2013 NFL Head Coaching Candidates

By Lance Zierlein
November 28, 2012

Big names could be headed into open jobs from the press box and from college football.

We are very likely to see at least five head coaching positions open up in the offseason and we may see as many as eight.  Andy Reid is done in Philadelphia, but he is one of those rare coaches who could be fired and hired in the same season.  Will New Orleans let Sean Payton get away?  Is Gruden going to leave the booth to get back into coaching and would he choose college over the NFL?  Are we about to see another Shanahan as head coach?  Let's answer some of these questions.

The Hot Names Will Be...

Sean Payton, Saints - The more time that passes that the Saints don't get Payton locked up, the more likely he ends up taking a job somewhere else.  If it is all about having the best quarterback to coach and try and win with, the Saints are the easy and obvious choice.  If it is about taking on a challenge or about the money, Payton will end up elsewhere.  The most likely scenario if Payton decides to leave is that he returns to the Cowboys to take over for Jason Garrett.  Payton filed for divorce back in June of this year, but his family still lives in the Dallas area so a move to the Cowboys would allow him to coach and be near his family.  Payton's offensive prowess is well-established and whether the Cowboys decide to stick it out with Tony Romo or go in another direction, Payton will likely be their head coaching target to help grow the offense into its full potential.

Chip Kelly, Oregon - The prevailing notion with NFL people I've spoken with is that Kelly is floating his name out there as an NFL coach because he knows that sanctions are headed Oregon's way and he wants to stay one step ahead of them.  In other words, he wants to pull a "Carroll".  Kelly has an advanced understanding of the direction where football is headed in terms of tempo and offensive supremacy and it would be very interesting to see just how much of his Oregon offense he would try and implement on the NFL level.  Kelly is innovative and has the demeanor to be an NFL head coach and it's said that he already knows the two coaches from his staff that he will take with him if he gets a shot in the NFL.

Jon Gruden, MNF - Make no mistake about it - Gruden's personality on television may be larger than life, but he is an outstanding coach.  Take one look at what Gruden was doing with some of those awful rosters in Tampa and it should become clear that his coaching acumen is upper-echelon.  According to those who have worked with him, Gruden's biggest problem was that he would wear down those around him after 2 or 3 years.  Sources close to Gruden have told me that he definitely has the itch to get back into coaching but that the right college spot may appeal to him more than some of the NFL jobs that may be open this year.  I do believe that his time away from the game and ability to take a macro view of both college and pro football will serve him well when he does decide to make that jump back into coaching.

Andy Reid, Eagles - Clearly Reid's Eagles are a mess and he won't be back in Philadelphia in 2013, but let's not allow that to cloud our overall view of Reid as a coach.  Reid's success in Philadelphia is undeniable and many of the issues in Philadelphia have more to do with Reid as a personnel man rather than a head coach.  If Reid were plugged into a team that already had a solid defense, I believe that he could get instant results.  Reid could choose to sit out a year or two and recharge the coaching batteries but people around the league believe he's wired differently and that he'll want to get right back into the business as quickly as possible as a head coach somewhere else.

Don't Count Them Out

Mike McCoy, Broncos - The Broncos offensive coordinator's name was being whispered as an up-and-coming head coaching prospect as early as last year along with his former Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen.  Allen got his shot with the Raiders and it might be time for McCoy to get his shot after this season.  McCoy has been able to fit his offense around Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and now Peyton Manning.  He is keenly aware of the importance of the running game and has been able to utilize a variety of personnel groupings that maximize Denver's offensive output.  It certainly doesn't hurt that McCoy has been able to maximize the talents of Eric Decker and especially Demaryius Thomas no matter who the quarterback was.

Wade Phillips, Texans - Phillips has made no secret that he would like to be a head coach in the NFL once again and if the Texans continue to have success, I would have to think that he will be given an interview for one of the jobs that come open this year.  Phillips is probably hurt by the public perception that he failed previously as a head coach, but in reality, he was 78-57 in the regular season as the full time head coach.  In 4 of his 9 full time seasons as head coach, he had double digit wins and two division championships.  Phillips was ultimately done in by his playoff record (1-5) and ability to get his good teams over the hump.  Phillips is one of the top 3 defensive coordinators in the league and can get defenses turned around quickly.  The reason he is a bit of a long-shot to get another head coaching job is that he's getting older, had health issues last year and may be viewed as an elite coordinator who is best suited in that position.

Kyle Shanahan, Redskins - Some of you will scoff at this suggestion, but I watched Shanahan call plays for the Texans back in 2009 and I was really impressed with his understanding of the offense and how he kept defenses guessing despite having a disgraceful run game that season.  Shanahan will have worked under Gary Kubiak and his father Mike and that pedigree should matter to NFL owners.  The fact that he has worked directly with Matt Schaub and Robert Griffin will also help his cause as most teams looking to hire a new head coach are either grooming a young quarterback or are looking to draft one.  Shanahan's understanding of the zone scheme running game also gives him the ability to understand the specific personnel that needs to be in place on offense to succeed.

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma - I was very surprised to hear Stoops' name mentioned to me when digging around for this article.  Stoops has turned down overtures in the past and there hasn't been anything involving Stoops' name for a head coaching job for a little while.  Stoops' wife is an incredibly successful business woman (Mary Kay Cosmetics) and it there has always been an understanding in football circles that Stoops might not be willing to make any moves unless his wife was in agreement.  Regardless, my source told me to include Stoops' name because he's hearing more and more buzz about Stoops in league circles and he's not sure if that is coming from teams or from someone close to Stoops.  If Stoops is ready to take his shot in the pros, he'll likely find a job waiting for him this year.

Gus Bradley, Seahawks - The Seattle defensive coordinator learned in the NFL under Monte Kiffin and has been coaching in the NFL since 2006.  Bradley's defense is Seattle is an up-the-field unit that plays with great quickness and physicality and he's been able to turn Seattle's defense very quickly by utilizing their own, young talent.  While Bradley hasn't held a head coaching job in the past, his work in Seattle over the last few years has certainly been noticed and, like McCoy, he will be on NFL radars very quickly.

The Longshots

Bill O'Brien, Penn State - While I'm sure that everyone around the league is taking notice of the phenomenal job that O'Brien is doing at Penn State, I doubt that he would be ready to abandon the Penn State program and those kids after just one year.  O'Brien comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree so he will always have his name mentioned with NFL jobs, but he strikes me as someone who is all-in for the Penn State program and who is highly unlikely to even consider another head coaching job for quite a few years.

Will Muschamp, Florida - The quick turnaround at Florida thanks to Muschamp has not gone unnoticed amongst NFL executives.  The NFL has a history of being excited by young, passionate defensive coaches and that is certainly a description of Muschamp.  Muschamp has spent time under Mack Brown and Nick Saban - two coaches who have run extremely successful programs - and he's coordinated some outstanding defenses everywhere he's gone.  It is worth noting that Muschamp did spend a year in the NFL with Saban and the Miami Dolphins.

Bill Cowher, CBS - Is this finally the year that Cowher makes a move back into the league?  We already know that Cowher won't be going anywhere unless he has a great deal of control over the personnel and that might be possible in Carolina where a clean sweep is very likely with former GM Marty Hurney gone and with head coach Ron Rivera barely hanging on.  Then again, coaches learn to relax and enjoy life without the daily grind the longer they are away from the game and maybe Cowher is simply in that place.