Rob Ryan, David Shaw Lead List of Top Potential NFL Head Coaching Candidates

Dilan Ames@@DilanAmesNFLCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2013

Rob Ryan, David Shaw Lead List of Top Potential NFL Head Coaching Candidates

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    With three short weeks left in the 2013 NFL season, teams are preparing to make some big changes in the offseason, mainly in terms of coaches. The Houston Texans drew blood first when they fired Gary Kubiak after an embarrassing prime-time loss, but he is surely just the first of many.

    The Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are two teams that are likely to fire their head coaches, but there will undoubtedly be more.

    The question then becomes who can come in and effectively turn around these teams? From college coaches to NFL coordinators, there are a lot of candidates to choose from. 

    *All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference*

Greg Roman

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    Some may look at the San Francisco 49ers offense's 2013 campaign and question Greg Roman's worth as a potential coach, but you have to look at the big picture.

    Roman was an integral part in Alex Smith's development, and frankly he's the biggest reason why the Niners have been such a scary offense the past few years; San Fran has been in the top 10 in scoring the past three seasons.

    Roman also deserves a tip of the hat for being able to shift the offensive focus from a quarterback like Smith to a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick. Even though Kaep has seemingly been figured out by most of the league, Roman is still one of the best and most respected minds in the NFL. 

Mike Zimmer

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    The Cincinnati Bengals defense has become one of the most vaunted units in the NFL, largely because of the work of Mike Zimmer.

    He's been a head coaching candidate for a few years now, but for whatever reason, nothing has ever come to fruition.

    Regardless, Zimmer has proven himself to be one of the most disciplined coaches in the NFL; look no further than Cincy's defense to see that. He's been able to turn troubled players like Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict into starters, and pretty good ones at that.

    Zimmer's hard-nosed approach, along with his defensive knowledge, would be a tremendous asset to most any team looking for a coach.

Rob Ryan

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    I still don't know why only a few teams have inquired about Rob Ryan as a head coach before.

    Everywhere Ryan goes, he brings a certain swagger with him, along with a great defensive playbook. The main reason why he probably hasn't gotten as many calls as he deserves is because of his brother's shenanigans as a head coach. That being said, Ryan's effectiveness can't be ignored for much longer.

    Ryan has been able to turn defenses around during his time in Dallas and Cleveland, and now with the New Orleans Saints. He's elevated the Saints from 32nd in the league in total defense to now sixth.

    The Saints defense plays hard and can get after the quarterback; it had 30 total sacks in 2012 and has 43 so far this season.

    Another big reason why Ryan should get a chance as a coach is because he's been learning from the guy pictured left of him. Sean Payton is one of the best head coaches in the NFL and has surely rubbed off on Ryan, molding him into an even better coach.

    Ryan's worth as a head coach is far above that of many other guys, and it will show once he gets his shot.

Ray Horton

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    Ray Horton's name has been loosely linked to certain head coaching jobs in the past couple of years, but he may finally make the leap following the 2013 season. His work speaks for itself, as the Cleveland Browns are at the bottom of the barrel in almost every major category—except for defense.

    Even back when he was with the Cardinals, Horton turned a simply terrible unit into the league's 12th-best defense. Horton's worth as a coach has grown exponentially after the showing he's had in Cleveland, and you have to believe he'll finally get his chance as a head coach sooner rather than later.

Pep Hamilton

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    Pep Hamilton is one of the more under-the-radar names on this list, but his worth will soon come to light. Hamilton played a key role in the development of Andrew Luck as a quarterback at Stanford and has now done the same with him in the NFL.

    A big reason why teams trying to rebuild would love Hamilton is because of his ability to develop quarterbacks. If you're in a rebuilding phase, then there's a big chance that you need a quarterback. You're going to want him to get up to speed in the NFL as quickly as possible, and Hamilton can do that.

    He had Luck playing like a veteran throughout last season, and the quarterback has only gotten better in 2013, undoubtedly because of Hamilton.

    Hamilton has been a big reason why the Colts' intimidating offense didn't skip a beat after Peyton Manning left. Of course it's not the same, but it's definitely more balanced.

    Although he got his first taste of being a coordinator with the Colts, Hamilton coached in the NFL for nine years with a handful of teams. He's one of the best young offensive minds in the league, and it won't be long before he gets his chance at being head honcho. 

Kevin Sumlin

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    Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin is in a great position as we approach the offseason. He coaches one of the more respected college teams in the country and will garner much attention from NFL teams desperate for a coach.

    With Chip Kelly coming in from the college ranks and currently leading his team to a playoff berth in his first year, a number of NFL teams will be looking to bring in Sumlin.

    He's had success in college, at least enough for him to want to test the waters at the highest level of competition, and Sumlin already has attention from the only team without a coach right now.

    According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, Texans owner Bob McNair has a "strong affinity" for the A&M coach and would be interested in bringing him in. Of course, there's still the interview process to go through, but it looks like Sumlin has as good a chance as any to get a job in the NFL soon.

Sean McDermott

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    Once the laughingstock of the NFL, the Carolina Panthers have risen from the depths of the NFC South. Although they have a potent offense behind Cam Newton, it's their defense that is winning them a lot of games.

    They are ranked either first or second in every major defensive category, and the reason for that is their coach, Sean McDermott. His defense has certainly turned heads this season, and he will more than likely be fielding some calls once the season is over.

    At 39 years old, he's still rather young and would be a great person to rebuild a franchise. 

David Shaw

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    David Shaw has done an unparalleled job at Stanford after taking over for Jim Harbaugh, but he could very well follow Harbaugh's trail to the NFL. Shaw has gone 34-6 since taking over for Harbaugh and will be one of the most sought-after coaches this offseason.

    Similar to others on this list, Shaw has previous experience in the NFL, which will serve him well should be choose to pursue (or rather be pursued for) a team's vacant head coaching job.

    Shaw has had success all over the NCAA with Houston, Oklahoma and now Stanford, but it won't be long before you see him doing the same in the NFL.