In the National Football League, a great head coach can make more difference than in any other sport. Take an average football team and give them Bill Belichick and you have a team that can legitimately contend for the Super Bowl. But give an average football team Romeo Crennel or Jim Schwartz and you have a four or five win team (plus a head coach out of a job).
Often, it's the coordinators that play as big of a role as the head coach in making the team great. The head coach's job is to manage the overall team, but it's the offensive and defensive coordinators who are obviously responsible for their own side of the ball. Look around the league. With the exception of a rare candidate like Andy Reid or John Harbaugh, every head coach was once a successful coordinator.
Look around the league right now and it's obvious which teams will lose a coordinator (or both) to a head coaching gig in the next year or two. Below I selected the five most likely candidates for head coaching jobs in the 2015 season. I did not include coordinators who had previously served as head coaches, which eliminated candidates like Josh McDaniels (New England) and Pat Shurmur (Philadelphia). These candidates are in no particular order.
Some of the more popular names who just missed the cut include San Francisco's Greg Roman, Seattle's Darrell Bevell, Tennessee's Ray Horton, San Diego's John Pagano and New Orleans's Rob Ryan.
Sean McDermott, DC, Carolina Panthers
After almost a decade working with the linebackers and defensive backs for the Philadelphia Eagles, Sean McDermott was promoted to defensive coordinator following the death of the legendary Jim Johnson. McDermott's tenure in Philly lasted just two seasons before he was fired, but in his defense, he was probably under qualified for the position when he was appointed defensive coordinator at age 35.
McDermott hitched onto the Panthers as their defensive coordinator in 2011, where he's served for the last three years. In 2013, his Panthers ranked second in the NFL in scoring defense, producing the league's Defensive Player of the Year in Luke Kuechly.
Just 40 years old, McDermott interviewed for the Redskins' head coaching job in January. One more great year by the Carolina defense and he should earn a well-deserved head coaching gig.
Adam Gase, OC, Denver Broncos
Considered to be one of the top young offensive minds in the game, the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos is younger than the five-time Most Valuable Player he coaches in practice each day. Gase, 36, helped lead Denver to a ridiculous 606 points scored last season. That broke the old single-season record, set by the 2007 Patriots, by 17 points.
It's hard to tell how much of the Broncos' success is the result of Gase and how much is an offense that features Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas and a slew of other stars. But look at Gase's track record. He's experienced success everywhere he's coached.
As the receivers coach for the Broncos in 2010, he helped veteran Brandon Lloyd come out of nowhere to lead the NFL in receiving. As the team's quarterbacks coach in 2011, he helped make former Heisman-winning quarterback Tim Tebow a multi-talented weapon capable of winning games in the clutch. And as the quarterbacks coach in 2012 and the offensive coordinator in 2013, he's helped Manning turn in two of the best seasons of his career, even as the future Hall of Famer nears the end of his career.
Gase was heavily recruited for the Cleveland Browns' head coaching job but ultimately chose not to interview. He'll be a head coach in 2015, no doubt.
Dave Toub, ST, Kansas City Chiefs
There's only one head coach in the NFL who earned his job based on his work as a special teams coach and that's John Harbaugh, who's won a Super Bowl during his six seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. Harbaugh earned his head coaching job based largely on recommendations from Andy Reid. See where I'm going with this?
Toub, who works under Reid in Kansas City, has been a special teams coordinator for the last decade, the first nine years with the Chicago Bears and the last year with the Chiefs. Toub has done some of his best work with Devin Hester, who holds the all-time NFL record for career touchdown returns. In 2013, Toub's Chiefs led the league with five special teams touchdowns.
Pete Carmichael, OC, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints won a Super Bowl during Pete Carmichael's first year as offensive coordinator. They've finished first, second and third in scoring over the past five seasons, plus first, first and second in yards. It's become routine for Drew Brees to throw for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns.
The Saints have never even had a consistent running game, yet their passing attack has always been among the most feared in the league. If Carmichael leads the Saints to another Super Bowl title in 2014, count on the 42-year-old becoming one of the three or four most sought-after head coaching candidates in the NFL.
Dan Quinn, DC, Seattle Seahawks
Here's all you need to know about what Dan Quinn achieved during his first year as the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. The team won 13 games, finishing the year ranked first in scoring defense and overall defense. They led the league in turnovers during the regular season and then forced four during a 43-8 stomping of the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Those Broncos, by the way, shattered the single-season record for points scored. The Seahawks' dominance on the big stage is probably the greatest single-game performance by any team in the last 50 years.
What could Quinn possibly do for an encore? His worst-case scenario is a top-five scoring defense and a couple of interviews for head coaching positions next offseason. His best-case scenario? Another number one defense, another Super Bowl title and phone calls from about eight different teams next offseason. Either way, Quinn is well on his way becoming a great head coach in this league.
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