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When shopping for head coaches, winning assts. aren't always the ticket

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
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Todd Bowles is getting a shot with the Dolphins as their interim coach. Will it stick? (Getty Images)  
Todd Bowles is getting a shot with the Dolphins as their interim coach. Will it stick? (Getty Images)  

Conventional wisdom dictates that when owners are seeking head coach candidates from the league's assistant ranks, they look first to successful franchises to possibly fill vacancies.

But that hasn't always been the case.

Of the 42 assistants elevated to their first full-time head coach gigs since the 2000 season, 18 came from clubs that had non-winning years the previous campaign. That's a whopping 42.8 percent.

Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin was defensive coordinator of the 6-10 Minnesota Vikings in 2006, but became only the third Steelers head coach since 1969 a year later. He won the division as a rookie head coach, claimed a Super Bowl title in only his second year, has been to two Super Bowls and has his team in the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons.

John Harbaugh of Baltimore will be in the postseason for a fourth straight year since taking over the Ravens in 2008. Only a season earlier, he was the special teams coordinator for 8-8 Philadelphia.

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The New York Giants were 7-9 in 2001, but Carolina hired defensive coordinator John Fox in 2002, and the Panthers played in the Super Bowl only two years later.

As the San Francisco offensive coordinator in 2005, Mike McCarthy was with a team that won four games. As the Green Bay head coach since 2006, McCarthy has missed the playoffs only twice in six years, has won the NFC North twice now, currently has the NFL's best record, and owns a Super Bowl XLV ring.

There are other examples as well, but the moral of the story is that solid head coach candidates from the roster of assistants don't always come from franchises that have winning marks. In nine of the past dozen seasons, and three of the last five, at least one head coach has come from a program that experienced a non-winning year the season before.

The trend is likely to continue when the hiring season kicks off in January. Based on discussions with several team officials, here are a few names from clubs which currently are .500 or worse who might merit interviews for head coach openings:

Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator, Seattle: Former college quarterback (Wisconsin) worked closely with Brett Favre in Green Bay (2000-2005), and has drawn praise from the future Hall of Fame passer. Was coordinator in Minnesota for five seasons under Brad Childress before moving to the Seahawks this season. Seattle ranks only 28th offensively, but Bevell has done a nice job with modest talent, and with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. At 41, he is in his 12th NFL season.

Todd Bowles, interim head coach, Miami: Has never been a coordinator, at least nominally, but Bowles, 48, has called defensive signals for the secondary for the last several seasons, and been in the head coach "pipeline" the past few years. Played safety in the NFL for eight seasons. Has the Bill Parcells seal of approval. Doesn't seem to fit the high-profile model owner Stephen Ross is rumored to be seeking, but will have some support from Dolphins' players.

Rob Chudzinski, offensive coordinator, Carolina: In his second stint as an offensive coordinator in the league (Cleveland, 2007-2008), Chudzinski has earned deserved high marks for the rapid development of rookie quarterback Cam Newton and the ingenuity that he has exhibited in crafting the Carolina offense to fit the physical strengths of the No. 1 pick. The former tight end, 43, relates well to players and is in his eighth NFL season. He has the Panthers' offense, dead last in the league last season, at No. 5 through 14 games.

Perry Fewell, defensive coordinator, New York Giants: Has interviewed for head coach vacancies in the past, and was 3-4 as the Buffalo interim coach in 2009, replacing Dick Jauron. Fewell, 49, is in his 14th league season and with his second franchise as a coordinator. Expertise is primarily in the secondary. New York is a disappointing No. 28 defensively, but most agree Fewell isn't culpable for the unit's dropoff.

Jerry Gray, defensive coordinator, Tennessee: Played nine seasons as an NFL cornerback and was named four times to the Pro Bowl. Gray, 49, previously served as the Buffalo Bills' defensive coordinator for five seasons (2001-2005) under Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey, and twice had units that ranked among the NFL's top 10, with one that led the league in takeaways. In his 15th league season as an assistant and has interviewed for head coach positions in the past.

Russ Grimm, assistant head coach, Arizona: Hall of Fame guard who played 11 years for Washington (1981-91), was chosen for four Pro Bowl appearances, and a member of the 1980s Team of the Decade. Some people have questioned whether he has the right temperment for a head coach, and that he is too much a tough guy. Those probably are unfair knocks, and his name gets mentioned a lot. Perception is that he's more a running-game coach, but has a solid handle on overall offense and also on handling people.

Others: Bobby April, special teams, Philadelphia; Maurice Carthon, assistant head coach, Kansas City; Ray Horton, defensive coordinator, Arizona; Greg Manusky, defensive coordinator, San Diego; Jim Skipper, running backs, Tennessee; Dave Toub, special teams, Chicago; Mel Tucker, interim head coach, Jacksonville; Mike Waufle, defensive line, Oakland.

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