The coaching carousel has been greasing its wheels, ready to crank up the music and whirl wildly.
Houston has already gotten on, having fired Gary Kubiak after copious disappointments. Washington might be next.
Little is known about which coaches will actually join in on the fun, though plenty of names have been thrown around already.
Will Art Briles leave Baylor and get around that massive extension? Is Cleveland just Norv Turner's latest stop between head coaching gigs?
Here are 10 coaches who could be wearing new colors next season in the NFL.
Current Job: Defensive Coordinator, Cleveland Browns
Ray Horton came quite close to getting a head coaching gig last year, as he interviewed with the Bills.
Rumors circulated that disappointment when the Cardinals hired Bruce Arians instead led to his termination, including this tweet from Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo, though Horton denied there was any sort of kerfuffle in an interview with Arizona Sports 620's Burns and Gambo (via Revenge of the Birds' Jess Root). Either way, this has been a boon for the Browns, who have seen a nice improvement on defense.
The 53-year-old told Kent Somers of AZCentral.com he thought he was going to be a head coach last season, so it stands to reason he will be on the hunt again this year.
Horton has been a defensive coach his entire career, so it's no wonder he said in his interview with Burns and Gambo he wanted Norv Turner—a strong and experienced offensive mind—had he gotten the head coaching gig in Arizona.
Horton's defense is a 3-4 base, and it's currently ranked seventh in total defense, a vast improvement from 23rd last season. Not too shabby for his first year with the team.
Of course, Horton has a great track record.
The Browns hired Horton to transform the defense from the 4-3 to the 3-4 -- a specific type of 3-4. They didn't say it's a Pittsburgh style 3-4, but that's the basic blueprint. Horton was with the Steelers from 2004-10 as defensive backs coach. He took that system to Arizona as coordinator. The Cardinals were ranked 29th in defense before Horton arrived, and then moved to 18th in 2011, then 12th last season.
Current Job: Head Coach, Baylor University
There is, perhaps, no hotter candidate than Art Briles right now.
Baylor's head coach has already been tied—and untied—to the soon-to-be-vacant Washington gig. ESPN's Adam Schefter had this to say about Briles in Washington (via Dan Steinberg, Washington Post):
[Snyder's] history has been to go after high-profile coaches,” the Shanahan confidante said. “He inherited Norv Turner. He hired Marty Schottenheimer, he hired Steve Spurrier. Joe Gibbs. These are the kinds of names that he’s gone after typically in the past, so now, this is going to be tough. It’s hard to imagine that he’s going to go to Art Briles. Art Briles is not leaving Baylor to go coach the Washington Redskins and be reunited with RGIII.
Of course, things could change. Briles does have a relationship with Robert Griffin III, but that wouldn't be the only draw to an NFL coaching gig.
There is that small matter of a 10-year extension Briles signed this year. Money talks, though. Surely an NFL owner will have enough cheddar to lure Briles out of the college ranks.
You might have been laughed out of the bar if you said Baylor would have a powerhouse football team 10 years ago. Briles had other plans when he took over in 2008.
The 58-year-old has turned the Bears into a dynamite team, particularly on offense. Baylor leads the NCAA in total and scoring offense this season. How does he do it?
Briles' philosophy is similar to the one that former Oregon coach Chip Kelly instilled in Eugene, but Baylor may move even faster than the Ducks, both in practice and in games. When the Bears drill their offense, the ball always moves forward. There is no symphony of whistles when a play is executed improperly. The offense moves to the new line of scrimmage and runs the next play. Corrections can be made in meetings. The plays won't be run perfectly in the games, either. So Baylor just keeps going, sometimes running as many as four plays a minute.
With the success Kelly has had in his inaugural season in the NFL, why wouldn't teams line up to court his expertise?
At 58, time may be running out if he has any NFL aspirations. How many rookie head coaches are in their 60s?
Current Job: Defensive Coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals
His name has popped up in head coaching searches and even interviews for the last several seasons, but Mike Zimmer hasn't had much luck landing a position.
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal thinks his gregarious personality might have something to do with it:
Zimmer is not afraid to speak his mind whether to his players, media, or potential bosses, according to previous reports. His brash style might be getting in the way of him getting a job, which is a shame because Zimmer is one of the brightest defensive minds in the league.
Whatever the case may be, Zimmer has attracted attention in the past, so it stands to reason his phone will be ringing once more during this offseason.
We really don't know much about what Zimmer might bring to the table offensively, being that he is a defensive coordinator. He has spent his entire career on the defensive side, so it would stand to reason Zimmer would want a strong offensive coordinator.
His defensive prowess, however, is plainly evident.
The Bengals have quietly had a top-10 defense in each of the past three seasons, turning a once-woeful unit into one of the game's best. It is this defense that has buoyed the Bengals to the top of the AFC North this season.
Zimmer runs a fairly traditional 4-3 scheme on a defense that has a knack for finding diamonds in the rough, as Sports Illustrated's Ben Reiter pointed out:
These players, in many cases, had exceedingly productive, even award-winning, careers for big-time college programs, but dropped through the draft, sometimes out of it entirely, to Cincinnati. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga? "He had a reputation of overrunning things," says Zimmer. Weakside linebacker Vontaze Burfict? "He had a bad combine, and a bad senior year." Left defensive end Carlos Dunlap? "Had a reputation of being lazy." Right defensive end Michael Johnson? "Had a reputation of not finishing plays." Defensive tackle Geno Atkins? "His size [6-foot-1, 286 pounds] hurt him. People were looking for taller guys."
He might have a fiery personality, but Zimmer seems to know how to get the most out of his players.
Current Job: Offensive Coordinator, Cleveland Browns
You might think the ship has sailed for Norv Turner as a head coach in the NFL, but the wily veteran has left more than one franchise in his destructive wake.
Turner took a team that was 14-2 under Marty Schottenheimer—albeit disappointing in the playoffs—and turned it into a laughing stock in just four seasons.
Turner has a 114-122-1 record as a head coach, winning just four playoff games in 15 seasons as a head coach. He must be impressive in the interview room with potential employers.
Ever heard of the phrased "Getting Norv'd?" Turner seems to have a knack for losing while ahead.
For all his failures as a head coach, Turner has an excellent track record as an offensive coordinator dating back to his hand in the meteoric rise of Troy Aikman and the Cowboys in the early '90s.
His offensive systems are derived from Don Coryell's famed "Air Coryell" system. He is a big believer in an aggressive passing game coupled with a powerful rushing attack, as documented by Jason Wood of FootballGuys.com.
The Browns are competitive in part because of an offense that can function despite having Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell at quarterback. Guys like Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron are having big seasons, and Turner is a big reason why (though head coach Rob Chudzinski has something to do with it, too).
Current Job: Head Coach, Stanford University
College football has another hot coaching name right now—David Shaw, Jim Harbaugh's successful successor at Stanford.
Like Art Briles, Shaw signed a big extension. Unlike Briles, the extension isn't hot off the presses—it was signed a year ago.
Of course, being a hot name means little, especially if that coach is happy where he is. Jon Winters of the San Jose Mercury News recently tweeted his sentiments to that effect:
Saw news reports that Stanford HC David Shaw is on Texans' short list: No chance. 1 minute spent on Shaw is 1 minute wasted.
Things could certainly change in a hurry, but it appears Shaw will not be easily pried from the San Francisco Bay area.
One of the things Shaw is heralded for is his offense. Like Chip Kelly, he is considered one of the great modern offensive minds of college football.
The MMQB's Peter King had this to say about Shaw after interviewing the Stanford coach:
The future of offensive football doesn’t have to be no-huddle, and it doesn’t have to be breakneck. It just has to be varied, and it has to put thoughtful pressure on the defense. It has to be the next move in the chess game. “A philosophy of probing,’’ Stanford coach David Shaw says here, after the Stanford-Army game on Saturday. “Probing, and wondering, ‘How is the defense going to react to this?’"
But Shaw's team didn't just have a well-rounded offense—the defense was pretty good too. Stanford has ranked 14th and 10th in scoring defense in the past two seasons, respectively, and it has been in the top 25 in total defense in that span.
Shaw picked up where Harbaugh left off without a hitch. No wonder he is a coveted man.
Current Job: Special Teams Coach, Kansas City Chiefs
One under-the-radar head coaching candidate plies his trade in Kansas City these days.
Dave Toub made his way south from Chicago last offseason after failing to nab head coaching gigs with the Dolphins. He had a shot with the Bears before they hired Marc Trestman, so he decided to reunite with Andy Reid, for whom Toub coached back in the early aughts.
Hiring a special teams coordinator as a head coach is not unprecedented.
The Ravens did just that, hiring John Harbaugh away from the Eagles back in 2007. Marv Levy, Dick Vermeil and Mike Ditka were all special teams coaches early in their careers.
Those guys did just fine.
Of course, there has to be interest for something to happen. The coaching carousel is crowded with high profile names, though it is sure to thin out as coaches return to their current teams or get weeded out by the interview process.
It is difficult to say what Toub might bring to the table as a head coach in terms of coaching philosophy, but his record as a special teams coordinator is unimpeachable.
Toub took a Chiefs special teams unit that hadn't scored a return touchdown since 2009 and turned it into one of the best in the league. Before that, he was the genius behind Devin Hester's run at history in Chicago.
Current Job: Offensive Coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals
It seems Jon Gruden's name gets floated as a coaching candidate every year, but nothing serious ever materializes. Why would it? Gruden has a cushy job on Monday Night Football, after all.
His younger brother, Jay, is a different story.
Like his defensive counterpart in Cincinnati, Jay Gruden has come up as a coaching candidate over the past couple of years. He declined to interview with any teams and signed an extension in 2012, but he did interview with the Cardinals, Chargers and Eagles last year.
Gruden came over to the Bengals after a year as the head coach and general manager of the Florida Tuskers. What is a tusker, you ask? Either a tusked animal or an East African beer.
In football terms, the Tuskers were a UFL team that lost in the league's championship game the year Gruden was head coach.
Gruden brought the West Coast Offense to Cincinnati, and he has had moderate success. Andy Dalton doesn't exactly have Matthew Stafford's arm talent, Aaron Rodgers' accuracy or Peyton Manning's decision-making, but Gruden has helped guide him to becoming a solid quarterback.
Cincinnati doesn't exactly have a high-octane offense, but Gruden has been a big part of the team's recent success.
Current Job: Head Coach, Texas A&M University
Apparently lengthy contract extensions are en vogue in college football.
Kevin Sumlin received one a few weeks ago, signing a six-year deal through 2019. Even so, Sumlin has reportedly been on Houston's radar since Bob McNair fired Gary Kubiak according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com.
Sumlin is known in Houston, where he coached at the University of Houston back to prominence before taking over for the departed Mike Sherman at Texas A&M.
Kevin Sumlin might have inherited Johnny Manziel, but his success isn't predicated on the dynamic quarterback. Before Manziel there were Case Keenum and Sam Bradford.
The 49-year-old has a career 54-22 record as a college head coach, and his offenses have buoyed him to the top of some coaching candidate lists.
Sumlin's offensive philosophy came from Mike Price, who was a bit ahead of his game at Washington State. Here is what Sumlin had to say about his offense, via Brett Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle:
(We) want to put some pressure on defenses and maybe change their philosophies on what they’re doing, and keep them in certain packages. When you have flexibility offensively that helps you to keep some personnel on the field.
Obviously some people have complained about us not substituting and going real fast … that’s created some issues in this league all of the sudden. (But) everybody should be in shape and be good enough to play. And what we’ve done is create another package that people are going to have stay on the field and play with if (tight ends) Cam Clear or Nehemiah Hicks are on the field.
The NFL always wants new blood, and offensive innovation is in demand. Could Sumlin be the next Chip Kelly?
Current Job: Head Coach, Auburn University
One year ago, Gus Malzahn was preparing Arkansas State for the GoDaddy.com Bowl game while Auburn was reeling from a 3-9 season.
The Tigers hired Malzahn, who has them on the brink of a BCS national championship.
The stunning turnaround has not gone unnoticed in the NFL ranks.
Like Art Briles and David Shaw, Malzahn won himself a contract extension. How could he not, given the incredible success he has had in such a short time?
But, as with the other two college coaches, anything could happen when NFL money gets involved.
This wasn't Malzahn's first rodeo with Auburn.
Prior to his stint at Arkansas State, the 48-year-old coach was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Tigers. His penultimate pupil? None other than Cam Newton.
Malzahn's offensive philosophy has evolved quite a bit over the years. As Chris Brown elucidated over at SmartFootball.com, Malzahn was the architect of a pass-happy offense when he got his first college job at Tulsa.
Later came Newton's Heisman-worthy exploits, which came as a result of the read-option. Newton threw the ball just fine in that offense.
Today? Auburn doesn't quite have a quarterback like Newton. Of all things, Malzahn runs the triple-option.
Current Job: Defensive Coordinator, New Orleans Saints
Naturally, what list of head coaching candidates would be complete without a Ryan brother?
Rex Ryan is likely to keep his job in New York after overachieving this season, but his brother Rob is still waiting for his chance at a head coaching gig.
His tenure in Dallas was rocky, ending in failure as the Cowboys faltered over the last couple of years under his guidance. Rob Ryan might have the last laugh, though—Dallas has the worst defense in the league while New Orleans is in the top 10.
Rob has done himself some favors with a nice job in New Orleans, however.
The Saints were the worst defense in the league last season. This year, New Orleans ranks sixth and fifth in total and scoring defense, respectively.
Rob Ryan runs a base 3-4 defense, but it is much more than that. As Bleacher Report lead writer Knox Bardeen explained earlier this season:
But the accolades this unit have enjoyed aren’t solely because of the scheme change.
In fact, the Saints aren’t even in a true 3-4 that often. The two most frequently used formations by Ryan this season feature five defensive backs, three linebackers and three down linemen.
According to stats provided by the NFL, New Orleans has been in a formation with at least five defensive backs on the field 235 times out of a total of 279 defensive plays (84.3 percent).
Bardeen goes on to extol the virtues of Ryan's defense in great detail.