NFL head-coaching candidates: The buzz on the hottest names


A few days ahead of "Black Monday," here is our list of potential hot names on this year's coaching carousel. Two things to mention before we dive in:

1) Obviously, some of the jobs referenced aren't open yet -- and might not open up. This is the nature of the speculation business.

2) Coaches like Sean Payton, Chuck Pagano and Mike McCoy -- currently still employed by NFL teams -- could wind up as enticing options if they become available.

And with that, away we go ...

NOTE: Coaching candidates listed in alphabetical order.

Teryl Austin, defensive coordinator, Detroit Lions

Age: 50
NFL head-coaching record: n/a
Possible fits: Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers

The buzz around Austin: Might have seemed preposterous to put a Lions assistant on this list two months ago, but a) Austin impressed in interviews last year, and b) Detroit has actually surged from 1-7 (following the blowout loss to the Chiefs in London) to 6-9. As such, Austin becomes an interesting name to consider, especially if he can bring someone like Jim Bob Cooter (if Jim Caldwell is indeed fired) with him as offensive coordinator. Defense-deficient teams like Philly and New Orleans could kick the tires on this charismatic Ravens-pedigreed leader.

Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator, Seattle Seahawks

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Age: 45
NFL head-coaching record: n/a
Possible fits: Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans

The buzz around Bevell: There has been remarkably little, considering how Russell Wilson has come on as the bona fide leader of an offense that's gotten better with Marshawn Lynch out. Bevell's been a coordinator in the NFL for a decade, and he's worked for 16 seasons in the NFL, each one spent teaching quarterbacks. He's worked with Wilson and Brett Favre, but also found a way to make it work with more average players like Tarvaris Jackson. The issue here might be personality as much as anything else: He's almost overly even-keeled. Seahawks players have run hot and cold on him over the years (Percy Harvin being one example), and they haven't been shy about questioning his system and play calling. But he's consistently been a part of winners, was a trusted confidant of Favre's and has done a good job shepherding along Wilson. He has interviewed for jobs (Bills, Raiders) in the past.

Pat Fitzgerald, head coach, Northwestern

Age: 41
NFL head-coaching record: n/a
Possible fits: Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns

The buzz around Fitzgerald: Good luck getting Fitzgerald to leave his alma mater. He's a Chicago guy through and through from a Chicago family. Thus, a long-held assumption in NFL circles has been that the Bears job is the only one that could pull him away from a great situation at Northwestern, where the facilities have been upgraded, the pay is good and his job is very secure. He's popped up on search lists in the past because of his well-regarded ability to build a program (he has a decade of head-coaching experience at 41 years old) and a propensity for getting more out of less, which happens to be a job requirement in Evanston.

Adam Gase, offensive coordinator, Chicago Bears

Age: 37
NFL head-coaching record: n/a
Possible fits: Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions

The buzz around Gase: Will be at the top of a number of lists because of his ability to work with quarterbacks, but just as important might be his ability to manage different personalities. The last two signal callers he has coached (Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler) are strong-willed in different ways, and this Nick Saban protégé found a way to get the most out of both of them while building strong relationships with each. Gase was pursued by Cleveland two years ago, and if Manning were to be hired in a front-office capacity (as some have speculated) by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam (who liked Gase quite a bit), he'd be a natural there. He's from the Detroit area, and a team -- like the Lions (or Dolphins) -- that needs to get more out of a high-priced quarterback should be intrigued.

Mike Holmgren, retired

Age: 67
NFL head-coaching record: 161-111 (Green Bay Packers, 1992-98; Seattle Seahawks, 1999-2008)
Possible fits: San Francisco 49ers

The buzz around Holmgren: The former Niners offensive coordinator has gotten word out that he'd be interested in coaching San Francisco, and the idea could tug on the emotions of the York family, which has fond memories of his days as a Bill Walsh assistant and could be looking for someone to reset the organizational path. The larger question is to what degree Holmgren would be willing to grind at his age like NFL coaches do.

Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals

Age: 50
NFL head-coaching record: 8-8 (Oakland Raiders, 2011)
Possible fits: San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans

The buzz around Jackson: Jackson has waited his turn for a second shot after acquitting himself pretty darn well in his one-year head-coaching debut in Oakland. The job he's done with Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron is the shiny object for all to fixate on, but the ex-Raider head man also spent time coaching on the defensive side during this four-year stint as a Bengal assistant. His ties to the Bay Area would make him a natural in San Francisco, and Dolphins executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum actually served as Jackson's agent before being brought on full-time in Miami. The Titans merit mention, as well, because of their young quarterback and Jackson's experience developing guys at that position.

Brian Kelly, head coach, Notre Dame

Age: 54
NFL head-coaching record: n/a
Possible fits: New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers

The buzz around Kelly: The Irish coach is said to have interest in the NFL, and the NFL has reciprocated, to some degree (Kelly interviewed in Philly in 2013). That said, two things could work against Kelly. One, he's a hard-nosed, domineering coach in the mold of Nick Saban, and so the bad feelings some in Miami had for Saban could hurt Kelly. Second, he's only coached in college, and after Chip Kelly's firing, bringing aboard a college coach without any NFL experience might be a tough sell. The flip side is that Kelly is a proven program builder, having done it at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame. At the very least, some in the Giants building have been intrigued, and he left a good impression with the folks in Philly three years ago. Notre Dame's bowl game is Friday.

Chip Kelly, unemployed

Age: 52
NFL head-coaching record: 26-21 (Philadelphia Eagles, 2013-15)
Possible fits: Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers

The buzz around Kelly: So ... This is a new one. Per sources, Kelly intimated to people on Tuesday night, after his firing in Philly, a desire to stay in the NFL. And there's reason to think he can succeed there. The bottom line, as those in the Eagles' building see it: The deconstruction of his running game over the last three years led to his demise. Having a quarterback who runs isn't required for Kelly's scheme, but it helps. And while you don't need superstar guards, having competent players at those spots would've helped, too, as would have better planning at tailback. (If Frank Gore signs, DeMarco Murray never lands there, and the dynamic is different.) The truth is, Kelly needs a run game like most teams need a quarterback. When that failed him in Philly, the rest of the operation suffered badly. So the idea that pairing him with the right personnel man who can help him build the team his way could work isn't crazy. And Tennessee is the obvious place for him to do it.

Doug Marrone, assistant head coach, Jacksonville Jaguars

Age: 51
NFL head-coaching record: 15-17 (Buffalo Bills, 2013-14)
Possible fits: New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns

The buzz around Marrone: It's not like the issues that Marrone had at the end in Buffalo have disappeared, but he brings six years of experience as a head coach (four at Syracuse, two at Buffalo) to the table and would be able to assemble a strong staff, given his ties to the Bill Parcells coaching tree. If Sean Payton decides he doesn't have the stomach for a rebuild and leaves the Saints, Marrone likely would be near the top of the list, given his history in New Orleans and strong relationship with general manager Mickey Loomis. Marrone also interviewed with the Browns and Eagles in 2013 before landing in Buffalo. And if Jags director of player personnel Chris Polian winds up being the GM in Detroit, which is possible, Marrone's ties to the Polian family could help him.

Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots

Age: 39
NFL head-coaching record: 11-17 (Denver Broncos, 2009-10)
Possible fits: New York Giants, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns

Every game, all season

The buzz around McDaniels: As he's already shown, McDaniels will be very selective about his next shot, because he knows that -- after how things went down in Denver -- it could be his last one. His work over the last two years speaks for itself, and he will again be considered at the very top of the market, as he was at the end of the last decade. Look for him to prioritize being alongside the right personnel man and the right owner. McDaniels certainly would hear good things about the Mara family from old Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, while someone like Jon Robinson landing in Tennessee or Scott Pioli winding up in Cleveland could prompt him to finally jump at a second chance.

Sean McDermott, defensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers

Age: 41
NFL head-coaching record: n/a
Possible fits: Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers

The buzz around McDermott: Still young at 41, McDermott was considered a rising star in the business at the end of the last decade -- so much so that the Eagles blocked him from going to Denver with Josh McDaniels, with plans to have him succeed Jim Johnson as DC. That did happen, and it didn't go particularly well. McDermott took over in 2009 after Johnson fell ill, and he was fired after two seasons. He's bounced back incredibly strong in the four years since, establishing not just a strong defense in Carolina but a group that seems poised to leave a legacy. And so now, he's likely to get his shot -- and may well be able to choose between multiple options. Interestingly enough, one could be Philly.

Jim Mora, head coach, UCLA

Age: 54
NFL head-coaching record: 31-33 (Atlanta Falcons, 2004-06; Seattle Seahawks, 2009)
Possible fits: San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins

The buzz around Mora: There are two sides to this. On one hand, there have been rumblings that Mora would like to get back into the NFL. On the other, he has an incredibly promising true freshman quarterback (Josh Rosen) to build around in Westwood. Mora's run in Atlanta did include an appearance in the NFC title game, and he was only fired after he made eyes at his alma mater, Washington, late in the 2006 season. And it's hard to kill him for what happened with the Seahawks: He got one season with a roster in complete disrepair that Pete Carroll and John Schneider gutted the following year. The Charger job is one the rumor mill has connected him to, which makes sense geographically (if the team goes to L.A., L.A. already knows Mora), and also because GM Tom Telesco has ties to Mora's dad.

Nick Saban, head coach, Alabama

Age: 64
NFL head-coaching record: 15-17 (Miami Dolphins, 2005-06)
Possible fits: Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants

The buzz around Saban: The idea that Saban feels a bit smothered by the college football cauldron of Tuscaloosa (a two-loss season is a disaster, and just try going to the grocery store as the head coach) isn't new. And many NFL people have pointed to Saban's repeated references to winding up with Daunte Culpepper rather than Drew Brees in Miami in 2006 as proof positive that the four-time national champion hasn't completely let go of his pro failures. The Mara family has long been fond of Saban and wouldn't necessarily be scared away by his age. And the Colts could offer control and a potentially transcendent quarterback to pull him away from the college game.

Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons

Age: 36
NFL head-coaching record: n/a
Possible fits: Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins

The buzz around Shanahan: Atlanta's late-season swoon isn't going to help Shanahan, but his work with the running game and setting up Julio Jones for a career year certainly will. Shanahan's work with a host of different types of quarterbacks, along with his adaptability (see: 2012 Redskins), make him very much a candidate for today's NFL. It'd be interesting to see Shanahan paired with Andrew Luck. But he might be more attractive to teams like the Titans and Dolphins, who have quarterbacks with unconventional backgrounds.

David Shaw, head coach, Stanford

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Age: 43
NFL head-coaching record: n/a
Possible fits: San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles

The buzz around Shaw: There's long been an assumption that Shaw, a Stanford alum, won't leave the Farm, because he has an NFL dad (Willie Shaw), understands that the grass isn't necessarily greener and appreciates all he has in Palo Alto. That said, he's attractive. Now in his fifth year as head coach, the program is entirely his, with all the Jim Harbaugh holdovers gone, and a decade as an NFL position coach and his pro-oriented systems make it easy to believe his operation is very translatable to the pros (as Harbaugh's was). The Niners job could be enticing for the same reason it drew Harbaugh a half-decade ago (he wouldn't have to move), and the idea of a gold-standard job like the Giants' one opening is enough to give almost any coach pause.

Mike Shula, offensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers

Age: 50
NFL head-coaching record: n/a
Possible fits: Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles

The buzz around Shula: This wouldn't be Shula's first shot as a head coach: He preceded Saban at his alma mater, took the Alabama job under very adverse circumstances and helped set the stage for the success to come. He was fired from that job, so a deeper look into what went wrong in Tuscaloosa would be merited. But in the time since, he's clearly distinguished himself with his work first as Cam Newton's position coach (2011-12) and then as his coordinator (2013-present), and he has 24 seasons as an NFL assistant on his résumé. Teams that have passers who came into the league a little raw (Marcus Mariota, Ryan Tannehill) have taken notice.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.



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