For part 2 of our round up of Head Coaching candidates for 2016 we look at the cream of the college crop to see who could make the leap and also assess the potential for some familiar names to get back in the saddle.
The College Guys
Mark Dantonio – Head Coach, Michigan State Spartans
Dantonio was on the radar of the St Louis Rams 3 years ago before they hired Jeff Fisher but were denied in their request to speak with him. With the Spartans flying high, breaking the unbeaten streak of Ohio State and putting themselves in position to make a run at the playoffs, St Louis, and perhaps others, will likely make inquiries about the potential availability of Dantonio.
David Shaw – Head Coach, Stanford Cardinals
It seems like an almost yearly occurrence that Shaw’s name gets mentioned when we get to hiring season, but, as yet, no one has been able to convince him to make the jump. With a decade of NFL experience behind him and former players throughout the league vouching for his ability Shaw will find himself at the top of a number of shortlists. Will this be the year he makes the move? There aren’t any signs suggesting that it will but with the Cardinal again fighting for the PAC 12 title teams will certainly ask.
Kirk Ferentz – Head Coach, Iowa Hawkeyes
As a long tenured, successful, NCAA Div 1 coach, Ferentz will be no stranger to overtures from the NFL regarding his services. Once again, he has his Iowa team outperforming their talent level heading into their big showdown with Michigan State and will be a hot name again. In the past, Ferentz family life has been a major part in his resisting overtures from the NFL but with his children having now all graduated high school and flown the coop, perhaps an NFL owner could temp him to make the leap.
Dabo Swinney – Head Coach, Clemson Tigers
With the Tigers likely headed to the College Football playoff on the back of another successful season under Swinney, their 5th season in a row with over 10 wins, NFL teams will be looking at whether he has the right characteristics to succeed in the NFL. What goes against Swinney is a lack of experience of the pro game and many owners are wary of ‘pure college’ coaches ability to adjust to the professional level.
Jim Harbaugh – Head Coach, Michigan Wolverines
While teams will likely get short shrift this season with approaches to Harbaugh, there is good reason to believe that he is far from done with the NFL. His departure from San Francisco left some unfinished business for the ultimate competitive coach who, for all his success, will not be satisfied he wasn’t able to win a Superbowl.
Other names to consider
Nick Saban, Alabama Jim Mora Jr, UCLA Brian Kelly, Notre Dame Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M Art Briles, Baylor
The Familiar Names
Doug Marrone – Former HC, Buffalo Bills
Marrone is that rarest of beasts, an NFL Head Coach who resigned and wasn’t fired. His short tenure in Buffalo, while not setting the world alight, was largely successful and the organisation was seemingly moving in the right direction when Marrone decided to move on. Much digging into the reasons for this and the character of the man, will be needed to ensure this isn’t a pattern likely to repeat, but, in the small circle that is the NFL Head Coaching ranks, Marrone will be a consideration for teams.
Mike Shanahan – Former HC, Denver Broncos & Washington Redskins
The continuing dysfunction we see with the Robert Griffin III saga in Washington is serving to wash some of the stain off the reputation of Mike Shanahan. It would seem that he was right to believe that Griffin wasn’t the future of the organisation and suffered from the fallout from this conviction. With a trend towards experienced hires in the last few cycles, Shanahan will likely field some calls again this January.
Jim Schwartz – Former HC, Detroit Lions
Schwartz is currently working with the league office and has turned down approaches for Defensive Coordinator positions this season but could be tempted by another shot at the top job. Following a difficult time in Detroit, Schwartz was most recently the DC at Buffalo where he put together a top 5 unit that has regressed since his departure despite being taken over by ‘defensive guru’ Rex Ryan. A popular coach with his players this post Detroit success will have owners considering him this offseason.
Jon Gruden – Former HC, Oakland Raiders & Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Any article such as this wouldn’t be complete without mention of our old friend Chucky. Chances of him being plucked from the broadcast booth are very slim indeed but, you can be sure, the question will be asked. I, however, enjoy the QB analysis provided by the FFCA (Fired Football Coaches Association) in the lead up to the draft and will be happy for Gruden to stay there! With just 5 weeks left of the regular season, tentative enquires are, more than likely, beginning to be made via back channels and many of the names we have mentioned here will be polishing their interview technique. As always there are going to be a number of ‘wildcards’ you wouldn’t expect – nobody saw Marc Trestman coming as few years back – but it will be interesting to see how many of the above guys will be running an NFL sideline next season.