Opportunity was knocking at the door of Mike Singletary this season, but unfortunately, the San Francisco 49ers couldn't answer that call.
With quarterback Alex Smith fresh off to a tremendous preseason, most folks in the Bay Area felt good about their chances in 2010. San Francisco had just gained two great offensive lineman in Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis, and given that the NFC West was as weak as water heading into September, it looked to be a surefire playoff spot come January.
Boy did we get ahead of ourselves.
Fifteen weeks down the track—Mike Singletary is now unemployed. Following in the footsteps of Brad Childress, Wade Phillips and Josh McDaniels this season, Singletary's former-Chicago Bears mentality wasn't enough to transform his team into a playoff contender, as the 49ers were eliminated from playoff contention this past Sunday and now sit at a dismal 5-10.
Who will replace the outspoken and highly-criticized head coach?
It's a question that needs a serious answer with one week remaining in the regular season, so here's a look at the top 10 candidates.
Flying under the radar a little in terms of head coaching, Green Bay Packers' defensive coordinator Dom Capers is one of the few candidates the San Francisco 49ers may be willing to take a serious look at, considering his defensive mentality that has paid off for so many teams.
As far as resumes go, Capers certainly checks out. Overlooking his two-year career in Green Bay, Capers has just under 40 years experience under his belt, in all styles coaching.
But would he make a good coach in San Francisco?
Considering that the 49ers defense has been the lesser of the two problems, perhaps not. With that being said however, Capers' specialty is transformation, and you only have to take one peek at the new and rejuvenated Green Bay Packers 3-4 scheme to recognize how skilled this man is.
Currently, San Francisco ranks 14th in overall defense, so there is some room for improvement. More importantly though, Capers' experience and intelligence could provide some worthwhile draft picks should San Francisco grant him the opportunity.
Being familiar on both sides of the ball is one thing, but being familiar with the self-proclaimed West Coast Offense is a totally different story.
For those that aren't too familiar with the current California Golden Bears head coach, Jeff Tedford is one of many contenders that pops up among the wild flowers as a seriously intriguing pick to the San Francisco 49ers.
The reason behind this thinking is simple—Tedford knows the West Coast. Having coached at Fresno State, Oregon and now California, Tedford's success has stretched far beyond the playing field, having turned around a dismal California team to transform the Bears into legitimate contenders for many years to come.
While it is worth mentioning that Tedford hasn't won anything major just yet, he has been responsible for instilling an abundance of confidence back into the Golden Bears program, something that has been missing in recent years.
Better than this factor, though, is the development skills that Tedford possesses. So far Tedford has been responsible for pushing many quarterbacks into the NFL, some of which include Trent Dilfer, Aaron Rodgers, Kyle Boller and Joey Harrington.
Perhaps the only criticism to be found on Tedford's part is his lack of coaching experience in the big league. Tedford has never ventured into the NFL, and it's fair to say that a team like San Francisco is no easy task for a rookie.
Still, Tedford has a number of other points going for him, making him a suitable replacement.
Another defensive candidate steps into the possibility pool for San Francisco, as New York Giants' defensive coordinator Perry Fewell offers up a number of positive points following a disappointing season in 2010.
Rewinding to this time last year, it looked as if the Buffalo Bills would hold onto Fewell, naming him the interim head coach for the time being. Unfortunately, that scenario didn't work out and after a few quick phone calls and conversations, Fewell found himself at the helm in New York.
How has this transition worked out for the Giants?
Extremely well, considering Tom Coughlin has experienced the joys of a top ranked defense for much of the regular season, along with witnessing a new-found explosiveness from both Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck on the defensive line.
Prior to Fewell's involvement with the Bills (2006-2010), the Giants defensive coordinator experienced brief stays with Jacksonville, St. Louis and Chicago where he built up his NFL experience after being involved with the college aspect for so many years.
Considering that both Umenyiora and Tuck have combined for 21 sacks this season, Fewell is amongst the front runners for the San Francisco job.
Still, New York may not be willing to let go of Fewell so easily, especially since the Giants new defensive coordinator only has one year under his belt.
One of the most quoted men in America once again enters into the possible head coaching conversation, as Herm Edwards is a major crowd favorite now that Mike Singletary is left in the unemployment line this season.
Just like Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy, the obvious criticism with this scenario is Herm Edwards' new role as an analyst with ESPN. Whether or not the former Kansas City Chiefs head coach is willing to put down the headset and jump back onto the sidelines is questionable, but it is still worth debating with one week remaining this year.
Aside from the on-field factors that Edwards would bring to San Francisco, it is the motivational aspect that could benefit the 49ers. Known as "Herminisms," Edwards is famous for his almost Pete Carroll-like speeches that have been known to motivate players prior to kickoff.
Edwards is by far not the front runner for the job in San Francisco, simply due to the fact that he has faded into the background lately as far as the head coaching debate is concerned.
One has to ponder the question, though: If Jon Gruden is willing to put an end to Monday Night Football and return to the Motorlola head set, why can't Herm Edwards do the very same?
Another of the NFL's West Coast specialists cracks this list, with Clarence Shelmon springing up as a potential candidate in San Francisco for the 2011 season.
As far as reality is concerned, it would appear to be a wise move for San Francisco to select an offensive coordinator who has been responsible for placing the San Diego Chargers in the top spot so many times this season.
Gaining such a highly wanted coach is a totally different story, mind you.
If there is one thing the 49ers have going for them, though, it's the fact that the Chargers completely fell apart this past weekend. Norv Turner finds himself on a huge hot seat, so perhaps if a major revamp of the Charger offense gets underway, Shelmon may become available.
In the meantime, the Chargers still hold on to their offensive coordinator who joined the team in 2002, and aren't looking likely to release him into the field anytime soon. Keep in mind however, if that opportunity did pop up, the 49ers would be in a perfect position to swoop in.
It may seem unimaginable as to why the 49ers would be willing to take on yet another questionable head coach at this point in time, but with Eric Mangini facing rocky shores in Cleveland, who knows where the head coaching veteran may wind up come the offseason.
If by some stroke of luck the Browns do part ways with Mangini, expect San Francisco to be thrown wildly into the discussion. While Mangini has only been at the helm in Cleveland for two years, already the faithful Dawg Pound is calling for Mangini's head, after such a disappointing end to the 2010 season.
Fortunately on Mangini's behalf, NFL experience is no problem. Having coached in Baltimore, New York, New England and now Cleveland, stepping into San Francisco would pose no real drama for a head coach of Mangini's caliber.
What could prove to be test-worthy, though, is the West Coast style offense. So far, Mangini has had little experience with the NFC West and if the current Browns main man is looking to take over San Francisco anytime soon, he'd best be prepared for some hard work.
We'll keep an eye on the situation in Cleveland. For the time being, though, Mangini remains a distinct possibility if the Browns see fit to fire their head coach anytime soon.
Just like Eric Mangini, the 49ers will have to wait until the offseason to take a possible stab at Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher anytime soon.
While we're discussing the chances of this highly favorable move however, gaining a coaching force like Fisher could be the kick-start the 49ers need to get back on the right track next season in the weak NFC West.
First and foremost, the relationship between Fisher and Titans owner Bud Adams is extremely hazy. Following on from the midseason Vince Young drama, Adams appears to have taken sides with Young and may be willing to go as far as releasing his veteran head coach sometime in the next few months.
This is where the 49ers come in.
Experience? That only makes up half of Fisher's resume.
The beauty behind Fisher's coaching makeup is the fact that he has a distinct knowledge of all area's on the field and more often than not is responsible for many of the Titans recruiting decisions.
From a fan perspective, witnessing Fisher in the Bay Area may be a little uncanny. If Tennessee falls through and Fisher's 16-year reign comes to an end, though, the 49ers will have to be quick to scoop up such a valuable head coach.
Another of the San Diego Chargers front men cracks this list, with Ron Rivera finally earning the respect he deserves by teams looking to improve their coaching situation next season, one of which includes the San Francisco 49ers.
Call Rivera a brainchild or a defensive mastermind, it doesn't matter, because the fact remains the same—Rivera has been responsible for the Chargers first-ranked defense all season long.
Even with the loss of Shawne Merriman to the Buffalo Bills midway through 2010, Rivera has managed to stop some of the AFC's elite teams this season, which include the Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.
However, Rivera's winning ways aren't the only thing that may interest the 49ers.
No, Rivera's stern coaching methods are also notable when watching the Chargers play. On the field or simply on the sidelines, Rivera often takes on a head coach-like mentality come game day, something that has more than likely intrigued many teams this year.
The Chargers may not be willing to let go of Rivera just yet, and you can't blame them. Either way though, Rivera would be a huge asset to a team that is in need of some serious renovation, and by throwing in the fact that Rivera knows the Bay Area well, you have a serious contender on your hands.
Realistically, Jim Harbaugh could be No. 1 on this list right now. Not only has he turned the Stanford football program around immensely in the past three years, Harbaugh's no nonsense attitude has been the perfect example of the new breed of head coach that is taking over the NFL.
Looking past Harbaugh's motivational benefits, it is also his recruiting powers that make him such a perfect fit in San Francisco. As we all know, Stanford is one of the toughest schools in the nation to recruit raw talent, but Harbaugh has been successful in bringing in some of the top offensive talent since taking over in 2007.
Adding the icing on the cake, Harbaugh is also a former quarterback himself. Alex Smith looks to be the preferred on-again, off-again starter in San Francisco right now, so perhaps Harbaugh could help determine whether or not Smith is the right man for the job under center.
Drawing Harbaugh away from Stanford will be tough, but you get the feeling that returning to the NFL is his ultimate goal.
He's the man that everybody wants—Jon Gruden.
Yes, once again a team in turmoil is thrown into the Gruden discussion this season, as the current Monday Night Football announcer finds himself being mentioned with a possible return to coaching, even though much of this theory is all rumors and fizzle at this point in time.
To ponder the imaginable though for one moment, Gruden in San Francisco makes perfect sense.
Knowledge of the Bay Area? Check.
Experience in the NFL? Check.
Super Bowl champion? Check.
A fierce attitude and a knack for recruiting? Check again.
It's one big tick for Jon Gruden right now and to really throw a spanner in the works, Gruden is a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback coach. In 2002, Gruden led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl and now 49ers fans are remaining hopeful that they may be the lucky team to regain the famous coach.
A major possibility remains to be seen this offseason, and if the 49ers play their cards right, it could all fall into place in due time. Until then, Jon Gruden is as big a question as entering the lottery, but the 49ers should be willing to play the waiting game if the opportunity opens up.