The San Diego Chargers are making headway in their general manager search, which they're addressing first, but will also be interviewing a few head coaching candidates along the way before fully turning attention to the coaching vacancy. According to league sources, the Chargers could include Mike Holmgren, former head coach in Green Bay and Seattle, as well as former NFL coach and current UCLA coach Jim Mora.
The Chargers also intend to interview Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, sources said. Holmgren, according to sources, has had serious interest in the Dallas job should it open up and is also very intrigued by San Diego's opening -- its geography as well as the chance to work with quarterback Philip Rivers. Former GM Ron Wolf, who worked with Holmgren in the past, is helping coordinate San Diego's search. At this point in Holmgren's career, issues of money and power -- always key in head-coaching negotiations -- might not be as prevalent with him.
Mora, the former head coach in Seattle and Atlanta, completed a strong first season at UCLA. And while he is very happy in that position, those close to him say a return to the NFL at some point is not out of the question. Mora has matured from his hot-headed ways early in his career, according to those who have worked with his recently, and he has a strong coaching lineage.
Ken Whisenhunt and Norv Turner top offensive coordinator options
Former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt was the first candidate whom the Bills interviewed for their head coaching vacancy. Though he did not get that position, he could still get consideration in San Diego and, undoubtedly, is being viewed as a top coordinator option.
Former Chargers coach Norv Turner is also sitting back while the head coach carousel goes around and will be very selective about which coordinator jobs that he explores, sources said.
Several teams are expected to approach Whisenhunt for coordinator spots. When Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy gets a head coaching job (which seems a fait accompli), expect Whisenhunt to merit strong consideration from the Broncos if available. Whisenhunt has a strong relationship with Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning considered going to his Cardinals team last season, and Whisenhunt is well respected around the league.
Turner, at this stage of his career, has earned the right to be selective as well. The Jets have interest in him, but league sources said it's remote at best that he would consider going to New York. He is also expected to be contacted by the Ravens, who have interim coordinator Jim Caldwell in place following the firing of Turner discipline Cam Cameron. And Dallas owner Jerry Jones remains very fond of Turner and has made it public that he might prefer that Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett turn over the offense to another play caller given all of his other duties. That's obviously a natural fit for Turner, a former Cowboys coach.
In a league in which seemingly every year there is a surprise firing later than expected, some wonder if friction between Garrett and Jones could result in more than just a coordinator move.
No contract talks between Penn State and coach Bill O'Brien .. yet
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien was pursued by four NFL teams -- San Diego, Arizona, Cleveland and Philadelphia -- before opting to stay in Happy Valley, sources said. But O'Brien did not enter into financial arrangements with the school before deciding to remain there.
O'Brien met with the Browns and Eagles. The Cardinals and Chargers were scheduling interviews and prepared to head east to talk to him when O'Brien made the decision on Thursday night to stay at Penn State. Contrary to reports, O'Brien did not have his contract altered or negotiate a new deal with Penn State before making that decision.
Furthermore, reports that OBrien's buyout clause caused him to remain at the school are not correct. O'Brien's contact with NFL teams did not go beyond preliminary contact to the stage where the sides were discussing finances, but the NFL teams pursuing him would not have began the process had they believed there was no way around those contractual parameters.
In the coming weeks, O'Brien's agent, Joe Linta, is likely to meet with school officials. As is often the case in these instances, you could expect him to get a financial boost. It remains to be seen whether changes are made to O'Brien's buyout clause and, like Oregon's Chip Kelly, if he's going through this dance with NFL teams in consecutive years.
Sean Payton contract still not fully finalized, but no hitches expected
The Saints announced a week ago that they had agreed to terms on a contract extension with suspended coach Sean Payton. But according to league sources, the final paperwork has still yet to filed with the NFL office. The sides are still working on some particular language. While there are not expected to be any setbacks, the five-year deal is not official.
Payton's previous extension was voided by the league due to some language that would allow Payton to become a free agent if there was a change in ownership. According to team and league sources, both Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis have a strained relationship with Rita Benson -- the grand-daughter of owner Tom Benson and expected heir to the franchise.
Given what was rejected by the league office, the sides know certain clauses will raise ire with the NFL but have reached a comfort level on all key parameters of the deal. All signs still point toward no reinstatement for Payton until after the Super Bowl.