Black Monday is almost upon us. Of course, when an eighth of the league fires its coach and/or general manager in season, the final day of the regular season carries a little less intrigue as to where changes will be made.
A few more owners will join the fray, undoubtedly, with the Jets and Jaguars sure to be in the market for new coaches, alongside the Lions, Texans and Falcons. They may not be the only ones, with the Bears and Chargers among the most-talked-about situations in the league. Regardless of the number of openings, most of these searches will travel the same roads, feature the same candidates and then end up with fairly predictable results.
There will be the normal connections -- who was your daddy or uncle or who is your agent and who else does he or she represent -- that lead the same ol' results. And this historically inefficient process will likely remain as it usually is -- more misses than hits, the same teams seeking new leaders every two to five years, listening to the same voices and search firms and outside consultants as before.
In general, progressive thought about these hires is kept to a minimum. No way strays too far from the familiar path -- the hot coordinator or the former head coach now in the broadcast booth or the rising college guy with a high-octane offense that might just work in the pros ... but also might be a sad gimmick. There's always the chance, of course, that a few owners pivot and remain open to something bold and unique and maybe a little out there.
Hence this list.
This is nothing against guys like Bills coordinator Brian Daboll, Rams coordinator Brandon Staley, Colts coordinator Matt Eberflus, former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, 49ers coordinator Robert Saleh, former Lions coach Jim Caldwell, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Titans coordinator Arthur Smith and former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, all of whom have received plenty of coverage and will comprise a bulk of the talent pool as these interviews are lined up.
But I am looking more for names that aren't being talked about -- at least publicly -- or aren't even being considered, by and large, because of groupthink and all the usual suspects and all the usual processes. But let's be real -- football is being played all over this country, successful coaches abound at all levels and this is not rocket science. It's about leadership, intellect, communication skills, organizational skills, dedication, work ethic and the ability to delegate.
So, for anyone out there who is willing to go outside the box, after talking to football people I trust and giving it some thought -- and trying to look at this hiring cycle from a different perspective -- here are some candidates I'd want to at least maybe reach out to if I was looking for an NFL head coach.
Orlondo Steinauer, head coach, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Some I know very well with deep CFL ties, whose acumen I trust beyond reproach, tell me this is an impact NFL coach in the making. Steinauer, 47, is a master tactician as a defensive coordinator who has a unique ability to bond and connect with players. Has been coaching in CFL since 2010, became a head coach in 2019 and recently signed a contract extension ... but NFL teams should investigate. "Everyone who has ever worked with him absolutely raves about him," said one longtime CFL exec. "He should be in the NFL already." Steinauer spent one year with Fresno State, running the defense, in 2016, and had an immediate impact but his family longed to return to Canada. Also an entrepreneur and partner in a logistics firm. Smart cookie.
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Scott Milanovich, head coach, Edmonton Football Team
A football lifer who played and coached in every league you can imagine. A former QB who is a master developer of QBs, throughout his travels. "He's probably developed 80% of the better quarterbacks in the CFL, and he keeps spinning off offensive coordinators for other teams, too," the CFL source said. Hmm. Developing staff and the most important position in the sport. The NFL keeps going more toward the CFL spread game and schemes, with second down now a throwing down (and first down, too). Spent 2017-2019 as Jacksonville's QB coach (with not much to work with). Just 47, he has been coaching since 2003.
Chris Jones, senior defensive assistant, Browns
Jones, 53, had an outstanding tenure as a CFL head coach in multiple spots, including winning coach of the year honors. Several teams were coveting him to join their defensive staff a few years ago, and the Browns hired him as a defensive assistant in 2019. Had success as the coach and GM in Saskatchewan for three years and won four Grey Cups. Jones has a vast background in analytics and, with new coach Kevin Stefanski brought to Cleveland in 2020, Jones shifted to a front office role, scouting and earning even more invaluable experience on all aspects of the football business.
Josh McCown, quarterback, Texans
Hear me out. Baseball and basketball and hockey have had player/coaches. Other sports hire men right off the playoff field. And I know McCown still has a year left on his playing contract. But he has seen the game from every angle and he has been beloved everywhere he has gone as a football junkie who has a sublime ability to connect with people. He is a natural teacher who knows the QB position inside out. He has only coached high school so far, but no one is more in touch with how guys play and think about this game. He knows how to evaluate coaches. He knows talent. It's only a matter of time before this happens. At the very least I'd want to seek permission to pick his brain.
Dave Toub, special teams coordinator, Kansas City Chiefs
The one coordinator on Andy Reid's staff who gets no run whatsoever, despite having a stellar pedigree. With the Giants hiring Pats special teams coach Joe Judge a year ago, maybe someone will give a serious look at Toub, who has more experience and a deeper knowledge of the game. Dudes are all about playing for him. Got a few sniffs a few years ago, but deserving of more.
Jay Norvell, head coach, Nevada
Norvell, 57, has a lot of the same characteristics as Matt Rhule, who is being lauded for his work jumping from Baylor to Carolina. Can build a program in a non-traditional spot. A former defensive player who has coached all positions on offense and understands the modern offensive game, who has influenced by guys like Hayden Fry, Bob Stoops and Jim Mora. Understands the pro game from time coaching with Colts and Raiders. Vast play calling experience and an analytical thinker who knows how to manage the game.
Lance Leipold, head coach, University at Buffalo
A former Division III QB who knows the game inside out. Dominated the Division III level as head coach at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, winning national titles in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014, alongside finishing runner up in 2008. Knows a little something about building a winning culture (109-6 at Wisconsin-Whitewater before going to Buffalo in 2015). Has gone 37-33 in the MAC at not exactly a football power. Leipold, 56, has been coaching since his college playing career ended in 1987. He is 24-10 in the last three years and finished in first place again in 2020 (17-4 in conference the last three years).
Ken Niumatalolo, head coach, Navy
Could the triple option work in the NFL? Have you seen what the Ravens have been doing on the ground the last four weeks? He does nothing but win under challenging circumstances with a talent imbalance most weeks. Tremendous leader and program builder. NFL teams have been studying his stuff for several years now. The former QB, 55, is the winningest coach in Navy history with a record of 101-67.
Matt Canada, QB coach, Steelers
Has served as a coordinator or QB coach since 1987, with 20 years of coaching experience in the college game before making the jump to the NFL. He took over a Maryland program mired in turmoil and controversy after the death of a player in practice, being named interim head coach after head coach DJ Durkin was fired amid intense scrutiny. Canada, 48, handled the situation with aplomb and quickly earned a strong reputation with the Steelers for his instant connection with Ben Roethlisberger and the ideas and concepts he brought. Yes, Pittsburgh's offense constricted in the second half, with Roethlisberger struggling, but Canada isn't the play caller and he's not calling the shots. Wonder how much different things might look if he were. Too many smart people in this business I trust have been impressed by his work and believe he could run his own team now.