12-18-2008, 05:46 PM
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hot list of head-coach candidates from the assistant ranks
Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin and Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt made their mark in 2007, their first season as head coaches. Atlanta's Mike Smith, Baltimore's John Harbaugh and Miami's Tony Sparano have their teams on the playoff doorstep in 2008, their rookie year. So when team owners look for new head coaches this offseason, expect them to duplicate the concept of hiring an innovative yet relatively inexperienced and inexpensive assistant to flip their franchise's fortunes.
So, what candidates should make the short list to become head coaches in 2009?
Well, Tomlin went to the Steelers when he was 36, making him the youngest of the five coaches mentioned, and Smith went to the Falcons when he was 49, making him the oldest, so being under 50 seems to fit the profile. Three of the five coaches were coordinators before taking over a team, with Sparano coming from an offensive line job and Harbaugh coming from a defensive back position, although he had been a special-teams coordinator.
Having a powerful influence earlier in their careers also seems to be a factor in the coach's rise to a top job. Mike Tomlin's roots were in the famed Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense, Whisenhunt had the Steelers' seal of approval, and Harbaugh learned organizational skills from the Eagles and defense from Jim Johnson. Sparano was a Bill Parcells disciple, and Smith had experience with tremendous defenses in Baltimore and Jacksonville.
With those factors in mind, here's my list of 10 candidates for head-coaching openings after this season ends:
1. Steve Spagnuolo
2. Josh McDaniels
3. Leslie Frazier
4. Jason Garrett
5. Raheem Morris
6. Jim Schwartz
7. Ron Rivera
8. Todd Haley
9. Brian Schottenheimer
10. Jeff Davidson