As a number of NFL teams contemplate final decisions on potential head-coaching changes, they must ask whether they can really get an upgrade over their incumbent coach. So, keep this in mind:
Numerous NFL executives and other sources familiar with coaching searches have said in recent weeks they feel this is the thinnest pool of candidates in years, if not decades.
It's not a surprise to see the Baltimore Ravens announce they're sticking with a Super Bowl winner in John Harbaugh, and no one should be shocked to hear the Carolina Panthers are leaning against making a change as we enter the regular season's final weekend. Harbaugh would've instantly been one of the hottest candidates, as would Ron Rivera if he came available.
That doesn't mean good head coaches won't emerge from this group. There just aren't as many clear-cut, qualified choices that teams will race to hire, and decision makers might end up digging deeper to find the right person. The two teams with head-coaching vacancies already, the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers, both intend to conduct a large number of interviews -- perhaps a dozen, if not more, sources say.
Last year, 27 different coaches interviewed for seven head-coaching vacancies, according to our database. The following is a list of names most likely to come up as interview targets this time around, listed alphabetically within each category. (Note: It does not include any current head coaches who have not yet been fired.)
Hue Jackson, Cincinnati Bengals special assistant to the head coach, age 53: Makes the list because he was long viewed as Marvin Lewis' successor in Cincinnati and might still be if Lewis' 16-year run ends. Owner Mike Brown favors familiarity. Career record of 11-44-1, including 3-36-1 in Cleveland.
Keith Armstrong, Atlanta Falcons special teams coordinator, 54: In his 11th season in Atlanta and 22nd as an NFL coordinator. Interviewed with Arizona after last season.
Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator, 49: Nine-year NFL veteran and longtime RBs coach was promoted after Matt Nagy followed Doug Pederson to a head job. Next branch of the Andy Reid tree.
Dan Campbell, New Orleans Saints assistant head coach/tight ends coach, 42: Played 10 NFL seasons, is a leader and knows how to reach players. Was 5-7 under tough circumstances as Dolphins' interim coach in 2015. Not a play-caller and would need to hire strong coordinators. Interviewed with the Colts after last season.
Matt Eberflus, Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator, 48: Has built a culture in Indianapolis and gotten everyone to play hard on an overachieving defense. Wasn't on the radar entering the season, but quickly building name recognition in 10th season as NFL assistant.
Vic Fangio, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator, 60: Nobody has a better resume. Has been "hot" before, but hasn't blown away owners in interviews. Will someone take a shot?
Brian Flores, New England Patriots linebackers coach, 37: Respected by players and took over play-calling this year. Has scouted and coached offense and special teams, too. Interviewed with Arizona after last season.
Joe Judge, New England Patriots special teams coach, 36: Coached under Nick Saban at Alabama and now Bill Belichick, who has worked to mold him into a head coach.
Matt LaFleur, Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator, 39: In first season calling plays. Known for his sharp mind. Has coached under Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, whose system gives defenses headaches.
Don "Wink" Martindale, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, 55: Has the NFL's No. 1-ranked D in first season since promotion from LBs coach and players rave about him. In 14th season as an assistant.
Todd Monken, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach, 52: Has emerged as an under-the-radar candidate, with Tampa offense surging since Dirk Koetter returned play-calling duties to him last month. Head-coaching experience (Southern Miss 2013-15) is a plus.
Duce Staley, Philadelphia Eagles assistant head coach/running backs coach, 43: Ten-year NFL veteran interviewed for two OC jobs after last season (including in Philly). That title might be his next stop, but he's on the rise.
Dave Toub, Kansas City Chiefs assistant head coach/special teams coordinator, 56: Didn't get an interview following last season after two in the post-2016 cycle. But he's still the first name other special-teams coaches bring up as a candidate.
SECOND (OR THIRD) CHANCE
Gus Bradley, Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator, 52: Respected defensive coach has worked wonders in L.A. Might still be too soon, given record in Jacksonville during rebuild (14-48 from 2013-16).
Raheem Morris, Atlanta Falcons assistant head coach/wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator, 42: Just 32 when the Bucs promoted him to succeed Gruden (17-31 from 2009-11). Now has coached both sides of ball.
Chuck Pagano, 58: Went to three straight playoffs before things soured with the Colts (53-43 from 2012-17). Has been working with NFL referees this year, but wants to return as head coach or DC.
FROM THE COLLEGE RANKS
Matt Campbell, Iowa State Cyclones, 39: Could be this generation's Kirk Ferentz, a program-builder who has caught the eye of NFL teams despite not working for a traditional powerhouse. Would take an owner to think outside the box.
Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern Wildcats, 44: Nine bowl games in 13 years at a school with no history of consistent success. Hired by then-A.D. Mark Murphy, who's now Packers president and CEO.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines, 55: Has won everywhere he's been, including San Francisco (44-19-1 from 2011-14). Jets' interest was real, but no signs he wants to bolt his alma mater.
Chris Petersen, Washington Huskies, 54: Former Boise State coach has been on the NFL radar before, so not crazy to think he could be again after leading Huskies to consecutive major bowl games. A program-builder.
Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma Sooners, 35: If he wants an NFL job, he can get one, and he'd listen if the call came. But it'd have to be the right opportunity and the right market to actually lure him.
David Shaw, Stanford Cardinal, 46: Gets calls every year, but has always turned them down and no signs that'll change now. Too good a gig at his alma mater. Shaw has the leadership traits teams covet and nine years of experience as an NFL assistant.