Which former head coaches are the top head coaching candidates?

former head coaches
Todd Haley comes in at #1 on our list.

It’s far too early to think about head coaching candidates for next season… unless you happen to be a fan of the Colts. To prep our friends from Indy and others out there, I’m going to break down the best coaching candidates in various categories (coordinators, college coaches, etc). Today, we’re going with:

Former Head Coaches

NFL franchises gravitate to shiny new toys, but these failed coaches have re-established their stock enough to the point where you’d at least consider them for your head coaching opening:

(1) Todd Haley, OC, Pittsburgh

The Steelers have struggled some, but I’m going to stick with my preseason prediction that they’re going to win the AFC and ultimately the Super Bowl.

If they make that kind of run, offensive coordinator Todd Haley may get his second chance in the big boy chair. Haley’top-flightight coordinator whose quick-hitting pass offense has always provided a jolt to his teams.

The two knocks on Haley are his perceived arrogance, and his previous failure as the head coach in Kansas City, where he got fired midway through year three. However, in hindsight, Haley may have been doomed by KC GM Scott Pioli’s pricey bet on Matt Cassel as a franchise QB. Cassel had one good season in him (27 TD, 7 int in 2010 when the team went 10-6) but then got exposed afterward. Perhaps Haley can succeed as a coach with a better QB under center.

best fit: If Todd Haley lands another head coaching job, it’ll come from a team that needs help with their passing game. Given that, the N.Y. Jets are the obvious choice.

(2) Josh McDaniels, OC, New England

Josh McDaniels and Todd Haley have obvious links as star coordinators who had public flameouts in their lone head coaching gig (McDaniels’ midseason firing came in year two.)

McDaniels may be a “hotter” name around the league than Haley, but he ranks slightly lower for me because he hasn’t established much success outside of New England. Either way, you’d hope McDaniels and Haley would have been humbled by their previous experience and become better managers in their second go-around.

best fit: The Jets would be a good candidate, but I doubt McDaniels wants to play his mentor Bill Belichick twice a year. If the Jaguars job opened up, that would be his best bet. And of course, he’s still a candidate to stick in New England and try to become Belichick’s heir down the road.

(3) Jim Schwartz, DC, Philadelphia

Unfortunately for Jim Schwartz, his time in Detroit is best remembered for the mental errors and dirty play of his team. He doesn’t get enough credit for taking a 0-16 team and building them into respectability.

As a coordinator, Schwartz’s resume is spotless, from stints in Tennessee (pre-Detroit), Buffalo, and now Philadelphia. He has a clear identity as a coach with his wide-nine attacking front and a natural confidence that projects leadership. He may not be the greatest head coach around, but he’s definitely better than his 29-51 record in Detroit.

best fit: In terms of schemes, Schwartz’s style would best fit possible openings like Jacksonville, Cincinnati, and even the N.Y. Giants if Ben McAdoo bombs out in year two.

(4) Scott Linehan, OC, Dallas

Younger fans may not remember this, but veteran coordinator Scott Linehan helmed the Rams for two and a half years, way back in 2006-2008. Since that disappointment, he’s been a successful coordinator in Detroit (helping Jim Schwartz turn that ship around) and now in Dallas.

The best aspect of Linehan’s resume is his work with young quarterbacks: first Matt Stafford and now Dak Prescott. There’s a question about whether Linehan’s laid back, player-friendly attitude is best served as a head coach, but he’s certainly a great asset for a QB’s development. There’s not a more valued skill in the NFL.

best fit: Is it cliche to say the Jets again? It’s either them or any other team that enters 2018 with a hole at QB and a top 5 pick (could be JAX, could be CLE if Kizer flames out).

(5) Mike Smith, DC, Tampa Bay

Based on resume alone, Mike Smith should be higher on this list. Unlike the others, he actually had success as a head coach. In fact, he racked up a very strong 66-46 record in his seven seasons with Atlanta.

The negative with Mike Smith is the fact that he’s not a terribly “exciting” coach, either in terms of his vanilla scheme or his personality. You also worry that his winning in Atlanta had more to do with the team’s offense (spearheaded by coordinators Mike Mularkey and then Dirk Koetter) than Smith’s defense.

best fit: If Marvin Lewis leaves Cincinnati and assumes a front office role, I can see him pushing for a steady Eddie like Mike Smith as a replacement. Smith’s a friend of his, and someone whose schemes are similar and wouldn’t require many transitions for the team.

Other names of note

MIKE McCOY (OC, DEN): If the Broncos offense takes a step up this year under McCoy, he’s going to get consideration. His 27-37 record in San Diego was hurt by a lot of close losses, which some consider bad coaching but some consider flukes.

MIKE MUNCHAK (OL, PIT): Perhaps the best offensive line coach in the NFL, Munchak’s previous stint with Tennessee wasn’t nearly as bad as you remember (22-26 record in three years).

ROB CHUDZINSKI (OC, IND): I’m guessing Chud won’t be putting Scott Tolzien‘s Week 1 tape on his resume. Still, he’s a likable coach whose best chance to land another head coaching gig may come this year in Indy if Chuck Pagano gets fired in midseason.

JON GRUDEN (ESPN): I didn’t rank Gruden on my list (although he may have been #1) simply because he’s an unlikely candidate. Heck, he hasn’t coached in 10 years. The Indianapolis job is the only opening that may lure him out of retirement.

Similarly, I believe Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy have put coaching behind them. For other former coaches (Rex Ryan, Jeff Fisher), it’s more a matter of the league not returning their calls.

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