Assistant Coaches Who Should Garner Attention
1) Steve Spagnuolo/Defensive Coordinator/New York Giants - He went from being a position coach two years ago with the Philadelphia Eagles to running the defense for the New York Giants last season and became the league's hottest head coaching prospect. Spagnuolo is essentially running the same defensive scheme which Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson uses. That scheme is blitz heavy and puts a ton of pressure on opposing offenses. Because of the significant improvement New York's defense made during the 2007 season and being that the team won the Super Bowl, Spagnuolo got big recognition for the team's success. And that success carried over to this season, which is why he'll be one of the top candidates again to be a head coach in 2009. Reportedly, he has an interview set up with the Detroit Lions about their vacant head coaching job.
2) Rex Ryan/Assistant Head Coach-Defensive Coordinator/Baltimore Ravens - Ryan is seen as one of the best defensive minds in the league and is known was one of the league's most innovative coaches from the defensive side of the ball. He's known for using odd-man defensive fronts and often uses deception to confuse offenses. He interviewed for the Ravens head coaching job after Brian Billick was fired after the 2007 season. Ryan also interviewed for the top jobs with the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins earlier this year before they were eventually filled. League sources who know him well say Ryan lost a significant amount of weight to give a better impression in interviews.
3) Jim Schwartz/Defensive Coordinator/Tennessee Titans - The veteran defensive coach has been in this space many times and had interviews in previous seasons for head coaching vacancies with the Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, and Washington Redskins. Many around the league believe he'll get his shot at a vacancy in 2009. Schwartz's philosophy has been pretty apparent over the years since taking over as Tennessee's defensive coordinator back in 2001. He's known for being aggressive and team's generally have a tough time scoring against his defense. And Tennessee has historically been one of the best defenses against the run since he took over calling the plays on that side of the ball. Over the years, players in Tennessee's front seven such as DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DT Albert Hayesworth, and WLB Keith Bulluck have flourished under Schwartz. And CB Cortland Finnegan has emerged as one of the league's best young defensive backs.
4) Russ Grimm/Assistant Head Coach-Offensive Line Coach/Arizona Cardinals - Grimm is known as one of the league's best offensive line coaches and has done a really good job upgrading one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL in his two seasons with the team. The veteran coach was a finalist for the Pittsburgh Steelers head coaching job that eventually went to Mike Tomlin and came close to getting the Chicago Bears head coaching job back in 2004. If there's a knock on Grimm, it could be that he's an offensive line coach. There's a thought around the league by some that offensive line coaches don't make good head coaches, yet Grimm has been part of coaching staffs who have put together some very solid offenses with the Steelers and Cardinals.
5) Hue Jackson/Quarterbacks Coach/Baltimore Ravens - Jackson is known as one of the league's best receiver coaches and also has done a nice job of developing quarterbacks. Jackson did an outstanding job of developing the receivers (Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular) in his time with the Cincinnati Bengals (2004-2006). He spent one season as the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator (2007) and called the plays for the Washington Redskins (2003). Those close to the situation in Baltimore say Jackson has been instrumental in the development of rookie QB Joe Flacco, who is putting together a fine season. Jackson also did a good job last season when he helped revive the career of QB Chris Redman, who had been out of the league for three seasons.
6) Todd Haley/Offensive Coordinator/Arizona Cardinals - Todd Haley is the son of Dick Haley, a long-time personnel man in the NFL. The younger Haley coached the receivers for the New York Jets, Chicago Bears, and Dallas Cowboys since his start in the league back in 1995. He's run the Cardinals offense the last two seasons. He's known as a fiery coach who is not afraid to get in the face of his players. Haley has been largely credited for the development of veteran WR Marty Booker who made the Pro Bowl back in 2002. Those who know him well say he wants to be a head coach some day and that certainly could happen based on the productivity of Arizona's offense the last two seasons.
7) Raheem Morris/Defensive Backs Coach/Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The 32-year old (turns 33 in September) defensive backs coach was just promoted to defensive coordinator for the 2009 season. Morris is well-versed in Tampa Bay's cover-2 defensive scheme and is known as a really good teacher and for his excellent motivational skills. Because of his age, team sources say he relates to the players quite well and they play hard for him. Age doesn't seem to be a big issue these days based on the head coaching hires over the past few seasons with the likes of Lane Kiffin, Mike Tomlin, and Eric Mangini. As a league source points out, Bill Cowher was just 35 years old when he was named as the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach.
8) Leslie Frazier/Assistant Head Coach-Defensive Coordinator/Minnesota Vikings - Frazier is in his second season Minnesota's defensive coordinator. The soft-spoken veteran coach did an outstanding job coaching the defensive backs for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2002. Several former members of the secondary who played for Frazier back then speak highly of him. He then moved on as Cincinnati's defensive coordinator for two seasons (2003-2004) where league sources said he was surprisingly let go after just two seasons. Sources said head coach Marvin Lewis was looking for a more fiery coach to handle his defense. Frazier coached the defensive backs again with the Indianapolis Colts the next two seasons and then got another chance to run a defense, this time with the Minnesota Vikings. Frazier is a well-respected coach who known who stresses fundamentals and discipline. He had an interview with the Atlanta Falcons for their formally vacant head coaching job earlier this year (eventually went to Mike Smith). Frazier, like Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy, has proven you don't have to be a screamer to get your point across.
"He's a great football coach but probably an even better person. [He's a]
great individual and a great family man. He has a very strong work ethic. When
he was here (1999-2002) he was very quiet but he wanted to know everything. And
the players, and this wasn't just because he was a good corner in the National
Football League, but you could see that the players respected him for what he
was as a person and coach. He deserves a head coaching shot and if he got one,
an owner is going to get a very solid, solid person and good football coach,"
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid said this week.
9) Josh McDaniels/Quarterbacks Coach-Offensive Coordinator/New England Patriots - While he turns just 33 this April, McDaniels has worked for the Patriots for eight seasons and he's worked his way up the ladder. After working in the scouting department early in his career, McDaniels has been coaching the quarterbacks since 2004 and has been the team's offensive coordinator since 2006. A former NFL player who was coached by McDaniels told Scout.com that the young coach was probably one of the sharpest offensive minds he's seen and felt McDaniels would be an excellent head coach some day. McDaniels called the plays in QB Tom Brady's record-setting season in 2007 and has done a nice job of bringing along Brady's replacement, Matt Cassel, this season. McDaniels spurned interviews last year for vacant head coaching jobs because he felt he wasn't ready to handle that role.
Former Head Coaches Who Might Get Another Shot
1) Mike Martz/Offensive Coordinator/San Francisco 49ers - Martz enjoyed pretty good success as the head man with the St. Louis Rams 2000-2005, but squabbles with the front office were seen as a big reason why the team ended his tenure there. Martz is known as one of the best designers of offense in the league and is one of the best play callers around. He was credited largely for the success of the Ram offense during their record setting season back in 1999. Despite his willingness to adopt interim head coach Mike Singletary's power-rushing philosophy, Martz is expected to be let go after the season ends. It's believed Martz wants to be a head coach again and might get that chance since NFL owners love offense. But he'll need a strong personnel man who has final say on personnel decisions since Martz isn't known as the best talent evaluator in the world.
2) Kevin Gilbride/Offensive Coordinator/New York Giants - At first glance, the thought of Gilbride becoming a head coach again might be a surprise. He had one stint as a head coach with the San Diego Chargers (1997-1998), but the journeyman coach struggled to find success. According to a league source, things got so bad there that some of the players complained that the offensive scheme was so difficult to learn that they started to draw up plays on their own to run. Gilbride did have varied success as an offensive coordinator with the Houston Oilers, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Buffalo Bills. However, as the source points out, his pass happy ways got him a ticket out of two after just two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1999-2000). But Gilbride has enjoyed tremendous success last season calling the plays for the New York Giants and along with quarterbacks coach Chris Palmer, Eli Manning blossomed into one of the league's best young passers. Gilbride's willingness to accept head coach Tom Coughlin's power rushing philosophy might show potential employers that he's able to adjust his pass-first mentality.
3) Jim Fassel - Those who know him well told Scout.com that he's "itching" to coach again, but the veteran coach was fired as Baltimore's offensive coordinator after the 2006 season. Fassel was thought to be a finalist for the Washington Redskins top job which eventually went to Jim Zorn. Fassel, who is known as a solid quarterbacks coach, could draw interest from the Oakland Raiders who could be looking for a head coach who can help JaMarcus Russell progress in his career.