NFL Rumors: Jim Harbaugh, Tony Sparano and 10 Coaching Changes Around the League

Dmitriy Ioselevich@dioselevSenior Analyst IIIJanuary 5, 2011

NFL Rumors: Jim Harbaugh, Tony Sparano and 10 Coaching Changes Around the League

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    The NFL offseason is barely a few days old for 20 of the league's teams, but already the rumor mill is spinning.

    Coaches that were expected to be fired instead received contract extensions (Marvin Lewis), while coaches whose jobs were presumed safe are now unemployed.

    Then there's the controversy surrounding top college football coaches like Jim Harbaugh and Rich Rodriguez.

    Who will go where, and what teams will be left trying to fill their coaching vacancies late into the offseason? Here's an early look at what coaching changes could shake up the NFL.

1. Wade Phillips Interviews to Be Texans' Defensive Coordinator

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    Phillips, the former Dallas Cowboys head coach who was fired midseason after a disastrous start, is a leading candidate to be the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans.

    The Texans have always been able to put points on the board but have struggled to stop opposing teams from scoring. This past season they ranked 30th in the NFL in total defense and dead last in passing defense.

    Houston fired four defensive coaches on Monday, including defensive coordinator Frank Bush. Hiring Phillips looks like it could be the first step in rebuilding the coaching staff.

    The interview is scheduled for Wednesday, and an announcement is expected soon thereafter.

2. Oakland Raiders Let Go of Tom Cable; Who's in Line to Replace Him?

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    Tom Cable led the Oakland Raiders to a 8-8 record this season, the team's best record in eight seasons. They also went 6-0 in their division. Yet apparently that accomplishment wasn't enough to help Cable keep his job.

    The Raiders will not exercise the two-year option on Cable's contract, allegedly because of continued disputes between Cable and Raiders owner Al Davis. Cable leaves Oakland with a 17-27 record in three seasons.

    Potential candidates to replace Cable include Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, who served as Oakland's quarterbacks coach back in 2002 and 2003.

3. Miami Dolphins Looking for Replacement for Head Coach Tony Sparano

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    Sparano is still technically Miami's head coach, but that reality hasn't stopped the Dolphins from reaching out to several candidates for his job.

    The Dolphins have been connected with former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher and Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.

    Cowher has already listed the Dolphins among his top choices if he were return to coaching in the NFL, while Harbaugh is getting everyone's attention after leading Stanford to a big Orange Bowl victory.

    Sparano is in a tight spot. He led the Dolphins to a division title in his first year in Miami in 2008. But since then it's been two consecutive 7-9 seasons and no playoff appearances. A coaching change may just be what the doctor ordered for a talented Dolphins roster.

4. Jeff Fisher and Tennessee Titans Still in Talks Over Coach's Future

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    You know things are bad when the NFL's longest tenured coach is in danger of losing his job.

    Fisher has spent 16 seasons as Tennessee's head coach with a lifetime record of 142-120 and six playoff appearances. But Fisher's days in Tennessee may be numbered after the Titans lost eight of their last nine and finished 6-10 this season in a winnable AFC South. 

    Fisher is due about $6.5 million next season in the final year of his contract. It's been widely reported that Fisher isn't happy with Vince Young as the Titans' quarterback, and the two had a major dispute after a game in late November.

    One of Fisher or Young will likely have to leave the team. But considering how enamored Titans owner Bud Adams is with Young, odds are that Fisher will soon be looking for another job.

5. Dallas Cowboys Hoping to Fill Their Coaching Vacancy Quickly

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    Cowboys interim head coach Jason Garrett is the favorite to take over full-time next season, but Dallas owner Jerry Jones is still doing a thorough job of interviewing other candidates.

    Jones has spoken with Dallas wide receivers coach Ray Sherman and Dolphins assistant coach Todd Bowles this week. This is the second time Bowles has interviewed to become the Cowboys' head coach; he also met with Jones in 2007, but the job instead went to Wade Phillips.

    The Cowboys were 5-3 under Garrett after Phillips was fired midseason, and he remains the favorite to get the job. A decision should come this week, possibly as early as Wednesday.

6. Leslie Frazier Head Coach of Minnesota Vikings, but What About Rest of Staff?

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    Frazier took over for Brad Childress as interim head coach of the Minnesota Vikings and earlier this week was named the team's permanent head coach. Now the real fun starts.

    The Vikings have several more openings on the coaching staff, including an offensive coordinator and running backs coach, and Frazier will be given free reign to fill them.

    Frazier is a defensive-minded guy and does not have much familiarity with coaching the offense, so a lot will depend on what style of offense he wants to run. He could keep the West Coast-style offense and bring back offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Or he could go a completely different route and bring in a former head coach to take care of play-calling duties on offense.

7. Cleveland Browns Still Searching for a Head Coach After Firing Eric Mangini

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    The Browns finished a disappointing 5-11 this season and promptly fired head coach Eric Mangini after just two seasons in Cleveland. Mike Holmgren and the rest of the Browns brain trust have wasted no time in starting to look for a replacement.

    They've been linked to St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who is familiar with the West Coat-style offense that Holmgren is such a big proponent of.

    The Browns have also talked to Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and contacted New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

    There's also the possibility that Holmgren himself could return to coaching. He's spent 17 seasons as an NFL head coach and been to three Super Bowls. Holmgren has deflected the idea so far, emphasizing that he's happy as president of the Browns. But if Holmgren can't find somebody that he thinks is a good fit for the job, then he may have no choice but to take it.

8. John Elway Charged with Responsibility of Finding Next Denver Broncos Coach

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    Elway joined the Broncos' management staff this week as executive vice president of football operations, and his first job will be to find a replacement for Josh McDaniels, who was fired as Denver's head coach after a poor start and a videotaping scandal.

    Mike Mularkey, Atlanta's offensive coordinator, is one option for the job. So is Eric Studesville, who took over for McDaniels as interim head coach. 

    But Elway has his eye especially set on Stanford's Jim Harbaugh. Elway, of course, played college football at Stanford and even served as honorary captain for the Cardinal's Orange Bowl victory.

9. Carolina Panthers May Have a Quarterback, but Who's Their Head Coach?

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    The Panthers have already indicated that they'd draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck No. 1 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft if he declared, but they still don't have a head coach after John Fox finished out his contract with a 2-14 season.

    Carolina has asked for permission to interview New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and is expected to also meet with San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who coached the league's top-ranked defense.

    There has been some speculation that the Panthers could bring in both Luck and his college coach, Jim Harbaugh, but no such deal is imminent yet.

10. San Francisco 49ers Find a General Manager, Head Coach Next?

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    The 49ers recently promoted Trent Baalke to be the team's general manager, but they still need a head coach to take over for Mike Singletary, who was fired with just one week left in the regular season.

    San Francisco has asked for permission to interview Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, but Jackson is also a leading candidate to take over for Tom Cable as Raiders head coach. The team has also been connected with the Giants' Perry Fewell.

    But San Francisco's interest in either of these two candidates may be nothing more than an attempt to satisfy the NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions.

    The real target still appears to be Stanford's Jim Harbaugh, who just happens to have the same agent as Baalke. Harbaugh would get to stay in San Francisco (where Stanford is located) and get to coach a talented roster of players in the most winnable division in football.

    But the 49ers are not alone in their pursuit of Harbaugh and are unlikely to receive any sort of hometown discount.