The Mike Mularkey era in Jacksonville ended about as excitedly as it began: After a somewhat surprising hire on Jan. 10, 2012, (it was thought by many Mularkey was going to be done in Atlanta no matter what), the Jaguars fired the coach Thursday, exactly one year later.
So who replaces him in J-Vegas? My CBSSports.com colleague Pete Prisco, a Jacksonvillian himself, hears new general manager David Caldwell wants a coach he can work hand-in-hand with, a la Mike Smith and Thomas Dimitroff in Atlanta. Prisco also believes that coach will be a younger, non-retread head coach.
This makes sense. Which is precisely why, when listing candidates below, we'll begin with ...
Greg Roman, OC, 49ers
Roman will be the hottest name tied to this job, mainly because he and Caldwell were college roommates at John Carroll University. (My counterpoint to that: I wouldn't tie my career to any of my college roommates. No offense, guys.) Roman's got a strong history, having been an assistant coach in the NFL since 1995, with a two-year hiatus when he worked with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. The Cardinal were 20-6 and won an Orange Bowl while he was there. With the Niners, Roman helped engineer a surprising turnaround and two-straight NFC West titles. San Francisco is a defense-first team, but its offense has been a revelation as well: Alex Smith turned around a moribund career under Harbaugh and Roman, and they quickly turned Colin Kaepernick from a project into a viable NFL starter. This is to say nothing of getting two 1,200-yard seasons out of Frank Gore and a pair of career years out of wideout Michael Crabtree.
CBS Sports Insider Jason La Canfora's take: As we have noted for quite some time, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman becomes a top target for that job. League sources said new Jags general manager Dave Caldwell is very high on Roman and they have been very close since playing college football together at John Carroll.
Bruce Arians, OC, Colts
Arians' single season in Indianapolis did wonders for his head-coaching candidacy. When he filled in for Chuck Pagano on an interim basis during the head coach's bout with leukemia, Arians captained an emotional Colts squad to a wild-card playoff berth and 11 wins. He has a history of working with young quarterbacks (Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck) and was accidentally given an opportunity to show what he could do when put in charge of an entire roster in 2012.
Brian Schottenheimer, OC, Rams
Prisco thinks Schottenheimer's going to get a look in Jacksonville. Schottenheimer's case is an interesting one: He was a hot name back in 2009 and 2010 when the Jets finished with a No. 1 and No. 2 ranking in rushing offense, respectively. But he quickly became the fall guy for the Jets when Mark Sanchez struggled. The Rams didn't dominate offensively last year, but they did improve from 2011, and their lack of success might be as much about not having an offensive line as anything else.
Mike McCoy, OC, Broncos
McCoy's availability might be a problem if the Broncos make a deep playoff run, but he could also be a good reason why many teams are in a holding pattern for their head coaching jobs. The 40-year-old Broncos offensive coordinator has had tremendous success with Denver the last two years, helping John Fox pick up a pair of divisional titles. And he's done it in very different fashion, winning with a system designed for Tim Tebow and a system designed for Peyton Manning, who are polar-opposite quarterbacks.
Ray Horton, DC, Cardinals
It's interesting that Arizona hasn't made a move to lock up Horton, the 52-year-old defensive coordinator who has three Super Bowl rings as a player and tremendous success as a coordinator. For as bad as the Cardinals were for much of 2012, they were quite good on defense, finishing sixth on the season in Football Outsiders' weighted defensive metric. Horton's a young, energetic players coach with a quality pedigree who has drawn rave reviews for his performance during interviews. He has the production out of his units to back it up, too, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him end up as a head coach fairly soon.