When coaches get fired this year, who will replace them?


Nearly a third of all NFL head-coaching jobs could become vacant after the 2011 season.  In addition to the Jaguars, teams that could (emphasis “could”) make a change presently include, in no particular order other than the order in which I scan through the league’s eight divisions, the Dolphins, Colts, Chiefs, Chargers, Giants, Eagles, Vikings, Buccaneers, and Rams.

So who will replace these coaches?  Beyond Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, and Jeff Fisher, there aren’t many (any) obvious candidates.

Let’s consider the three categories from which head coaches typically emerge:  former NFL head coaches, current NFL assistant coaches, and college head coaches.

Former NFL head coaches:  In the hopes of not omitting anyone (a sentiment that applies to all three categories), the list of former NFL coaches who could return — and who currently are coaching — includes Cowher (whose “plan” to not coach in 2012 could change dramatically if the Giants job opens up), Jon Gruden, Fisher, Tony Dungy (who consistently has said he’s not coming back), Brian Billick, Jim Fassel, Dennis Green, Marty Schottenheimer, Eric Mangini, Jim Mora, Steve Mariucci, Brad Childress, Jack Del Rio, and Herm Edwards.

Of those, Cowher, Jon Gruden, and Fisher seem to constitute the “A” list.  Billick wants back in, but he recently said he thinks Jacksonville will look to go younger and cheaper, which means he won’t be cheap.  (Or young.)  Edwards could be a surprise choice in Miami, if Carl Peterson takes over the football operations.  Mangini also has been linked to the Dolphins, although reports that he has been consulting with owner Stephen Ross are erroneous.

There’s another group of former NFL head coaches to consider — those who aren’t yet former NFL head coaches.  Though it’s unusual for a newly-fired coach to get an NFL job right away, John Fox did it last year when jumping from Carolina to Denver.  The fact that Fox has instantly made the Broncos into a contender could make other former head coaches instantly attractive.  That list could (emphasis “could”) include Tony Sparano, Jim Caldwell, Todd Haley, Norv Turner, Tom Coughlin, Andy Reid, Leslie Frazier, Raheem Morris, and Steve Spagnuolo.

Of those, Reid would be the most likely to land somewhere else right away, if he’s fired in Philly (or if he decides it’s time to walk away).  Also, a return by Coughlin to Jacksonville could be intriguing.  Spagnuolo also could get consideration elsewhere in 2012 as a head coach, although if Reid stays in Philly it makes sense for Reid to lure the team’s former linebackers coach back to town to run the defense.

Current NFL assistant coaches:  For starters, plenty of former NFL head coaches currently are working for other NFL teams.  The list includes Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, Rams offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, Chiefs quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Vikings linebackers coach Mike Singletary, Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice, Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, and Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

Of that group, Phillips and Haslett are the most intriguing.  Phillips has been a head coach three prior times, but his immediate transformation of a historically bad Texans defense merits consideration for a fourth opportunity, as linebacker Connor Barwin told NBC SportsTalk on Friday.  In Washington, the performance of Haslett’s stout defense has been overshadowed by a continuously struggling offense.

McDaniels already has been linked to the Chiefs, but that will be a difficult sell, given McDaniels’ performance in Denver and, more recently, St. Louis.

The universe of assistant NFL coaches who have never worked as NFL head coaches yields a smaller range of relatively obvious choices.  Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the fraternal twin of Jets coach Rex Ryan, badly wants to make the next step.  Unlike Rex, who successfully kept a sock in it until he became a head coach, Rob arguably is talking a bit too much for a guy who isn’t a head coach.  (Rob also needs to visit the barber.)

Beyond Rob Ryan, there aren’t many/any hot names, which typically come from the staffs of the hottest teams.  In Green Bay, there’s a perception that Mike McCarthy is primarily responsible for the success of the franchise, which undermines the contributions of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and quarterbacks coach Tom Clements.  On defense, assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach Winston Moss could get some consideration, as could outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene (who also would benefit from a trip to the salon).

The 9-2 49ers also should generate some candidates, starting (and perhaps ending) with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.  With head coach Jim Harbaugh getting nearly all of the credit for the team’s performance, Fangio is really the only name that currently stands out.

Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano may not get much buzz given that it’s his first year on the job, but that assignment has become a launching pad for head coaches.  If the Ravens play deep into the postseason, Pagano could get consideration.

Another first-year coordinator seems to be the perfect fit for the one vacancy that already exists.  In a Wednesday visit to PFT Live, Mike Dempsey of 1010XL suggested Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden as the next coach of the Jaguars.  It makes sense, on every level.  Gruden fits Brian Billick’s “young and cheap” demographic, but Gruden also brings name recognition of his older and more expensive brother.  The name carries the most weight in northern Florida, where Jon won a Super Bowl and where Jay was a mainstay in the Arena League.  Then there’s the fact that Jay Gruden has gotten the most out of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who was drafted one round behind Blaine Gabbert.

(As a reader has pointed out in the comments, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer could end up being considered for one of the various vacancies.  Ditto for Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who served as the interim coach in Buffalo and who has gotten some consideration for prior vacancies.)

College head coaches:  The instant success of Jim Harbaugh after stints with Stanford and the University of San Diego (not to be confused with, as I have in the past, San Diego State University) could reverse the perception that college coaches can’t get it done in the NFL.  It shouldn’t.  Harbaugh is the exception to the rule that the most important skills possessed by college head coaches — recruiting — are largely wasted at the NFL level.

Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz periodically is mentioned as a candidate to coach at the NFL level, and he’ll again be linked to Kansas City if Haley is fired.  Beyond Ferentz, the list currently is short to nonexistent.

UPDATE 10:00 a.m. ET:  I deliberately omitted former Packers coach Mike Sherman from the list of former NFL head coaches who could return, since he hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2005 and he has generated little or no buzz since being fired by the Packers.  But Jason La Canfora of NFL Network reports that the Jaguars contacted Sherman even before firing Jack Del Rio.  If true, it means that Brian Billick’s “younger and cheaper” description of the Jags’ job requirements perhaps should be reduced to simply “cheaper.”

55 responses to “When coaches get fired this year, who will replace them?

  1. “Edwards could be a surprise choice in Miami, if Carl Peterson takes over the football operations.”

  2. Jim Tressel should be ahead of Ferentz on your list of college head coaches. I don’t really think you go from head coach of one of the best programs at that level to reviewing video tape in Indianapolis.

  3. I hope Jay stays with the Bengals. It’s usually a mistake to become an NFL head coach too quickly. See Josh McDaniels.

  4. The Jags job is Jay Gruden’s to turn down for sure.

    I’m a thousand miles from jax and don’t listen to 1010 anymore, but if you know the team and the town, its the first choice.

    Either way we need offensive blood at the top, unless Tucker shows us something. But I doubt it. His real test for the D is keeping it #4 in the league without the 120 million dollars worth of free agents that are now on IR

  5. Who will be the next Mike McCarthy ? When Ted Thompson made him his coach the entire Packer Nation asked, who ?

  6. Take the Eagles off your list. They aren’t gonna fire him, and if they do, they’ll replace him with someone in house. Maybe like the cheer leading coach. I mean, if they can make an offensive line coach a defensive coordinator, then they can make a cheer leading coach the head coach, AND they’ll save a TON of money by not hiring a real coach. Its genius!

  7. wollam11 says:
    Dec 4, 2011 9:38 AM
    Jim Tressel should be ahead of Ferentz on your list of college head coaches. I don’t really think you go from head coach of one of the best programs at that level to reviewing video tape in Indianapolis.
    Ferentz is one of the most highly respected college head coaches in the game – he is bandied about because he was recommended by Bill Belichick. No coach did less with more top recruits than Jim Tressel.

    Ferentz categorically wants nothing to do with the NFL, though – since he rebuffed the advances of Scott Pioli before they hired Todd Haley.

  8. Take Leslie Frasier off the “could be gone” list. Ziggy is still paying for Childress. He’s not going to to get behind the eight ball and be paying for two ex head coaches (assuming neither finds another job). Besides, for as bad as the Vikes have been this year, a lot of it is not his fault. Short off season, injuries, jail time, ect…

    He will get at least another year.

  9. tatumo64 says:

    “No coach did less with more top recruits than Jim Tressel.”


    Lol! I guess six straight Big Ten titles (eight in ten years), a national championship, plus two other appearances, and appearing in more BCS bowl games than any other team ever … … underwhelming?


  10. Wade Phillips is so popular in Houston right now. I mean, we absolutely love him. He’s a freaking defensive miracle worker. Please omit his name from this blog post. I don’t want him getting any ideas.

  11. Did you say ‘Carl Petersen”, “Herm Edwards”, and “Miami Dolphins” in the same sentence? AAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

  12. tatumo64 says:

    “No coach did less with more top recruits than Jim Tressel.”
    Larry Coker?

  13. The Jaguars are divisiontitle/playoff ready with #3 defense and #2 rushing running back. With the offensive WR playmakers coming this offseason, this team is just good QB play away.
    Jay Gruden would be a great fit, although a one year wonder. The way he has coached up Andy Dalton speaks volumes and with Blaine Gabbert having a strong arm and being athletic would be a great match.

  14. OK, it’s early, and the coffee hasn’t kicked in, so maybe I’m wrong, but….

    Did you really have Mike Singletary on that list?

    Look at the Niners this year. Now compare them to the Niners last year. The core of players is mostly the same. What’s different? The coach.

  15. Thank you for not mentioning Rob Chudzinski, OC for Carolina. I’ve seen him bandied about elsewhere, and I’d be sick if we lost him. First real offense we’ve seen in Charlotte since Steve Beurlien was the QB.

  16. Dom Capers should be on the list as a hot candidate for the Colts. That team needs a defensive overhaul and Capers was Polian’s first hire with the Panthers.

    Greg Williams is a former head coach missing from the list, not that his Saints defenses make him an obvious choice anywhere.

    Charlie Weis is another notable name missing from his category

  17. Hmm, Jay Gruden of the LA Jags. Interesting. Looking at these lists, there aren’t many coaches that I would consider sure fire winners as a replacement for Reid here in Philly. Guys like Phillips have failed over and over as HC yet he is a defensive guru. Rob Ryan would be an intriguing pick for his legacy value alone, but too mercurial for my taste, and would probably just ignore the offense like his dad did. The only precident for a failed HC going on to success is Belichick, but that is a crap shoot. I would be a afraid to hire Billick, because he is offensive Wade Phillips. Cowher is Andy Reid redux, same with Fisher. Why in the world the Eagles didn’t hire Jauron as DC is beyond arrogant. He was already on the team and was a significant upgrade to both McDermott and (gulp) Castillo.

  18. I didn’t see Mike Mularky on the list. Wasn’t he a Candidate for head coach of the Browns last year before some idiot called him Mark Mularky?

  19. Kevin Greene I think becomes a DC before he gets a head coaching job. Give him say, five years and I can see him as a head coach though. Ferentz won’t leave Iowa until all of his kids are through school.

  20. Dear Jeff Fischer,

    Please come to Miami.


    Desparate fans who have almost forgotten what a good coach is.

  21. “Why in the world the Eagles didn’t hire Jauron as DC is beyond arrogant. ”

    The bigger mistake that lead to Juan being the DC is them hiring Washburn as the DL coach. The DC would have wanted to hire his own staff.

  22. I doubt either Herm Edwards or Carl Peterson would be interested in working with the other. Lots of stuff went on their final year in Kansas City.

  23. Your list doesn’t include the tuna until I here him say he won’t be coming back he will be a considered a front run to land in arrowhead.

  24. If the Raiduhs really want to honor the memory of the crypt keeper, they’ll fire Hue Jackson at the end of January when all other positions are filled, the reason?….He’s getting too much credit!

  25. Mike Singletary? I’m sure his phone will be ringing off the hook with offers.
    You should be hit in mouth for bringing up his name as a possible head coach.

  26. Leave Dom Capers out of this. He’s perfectly fine where he is. As someone mentioned earlier, Mike Sherman could be an interesting choice (if he just coaches and has NOTHING to do with personnel).

  27. Dear NFL Teams who will be looking for a new head coach soon,

    Please hire Perry Fewell away from the Giants.


    – Giants fan

  28. Pete Carmichael JR the Saints offensive coordinator was left off the list. His system in New Orleans has been one of the best in the NFL for years now. He proved he could be the man on the sidelines when Payton went down.

  29. I know this for a fact: the eagles wanted Dennis Allen to be their defensive coordinator this year, but since Andy’s brain farted once again, he picked a defensive line coach first, and then Dennis Allen said no way I’m working with that wide 9 technique freak. So he took the dc job in Denver instead. Just look at denver’s defense this year! You have to make him a head coaching candidate now because of the success. I could see him go to any team with either a 4-3 defense already in place or a 3-4, because the broncos were a 3-4 team last year and they made the transition without an offseason. And Andy’s not getting fired simply because of Vick’s contract. Which is unfortunate paying an ex convict who can’t even give you 16 games a season all that money. I work a skilled profession, but if I did something like what he did, I’d be screwed for life. Don’t believe me? Try putting “killed dogs” on your resume and see what happens. They’d probably call the cops and have you sent back to jail.

  30. As I read your list of former head coaches and especially current assistants that are former head coaches, I can’t help but think “No thank you, no thank you, no thank you.” In most cases, there are very good legitimate reasons they are “former” HCs. Quite simply put, they have horrible winning percentages (no matter how sexy their “lineage” is).
    Prime example is Wade Phillips. Just ask Buffalo and Dallas fans if they would want him back as a HC? Some people are just simply better coordinators than Head Coaches. But I’m sure someone will give Norv Turner another shot, SMH

  31. I’d still love to know what Jim Fassel did that keeps him from getting ANY job in the NFL. I don’t think there’s been a blacklist like that in ages.

  32. tombrookshire says:
    Dec 4, 2011 10:38 AM
    Hmm, Jay Gruden of the LA Jags. Interesting.
    Ding ding ding. You win the first Jags to LA comment of the day award. Keep up the great work my friend.

    What interesting is that you ignorant people really believe The Jags are going to LA. You really think 24 out of 31 owners are going to vote and allow the new Jags owner to go out to LA and get all that money when San Diego, Buffalo, Minn, Tampa, Oakland owners have been owning their team for decades and will get the vote to swing their way so they can cash in. You people are laughable.

  33. Oh dear Lord…please please please no Carl Peterson, no Herm Edwards, no Eric Mangini. It would be nice if the owner for once took a look at the record of those coaches instead of listening to a whisper in his ear. See how they started, look at how they ended. Run away! Run away!

  34. Deliberately or not, you also omitted former Lions head coach and current Bears defensive coordinator / assistant head coach Rod Marinelli.

    He has been a doing a great job for Lovie Smith (a friend of his) in a system both men know inside-out (Tampa-2) with a bunch of star players (Urlacher, Peppers, Briggs, even Tillman). So it’s reasonable to say he is probably a lock in Chicago for the short term.

    But if your list includes Mike Nolan, no reason to exclude someone like Marinelli.

  35. There’s no way Mike Zimmer isn’t getting brought in by someone.

    I wanted him to take over for Lewis this year.

    Gruden is fine, but Zimmer is the Bengals assistant with the track record.

  36. Thanks for the thorough rundown of available coaches. One of the best lists I have seen.

    As a Jags fan this has been heavily discussed and a couple of names keep popping up on your list that you havent mentioned, current offensive coordinators: Rob Chudzinski and Mike Mularkey.

    Other possible assistant coaches to watch are Russ Grimm and Brian Schottenheimer.

    Personally I would love to see a proven coach like Cowher or Gruden coach the Jags. But if not then go with one of the best young offensive coordinators such as Chud or Jay Gruden. The Jags have to improve their offense immediately. Another defensive head coach and mediocre offensive coordinator will not cut it.

  37. How is Chicago’s Dave Taub not on the list of assistant coach candidates? I’d bet teams would be much more open to hiring him than The Nutty Professor offensive coordinator.

  38. Pete Carmichael Jr. and Joe Lombardi (QB coach) killed it in New Orleans while Sean Peyton was down. No honorable mention for them?

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