Senior Writer

Your team's next head coach might be one of these guys


I know there's a lockout, with not much real football news and no on-field activity, so it's probably tough to get a grasp on potential head-coaching candidates for 2012.

Not for me.

I always have an eye on assistant coaches who could soon be head coaches. That's why I've come up with a list of 10 assistants I think will be on that proverbial "hot" list soon enough.

The only requirement is that they haven't been a head coach in the NFL before. Some names you will recognize. Others you might not, especially since they aren't even coordinators yet.

But keep an eye on these 10. Some of them might be a head coach in your city soon.

Ken Flajole, defensive coordinator, St. Louis Rams: The Rams made huge strides on defense in 2010 under Flajole. They went from being the league's worst defense in 2009 to finishing 19th last season. The big improvement came with the pass rush, which went from 25 sacks in 2009 to 43 last season. Like Rams coach Steve Spagnoulo, Flajole believes in an aggressive approach. The Rams lost offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur after the 2010 season when he became coach of the Browns. The 56-year-old Flajole could be next up.

Winston Moss, assistant head coach-inside linebackers coach, Green Bay Packers: He has worked with both 4-3 and 3-4 coaches, which has to help. He is currently working under Dom Capers, one of the best 3-4 coaches in the business. Moss has interviewed, but has never landed a top job. His time may be coming soon. A former NFL linebacker, he seems to have a good rapport with his players. The knock on him is that he hasn't been a coordinator yet. But we've seen guys make the same leap in recent years that Moss would be making.

Joe DeCamillis, special teams, Dallas Cowboys: Some might think it's a big jump to go from special teams to head coach. But John Harbaugh has had success making the leap with the Ravens. DeCamilles has a great rapport with his players, which shows. He has a passion for the game that is evident on Sundays. He has been around a lot of systems, which would help. He is regarded as one of the best special-teams coaches in the league. He could also lean on his father-in-law for help -- former NFL coach Dan Reeves.

Brian VanGorder, defensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons made some nice strides on defense last season. They went from 14th in points in 2009 to fifth last season. VanGorder is a big reason why. He makes the defensive calls, even though coach Mike Smith is a defense-oriented head coach. VanGorder brings a high-energy level to his style of coaching. He is loud, passionate and can be heard from across the practice field. If the Falcons can continue to improve on defense, and they make a Super Bowl run, VanGorder will get a look next year. He was a college head coach at Georgia Southern for a year, which will help.

Mike Pettine, defensive coordinator, New York Jets: He is one of those coordinators who does not get the due he deserves because the head coach made his bones on his side of the ball. Rex Ryan is a defensive wizard and he makes the calls, but Pettine is the one upstairs relaying the vital information to Ryan to make the calls. He is a former high school coach who has taken the long road to get to where he is today. He has a Ryan-like mentality dealing with players. That will help. But he's good with X's and O's as well. Most will point to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer as a head-coach candidate. But I see Pettine as the better choice.

Bill Musgrave, offensive coordinator, Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings made a smart hire in grabbing Musgrave to run their offense. He has the right temperament to be a coordinator. He also played quarterback in the league, so he knows what it takes. Matt Ryan loved him in Atlanta, and Christian Ponder should too. He knows when to push and when to pull back. His first stint as a coordinator in Jacksonville ended with Musgrave being let go, but a big part of that was a conflict with then-quarterback Byron Leftwich, and the coaching staff sided with the quarterback.

Pepper Johnson, defensive line coach, New England Patriots: He has worked under Bill Belichick since 2000. He first worked with the linebackers, but moved over to the defensive line in 2005. His players have pushed for him to be coordinator, which tells you they like him. But when Dean Pees left last year, Belichick didn't name a coordinator. That's because he is the de-facto coordinator, which makes sense since he is a defensive wizard. Johnson also played under Belichick, which means he has two decades of his knowledge in his head. That means something. Not being a coordinator also does, however.

Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals: At some point, he will get his chance to be a head coach. Zimmer has been close, but never quite got the job. He is one of the better defensive coaches in the league. There was some talk that he was the Cowboys coach in waiting, but that turned out to be Jason Garrett. The Bengals were fourth in total defense in 2009, but slipped to 15th last season in part because of injuries. Zimmer should get them back on track this season. If he does, he will get in the mix again.

Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator, Jacksonville Jaguars: The offensive numbers the Jaguars have put up under Koetter are impressive considering he has been limited by a lack of big-play receivers and an average quarterback. Koetter didn't have great success as a head coach at Arizona State, but I think he's better suited to be an NFL head coach. In college, there are too many boosters to please and too much recruiting. Koetter is a football guy. In the NFL, he can be more of a coach. He wowed the Broncos brass with his interview this winter, but they opted instead for John Fox, who had more experience and had a defensive background. Koetter's time is coming.

Chuck Pagano, defensive coordinator, Baltimore Ravens: He will be in his first season running the defense, taking over for Greg Mattison, who left to go to Michigan. Pagano's name was one I've heard as a rising star for years. He has mostly been a secondary coach. Now he gets his chance to show how good he can be, leading one of the NFL's higher-profile defenses. His only stints as a coordinator came in college at UNLV and North Carolina.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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