Best Replacement Option for Every NFL Head Coach on the Hot Seat
'Tis the season in the NFL.
And I don't mean to be jolly, although there are coaches, such as Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks, who seem to be enjoying themselves this season.
Less than two weeks from now, "Black Monday" will sweep through the NFL; the day that signifies it's time to start handing out pink slips to head coaches.
There's already been one coach canned, with Gary Kubiak being let go during the Houston Texans' present and never-ending death spiral.
Kubiak isn't going to be alone though, so as we take a look around the NFL at some coaches on the hot seat, let's go one step further and see who might be the most worthy successor.
Of course, who teams want and whom they get are often two different things, but hey...
It's Christmas. The time for hope.
Best Option: Art Briles
Rather than start with the one coach in the NFL who has already been fired, I might as well get the front-runner for most likely to get fired out of the way.
Given the ever-devolving circus in the nation's capital, it seems a foregone conclusion that Mike Shanahan is out as head coach of the Washington Redskins after the season.
A foregone conclusion, that is, to everyone but Shanahan.
With Daniel Snyder calling the shots you can never say never, but odds are good that the Redskins will be looking for a new coach to get the team (and quarterback Robert Griffin III) back on track in 2014.
The logical choice then would seem to be Art Briles, who has enjoyed great success at Baylor (including Griffin's Heisman Trophy season in 2011) in recent years.
The team has been linked to Briles (who in turn has been linked to the coaching vacancies in both DC and at Texas) repeatedly in recent weeks, most recently by a Jason Cole report here at Bleacher Report claiming that Griffin's father has been stumping for Briles to join the Redskins.
Of course, Briles has repeatedly said he's happy in Waco, and there's the potential perception in hiring Briles that Griffin is being coddled.
However, if Shanahan is out after the year, Snyder will have effectively hitched Washington's wagon to RGIII, so the team might as well hire a coach who brings out the best in him.
Best Option: Bill O'Brien
If there was one advantage to the Houston Texans firing Gary Kubiak in-season, it's that it gave the team a head start on finding a new coach.
Yes, Wade, we know. You want the job. You can stop waving your arms.
Unfortunately, the Texans didn't even get a shot at one of the most obvious candidates, as Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin re-upped with the Aggies.
To Houston's credit though, it looks like the Texans are keeping their options open where the college ranks are concerned.
According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Texans have approached Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien about their coaching vacancy.
It's a hire that would make a sense on more than a few levels. O'Brien is an offensive-minded coach with NFL experience who could help groom that shiny new franchise quarterback the Texans may draft next April.
O'Brien also showed great aptitude at helping to keep the Nittany Lions on the rails amid the fallout from the scandal that immolated the football program.
That's a skill the Texans could stand to improve in.
Best Option: Ken Whisenhunt
This is the part where fans of the Tennessee Titans look at the name Ken Whisenhunt and then head to the comments section to fire away.
In many ways you can't blame them. It's been another disappointing, yet not terrible, season in Nashville, and the Titans have very much settled into a rut of mediocrity in recent years.
If head coach Mike Munchak is fired, fans want a splash.
The thing is, Whisenhunt would sort of be one.
The fact of the matter is that Tennessee isn't exactly a premier gig. The situation at quarterback is unsettled, the team lacks offensive consistency and the defense isn't very good.
Not only does Whisenhunt have over 100 games of NFL head coaching experience, but the 51-year-old Chargers offensive coordinator has climbed the very mountain that the Titans are looking at.
From rebuild to Super Bowl.
New York Jets
Best option: Lovie Smith
I would be remiss not to include at least one New York team. Tom Coughlin's two Super Bowl wins are probably enough to spare him the axe with the Giants (although he may resign), so I'll work under the assumption that a third straight season of missing the playoffs means the end of the line for Rex Ryan with the Jets.
On some level, it would hardly be surprising to see the Jets pursue an offensive coach given their issues on that side of the ball.
However, the Jets, maybe more so than any of the openings on this list, is a job where head coaching experience is at a premium.
New York is a pressure cooker unlike any other, and the two offensive names with head coaching experience who leap to mind (Todd Haley in Pittsburgh and Josh McDaniels in New England) both have a history of flaming out under a bright spotlight.
That leaves a name that will be on many interview lists in the coming weeks and a reported front-runner for the Texans job:
Simply put, it isn't that often that a coach with nine years of NFL experience, a winning record and a Super Bowl appearance is available.
Smith knows the ups and downs of coaching in a big market, and the veteran coach would be a badly needed calming influence on a Jets team that has been anything but, recently.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best Option: Jay Gruden
This could easily be the best fit on this list.
With Pat Yasinskas of ESPN calling last Sunday's loss to the San Francisco 49ers "Greg Schiano's last stand," it appears that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will soon be looking for their second head coach in three years.
Given how hiring Schiano from Rutgers went, a coach with NFL experience will likely top the list.
Say, an offensive coordinator who has shown the ability to work well with a young quarterback, someone who can groom youngster Mike Glennon moving forward.
In fact, the only thing that could make this better would be some sort or marketing tie-in, like if the new coach was related to the only head coach to win a Super Bowl in Tampa or something.
Man, I wonder where the Bucs could find someone like that?
Best Option: Mike Zimmer
Imagine, if you will, a fine $150,000 luxury automobile owned by a raving lunatic. Would you agree to ride around in said car with said lunatic, provided the lunatic paid you and let you drive once in a while?
That's what it's like to be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and work for Jerry Jones.
For once though, the same things that stop Jones from getting a top-tier head coach may actually help the team.
The Cowboys don't need sizzle; they need steak. Especially on defense.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is one of the most underrated coordinators on either side of the ball in the NFL. His defenses in Cincinnati have regularly been among the NFL's best despite the Bengals having one of the league's lowest payrolls.
If there's a roadblock here, it's Jones' incessant meddling and Zimmer's no-nonsense style, but at 57, Zimmer may be willing to tolerate Jerry's nonsense if it means his first head coaching job.
This, of course, assumes that Dallas doesn't win out and make the playoffs, possibly saving Jason Garrett's job.
OK, stop laughing.
Best Option: Pep Hamilton
Last week's 56-35 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs was an ugly affair, and Michael Silver of NFL.com reports that head coach Dennis Allen will be coaching for his job the last two weeks of the year.
Unfortunately, if Allen is let go, there isn't exactly going to be a line at the door to replace him. The Raiders remain one of the league's more dysfunctional franchises, and Silver reports several Raiders players "think it's wrong to blame Allen for the talent deficiencies caused by the team's well-documented salary cap troubles and decisions that can be traced to [general manager Reggie] McKenzie."
Add it all up, and it's likely either a first-timer or a second-tier retread for the Raiders. If that's the case, Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton would be just about a best-case scenario.
Granted, Hamilton has no head coaching experience, but the 39-year-old has seven seasons under his belt as an NFL assistant.
Most importantly, Hamilton has done a phenomenal job with Andrew Luck, first at Stanford and now in Indy. The Raiders desperately need to groom a quarterback of the future.
Best Option: Greg Roman
Not too long ago, it looked like the only thing that could stop the Detroit Lions from winning the NFC North was the Detroit Lions.
Well, that happened, and with three losses in four games the Lions now need help to avoid missing the postseason altogether for the second straight year.
The Lions have a ton of offensive talent but just can't seem to get out of their own way with stupid penalties, sloppy play and turnovers doing them in drive after drive.
Another squandered season may be enough to get Jim Schwartz the axe, which would instantly make the Detroit job one of the most attractive openings out there, especially for an offensive coach.
Say, an offensive coach like Greg Roman of the 49ers.
It's been a wild year for Roman. The 41-year-old entered the season as one of the hottest assistants in the NFL, but when the Niners' offense went into hibernation Roman bore most of the blame.
Now San Fran has righted the ship, and Roman is once again being mentioned as a candidate to fill numerous head coaching vacancies.
Of course, those vacancies don't offer Reggie Bush, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
Best Option: Ray Horton
After a third losing season in four years, conventional wisdom is that Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier is about to be shown the door.
Head coach is far from the only issue the Vikings have. The situation under center is as bad as any in the NFL, and the defense is a hot mess.
One way to fix the latter issue would be to hire someone like Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Mind you, it would be a bold move. Horton, like Frazier, has a defensive background. However, unlike Frazier, Horton prefers a 3-4 scheme, which would mean effectively blowing up the Minnesota defense.
Um, good. Have you watched Minnesota's 31st-ranked defense play?
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports (via colleague Dan Hanzus) that the Vikings will likely target an NFL assistant to replace Frazier.
Horton should be near the top of the list.