Texas Football: NFL Coaches Longhorns Should Consider in Search for New Coach

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2013

Texas Football: NFL Coaches Longhorns Should Consider in Search for New Coach

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    The Mack Brown era officially came to an end on Saturday afternoon, with the Longhorn Network reporting that the coach has announced his resignation to players and recruits. Brown will coach his final game in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Oregon, at which point the curtains will finally fall on his 16-season tenure.

    Immediately after that game, Texas will have a head coaching vacancy to fill for the first time since 1998. The program has somehow only gone up in value and prestige these past 16 years, so it will not be looking to hire a small name or an up-and-comer.

    It's looking to back up the Brinks truck and bring in a stud.

    Nick Saban spurned the Longhorns earlier this week, signing a hefty extension to stay at Alabama. But much like the Crimson Tide, who were spurned by Rich Rodriguez before looking to the NFL to land Saban eight years ago, Texas might soon find its perfect candidate in the professional ranks.

    The Longhorns have money—a lot of money—and a willingness to make someone an offer they can't refuse. Here are some NFL guys they should tempt.

Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers

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    Texas should consider Harbaugh just like any school (or even NFL team) should consider Harbaugh: only if he's willing to come there.

    The Longhorns will at least make their pitch to the 49ers head coach, and that pitch will likely include a lot of money. But given Harbaugh's success at the next level, where he took San Francisco to the Super Bowl in just his second professional season, it's hard to envision him leaving.

    Before the NFL came calling, Harbaugh turned Stanford from the Pac-10 also-ran it was into the Pac-12 giant it currently is. After winning nine games combined in his first two seasons, Harbaugh's Cardinal went 8-5 in 2009 and 12-1 in 2010, winning the Orange Bowl in his final season at the helm.

    Even without a discernible connection to Texas—something that's not quite "required" for job, but certainly doesn't hurt—Harbaugh would be hailed as a savior in Austin.

Mike/Kyle Shanahan, Washington Redskins

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    Things are getting ugly in Washington, where the Shanahans, just one year after leading the Redskins to an unlikely playoff run, have lost control of the team and appear to be on their way out of town.

    In theory, Texas should want a coach whose immediate track record is rosier than that. But if that theory was adhered to by major college football programs, Nick Saban, who burned every bridge possible with the Miami Dolphins, would have been passed over for the Alabama job.

    Kyle played wide receiver at Texas and could be an option as both head coach or offensive coordinator, depending on whether father Mike comes along with him.

    Despite the ugly situation in Washington, both Kyle and Mike have experience grooming young quarterbacks, which Texas will desperately need someone to do next season.

Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    According to Bob Labriola of Steelers.com, Mike Tomlin has directly stated that he has no interest in becoming a college head coach, preferring to stay in the NFL.

    But just eight years removed from Saban-gate, Texas can't afford to let such a pledge prevent it from casting a wide net and landing a big fish. Sure, right now Tomlin doesn't sound like a realistic candidate, but that doesn't mean he can't be had. 

    The Pittsburgh Steelers will finish 2013 with no more than eight wins for a second consecutive season, a first for the franchise since 1999-2000. If the Rooneys have second thoughts about committing to Tomlin long-term, Texas might be able to time things right, swoop in and poach their guy.

    The Longhorns would be willing to break bank for Tomlin, who won a Super Bowl in his second season as an NFL head coach. Experience like that would make him a valuable recruiting asset.

Jerry Gray, Tennessee Titans

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    Handout/Getty Images

    Texas wants (and may think it needs) to make a splashy, sexy hire, but sometimes it's better to stick with your own—someone who truly understands what he's getting into.

    Jerry Gray is a name that few people know nationally, but he's a legend in Austin, Texas. He was a two-time All-American defensive back for the Longhorns in the mid-80s, and he was on Mack Brown's staff as an assistant head coach in 2011.

    Now Gray is the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, who have overachieved on that side of the ball this season, despite having little-to-no superstar players. He's a long shot since he's never been a head coach at any level before, but Gray deserves to at least be considered for the job.

Jon Gruden, ESPN*

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    Yes, Jon Gruden isn't technically an NFL coach today, taking his football acumen and his chatty persona to the Monday Night Football booth instead of the sidelines. But he's still recognized as a "pro guy" first and foremost.

    Gruden hasn't coached since 2008, when he was fired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after two consecutive 9-7 seasons that didn't result in playoff runs. Before that, though, he led the Bucs to a Super Bowl in 2002 and even found a way to (somehow) win games under Al Davis in Oakland.

    He's an Ohio boy at heart, but Gruden has waxed poetic about the state of Texas on camera before, and he'd certainly qualify as that splashy, sexy hire the Longhorns are seeking to make. Gruden's national brand-recognition, professional resume and infectious passion for the game would make for an excellent recruiter.