Power Ranking Every NFL Head Coaching Vacancy
Black Monday is the moniker given to the day after the end of the NFL's regular season, when coaches worry the most about finding themselves in the unemployment line.
2013 has brought some surprises and some long-overdue firings, opening up six jobs in the NFL's coaching fraternity so far. Some of those jobs are clearly more attractive than the others, and candidates may have some ability to pick and choose the job that is right for them, as Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was able to last season.
It's important to remember that, while these openings are easy to rank and we can quibble about the placement, these are elite jobs in the most lucrative sports league in America. This is the tip of the golden pyramid for what football coaches want to do with their careers, so it isn't as if many will turn their noses up at any of these spots.
It's also relevant that the NFL has tried to make minority hiring a focus this season. In addition to the Rooney Rule, there is now a list of top candidates put together by a panel of league experts that teams are encouraged to use. While there are white candidates on the list, it is predominately minority-oriented. The idea, of course, is that the good ol' boys network, retreads and nepotism that often runs league circles may not be the best way to pick a candidate.
With those factors in mind, which franchises will have the most success luring top candidates to fill their vacancies?
6. Cleveland Browns
A lot of talk about the firing of Rob Chudzinski is centered around the football decision-makers only giving him one year to turn around a ship that has been sinking since the team returned to Cleveland as an expansion in 1999. The team has only had two winning seasons and one playoff trip during that span.
The chatter may be slightly unfair, because it's worth noting that the coach was actually hired before the general manager (Mike Lombardi), and that he was only brought in after the Browns were told "thanks, but no thanks" by seemingly every other candidate on last year's market.
The point: They didn't think Chudzinski was the guy, he didn't do anything to prove them wrong and there's little reason to keep a coach who isn't in your long-term plans.
Where the rubber may meet the road on this issue, however, is that the Browns have been historically short-tempered with coaching decisions, and there has been plenty of dysfunction both in the new regime and regimes in the past. Frankly, it's institutionalized losing, and that's the sort of quagmire big-name coaches won't want to get themselves in.
Most of the Browns' talent is on the defensive side of the ball, and the front office may want to keep defensive coordinator Ray Horton around rather than let him sneak away for one of the other teams on this list. That means a big pay raise for him, plus paying the rest of Chudzinski's contract and hoping for a big offensive name to be effectively enchanted.
The other little nugget to watch in regard to this opening is the Bill Belichick pipeline that Lombardi has ties to. Because of that, former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz could be a possibility, especially if Horton has already decided to go elsewhere.
Possibilities: Josh McDaniels (New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator); Gary Kubiak (Former Houston Texans HC); Ray Horton (Cleveland Browns Defensive Coordinator); Dan Quinn (Seattle Seahawks Defensive Coordinator); Todd Bowles (Arizona Cardinals Defensive Coordinator); Jim Schwartz (Former Detroit Lions Head Coach).
Owner Dan Snyder's meddling presence almost dropped Washington to No. 6 on this list. The lack of a first-round draft pick doesn't really help, either, and the incoming head coach will need to have very serious assurances that 2014 will be treated more like "Year Zero" of his regime rather than he be expected to hit the ground running in any way shape or form.
Snyder will be enamored with a lot of big names, but they likely won't follow suit. The presence of quarterback Robert Griffin III should be a positive to many, but his inability to advance his game in year two will scare some away. His well-publicized inability to handle criticism (both publicly and privately) could be a deal-breaker for defensive-minded head coaches who want more stability at the quarterback position.
The name of the game here should be an established offensive coach who is willing to tailor his playbook toward RGIII—a quarterback with plenty of tools, but also needing some help in being a craftsman. That means talking to guys like Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin—even if they don't want to interview.
Baylor head coach Art Briles fits the criteria and has worked well with RGIII in the past—to the tune of a Heisman Trophy—but Briles has a good salary, and the Bears have a new stadium on the way. Frankly, he would be jumping ship at the wrong time, and it's more than worth noting that many college coaches don't have the NFL aspirations we expect them too, because of the autonomy of the position at the college ranks.
Possibilities: Ken Whisenhunt (San Diego Chargers Offensive Coordinator); Art Briles (Baylor Head Coach); Gus Malzahn (Auburn Head Coach); Hue Jackson (Cincinnati Bengals Assistant Coach); Jon Gruden (ESPN Analyst); Aaron Kromer (Chicago Bears Offensive Coordinator).
4. Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is 28. That's what this firing was all about.
Former head coach Leslie Frazer is just about the nicest guy in sports and will probably find success as a defensive coordinator somewhere else, but his window of opportunity was slammed shut in Minnesota when his defense started to atrophy and the quarterback position was so unsettled. This is a rebuild, but it needs to be a quick one, and the expectations will be high after three impact first-round picks last year.
Young offensive-minded coaches could jump at the opportunity to "play with" a couple of stellar chess pieces like Peterson and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Assuming the Vikings (drafting eighth) have a shot at a quarterback in the draft, it's worth noting that this was a playoff team in 2012, and even the slightest stability increase could put them back in contention for a playoff spot.
Defensive coaches could also be drawn to Minnesota with plenty of pieces and a clear lack of cohesiveness or effort in 2013. Add a couple of solid pieces in the defensive backfield and life could look a lot different in the coming year for a defense that used to count itself among the NFL's elite.
Finally, the specter of a brand-new, shiny stadium on the horizon could be a draw, as the Vikings will want to pay through the nose for a candidate who will get the fanbase excited. That excitement could be mitigated by the thought of sharing a college stadium with the Minnesota Golden Gophers for two years, but it could also mean leveraging a longer leash in the process.
Possibilities: Lovie Smith (Former Chicago Bears Head Coach); Jack Del Rio (Denver Broncos defensive coordinator); Adam Gase (Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator); Jim Mora (UCLA Head Coach).
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers have to move quickly, as Monday was also the last day for general manager Mark Dominik. Tampa Bay has plenty of talent, but the question will be just how dysfunctional is the franchise, and did that exist solely because of coaching and front office leadership? The Glazer family will try to convince top candidates that this was the case.
Former Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay moved north to Atlanta for a bigger and more business-oriented roll in 2003, but his name has been linked to return as Dominik's replacement. If that is the case, the candidate pool probably centers around the many talented coaches who spent time under McKay.
The big draw here is a defense which has plenty more talent than the coaching staff allowed it to show in 2013. A major player on the defensive line (defensive tackle Gerald McCoy) and multiple playmakers in the defensive backfield (cornerback Darrelle Revis, safety Dashon Goldson) and the most underrated linebacker in the NFL (Lavonte David) is a heck of a building plan to start with.
The offense will also look a lot more tantalizing for any candidate who remembers that running back Doug Martin is coming back from injury next season. Quarterback Mike Glennon is an interesting piece of the puzzle, as he showed promise under center, but the new regime will have little reason to back a signal-caller they didn't select.
Once the general manager is in place, look for the Buccaneers to have their pick of the litter from the second tier of candidates who will be paid handsomely to do what former head coach Greg Schiano could not—maximize the ability of a talented roster.
Possibilities: Lovie Smith (Former Chicago Bears Head Coach); Jon Gruden (ESPN Analyst); Jay Gruden (Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Coordinator); Mike Shula (Carolina Panthers Offensive Coordinator); Adam Gase (Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator); Darrell Bevell (Seattle Seahawks Offensive Coordinator).
2. Detroit Lions
Detroit is, easily the most ready-made spot for a new head coach to hit the ground running. With quarterback Matt Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush running behind a young, talented offensive line, the offense should be able to exist near the top of the league for years to come.
On defense, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are an imposing tackle tandem with plenty of talent on the second and even third levels behind them. A new defense, a refocused effort on technique and a few pieces could result in a top-tier defense almost immediately.
That said, the Lions have plenty of that "institutionalized losing" that we discussed back on the Cleveland Browns slide. Detroit is also a terrible sell as a city—both to coaching candidates and to players the new coach will want to recruit to play for him.
So, in a vacuum and just looking at the roster talent, Detroit may be the best landing spot for a new coach, but the outside factors may drop it down to a clear 1b or 2a in reality.
Detroit will be looking for the type of coaching candidates who have experience leading a team—either at the collegiate or pro level—and will likely look for an offensive name who could help take Stafford up a notch. Former head coach Jim Schwartz spent most of his time pretending that his quarterback's excrement didn't stink, and it hurt the team in the long run.
Possibilities: Bill O'Brien (Penn State Head Coach); Ken Whisenhunt (San Diego Chargers Offensive Coordinator); Brian Kelly (Notre Dame Head Coach); Mike Zimmer (Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Coordinator); David Shaw (Stanford Head Coach); Jay Gruden (Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Coordinator); Adam Gase (Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator).
1. Houston Texans
After the Houston Texans got the ball rolling on the coaching carousel (the horses moving?) by firing former head coach Gary Kubiak, I wrote about what's next for the franchise that seemed to be at the top of the world at times in 2012. At the time, I thought that the Texans job would be the most intriguing opening, and I still believe it is.
The No. 1 overall draft pick immediately makes the Texans job the most intriguing. Maybe that's Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater or South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Whoever it is, having the top pick gives the new head coach the ability to shape this franchise any way he sees fit.
It also means that putting a long-term option in place under center (no, it's not Case Keenum) gives the new coach a bit of a longer leash—especially on a team tailor-made for a quick jump back to the top with the right moves on both sides of the ball.
Kubiak's demise could be primarily tied to his lack of evolution and adaptation to the modern game. The West Coast-stylized passing attack and strict zone-blocking scheme weren't blowing any minds when it comes to rival advanced scouts, and neither the quarterback play nor his game management were enough to supersede those deficiencies.
If we're staying away from coaches behind that same eight ball, the Texans will probably avoid Love Smith, but he may be the fallback guy because of his experience.
Bill O'Brien is the biggest name on the market, and the Texans are reportedly already working on a deal to sign him. It would be just the coup that this team needs.
Possibilities: Bill O'Brien (Penn State Head Coach); Lovie Smith (Former Chicago Bears Head Coach); Mike Zimmer (Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Coordinator), David Shaw (Stanford Head Coach).