential job opening, is one of the hottest NFL coaching candidates around. 

    To hire the Oregon head coach, who only has six years of experience at the FBS level, his employer will need to fully commit to providing Kelly with the offensive firepower his system needs.

    Skeptics will argue that Kelly's fast-paced offense won't work at the next level. Five years ago, that may have been true. But NFL offenses have evolved in recent years and aspects of Kelly's scheme are already being used in places such as Detroit, Washington and New England. 

    One issue Kelly may have is with his fast-paced practices, which will undoubtedly rub some NFL veterans the wrong way. But Kelly is an innovator and will undoubtedly adjust to blend his system with the routines of the NFL.

Nick Saban, Alabama

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    After a failed stint with the Miami Dolphins, some NFL teams may shy away from considering Saban. But Saban's overwhelming success in college and his ties to the NFL will undoubtedly cause his name to be raised in some front offices this offseason. 

    While Saban is most well-known around the NFL for his days in Miami, he also had a successful four-year stint as Bill Belichick's defensive coordinator in Cleveland. 

    Saban is similar to his former boss in many ways and, like Belichick, could turn things around in his second opportunity. 

    There's no guarantee that Saban will want to jump back to the NFL, but after consecutive trips to the BCS National Championship Game, Saban could certainly be feeling the need for a bigger challenge. 

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

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    Stoops has been a part of the NFL rumor mill for so long it seems odd to call him a "hot" name in the coaching shuffle. But the 52-year-old could be ready for a new challenge sooner or later, and NFL teams will likely keep calling. 

    While Stoops has spent his entire career in the college ranks, he has always run an NFL friendly system at Oklahoma and has the connections necessary to surround himself with a strong coaching staff. 

    If Stoops were to make the jump to the NFL, this could be the year to make the leap. The Sooners will be losing a lot of talent, most notably starting quarterback Landry Jones, which may push Stoops to consider the next step in his coaching career. 

Mike Riley, Oregon State

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    Riley, who led the San Diego Chargers from 1999 through 2001, is one of the few candidates with NFL head coaching experience already on his résumé. And after a surprising season that put Oregon State back on the map, his name may pop up on some coaching lists at season's end. 

    Enough time has passed between Riley's last NFL job (with the Saints in 2002 under Jim Haslett) that he may be interested in getting back into the pro game. And if coaching in the NFL is still a goal, this year would the perfect time to take advantage of his momentum and make the jump. 

Bill O'Brien, Penn State

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    It's fairly safe to assume that O'Brien will be loyal to Penn State through this difficult stretch, but that won't stop the NFL from picking up the phone. 

    Given his NFL experience (five years under Belichick in New England) and the admirable job he did guiding Penn State through the 2012 season, he would be an ideal candidate for a rebuilding project at the next level.

    A team like the Eagles, who are looking to start from scratch, could make a splash by bringing in O'Brien.

Will Muschamp, Florida

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    Given Will Muschamp's history (he's held five jobs over the past eight seasons), it's safe to guess Florida isn't the final stop on his coaching journey. 

    The 41-year-old seems like a good bet to step up to the challenge of the NFL at some point, and after resurrecting the Florida program in 2012, the pros may start calling this offseason. 

    Muschamp has just one year of NFL experience, as Nick Saban's defensive coordinator with the Dolphins. However, limited experience hasn't stopped NFL personnel from bringing aboard college coaches before and it likely won't prevent Muschamp from getting a shot in the big show, even at a relatively young age.