The hot seat is a nightmare to those head coaches who find their names attached to it. But it provides hope and opportunities to the next wave of assistants lucky enough to get a mention for an opening. As Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt recently said, "Being a head coach in the NFL is why we start out making eight grand a year as a college assistant."
|Lovie Smith has earned respect with the Bucs and Rams.(AP)|
Unfortunately, it's the same song and dance each year. Owners and top-level executives either base their decisions upon which teams are hot or which assistants are pushed by the right agents (yup, this happens with coaches too, not just players). Believe it or not, they even get swayed by what the media writes (as if we've ever coached a game in our lives, or broken down film with a team. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense to listen to us).
This offseason could see job openings that approach double digits, which is why some owners will likely take a retro approach with a Dennis Green or Tom Coughlin. College coaches Nick Saban, Kirk Ferentz and Bob Stoops will also be wooed again despite the debacle that the $25 million Steve Spurrier experiment has become.
But a few Marvin Lewises and John Foxes -- hot coordinators who make a successful jump -- will find their ways to a new team. By season's end, a few of these assistants could have a new home with a nice, shiny new job title, and a few others will at least be given a shot at an interview. Let's take a look a handful of names to keep an eye on as the season heads down the stretch (Note: Before you guys kill us for this and scream and e-mail us asking why your name isn't on this list, these are the names we've been hearing, not who we believe are the best or worst coaches in the NFL):
Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith: Already on at least one team's short list that we know of. Cut his teeth for a few years as a coordinator in St. Louis (although his former Bucs players say that his input was integral while he was in Tampa, and he could have been considered defensive coordinator-B). Smith is a very likeable man with a tremendous defensive mind and well respected by his players.
Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan: Worked magic last year without Ray Lewis in the lineup and has honed his trade in some of the biggest markets in the country. Nolan first shined as a defensive coordinator in 1993 in the Big Apple before losing his luster with the rest of Dan Reeves' staff. He then worked wonders in the nation's capital before falling out of favor with owner Daniel Snyder. After his Snyder experience, he returned to New York as Al Groh's defensive coordinator with the Jets. He actually improved the Jets defense (in terms of numbers) from the Bill Belichick unit the previous year but was purged with the rest of the staff when Groh left for the University of Virginia.
Nolan went to the Ravens as receivers coach before moving back to where he belongs. For a young guy, he's had an awful lot of experience and has the relationships to put together a terrific staff. Don't lose sight of the fact that he comes from football pedigree; his father, Dick, was a former coach of the year in San Francisco.
Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress: Childress is one of the NFL's brightest offensive minds and has proved that last season was no fluke. In 2002, the Eagles set a team record with 415 points scored despite starting three different quarterbacks. The team, realizing his value and hearing his name attached to head jobs last year, locked up Childress to a three-year extension after last season. Under Childress' tutelage, Donovan McNabb has risen to become a three-time Pro Bowl selection and MVP candidate.
|Sean Payton's star has risen again with Bill Parcells in Dallas.(Getty Images)|
Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel: Another man from the Parcells/Belichick school. Crennel is an immensely respected assistant who probably knows more about running a defense in his sleep than many of his cronies would hopped-up on Ritalin. The one thing that might work against Crennel is the association with Belichick -- owners who question if he could work this magic without the head coach. Giving Crennel a chance can easily answer that.
Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders: Saunders will get some love around the league -- he'll be innocent by association. Saunders is the offensive coordinator of an offense that needs no introduction. But it's the second offense in the past six years that Dick Vermeil has led to domination. Vermeil's last offensive protégé, Mike Martz, made that next step and the living legend of a coach is now hoping that Saunders could be his next product.
Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer: Anyone looking for a defensive stud for their team needs to at least bring Zimmer in for a long overdue interview. How much can a defensive mind help a franchise? Just ask Bob Kraft and the Patriots. Zimmer currently leads the NFL's top-rated defense -- No. 1 run defense and No. 1 pass defense, No. 1 in total yards allowed. That would qualify as a decent pedigree.
Zimmer should have gotten some play long ago. In the late '90s he helped shape the Cowboys pass defense into a true force. He has been a coordinator since 2000 and, aside from an off year in 2002, the Cowboys have been extremely stingy in the past few seasons. During his nine seasons in Dallas, Zimmer has been a part of four NFC Eastern Division titles and the Cowboys' Super Bowl XXX victory over Pittsburgh. Somebody, anybody, bring this cat in for at least a talk. Pick the man's brain.
Steelers offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey: The Steelers offense has struggled this year, but hopefully owners and GMs will not be short-sighted over what Mularkey's Steelers have done in the past few seasons. He has done it with Kordell Stewart and Tommy Maddox as well as an offensive unit that has continuously changed. This year's struggles, prompted in large part by the decimation of their offensive line, should not blind people to the fact that he nearly got the Bengals gig last year and was considered by the Jaguars. Should be given consideration again.
Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis: Year in and year out, Lewis produces one of the most feared defenses in the NFL. In addition, he has been terrific at changing on the fly, whether in games or down the stretch of a season. Every year, offenses make adjustments to keep a step ahead of the Steelers' unit, and every year, Lewis has overcome it at some point before the stretch run begins. Lewis has been overshadowed far too long in the job hunt.
Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan: Has been mentioned with some decent college programs. Linehan has been a huge reason the Vikings appear headed to the playoffs despite being without their star RB Michael Bennett for most of this season. If his offense can get hot down the stretch, he'll be a hot name down the stretch as well.
Cowboys offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon: The Cowboys are the second team for which Carthon was tabbed as offensive coordinator. Years ago, Bill Parcells told confidants he truly wanted to groom his former fullback to become an NFL head coach. Carthon is a tell-it-like-it-is type of guy who can relate to a locker room better than many of his coaching cronies. Plus, learning from Parcells for all of these years has to be worth something.
Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis: Was extremely hot after the Super Bowl but a terrible surgical accident derailed his obvious ascent to the head coaching level. Weis is a terrific coach who has started from ground zero in this league and learned on several different levels of the trade. John Fox tried to hire him as coordinator when he got the Panthers job but Weis promised his family at the time he wouldn't move unless it was for a head coaching job. Hope they saved the moving van's number.
Others who could hear their names in the hunt include Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, linebackers coach Gunther Cunningham, Denver's Gary Kubiak, Seahawks defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes, Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy, Bengals linebackers coach Ricky Hunley, and 49ers defensive coordinator Jim Mora Jr.