Ah, Black Monday. It’s the day all struggling coaches despise and all struggling fan bases love. It’s the day where the hot seat reaches unbearable temperatures, and disappointed teams give head coaches their walking papers.
While Black Monday is widely considered a bad day for coaches, it is also a great opportunity for others. Up and coming coordinators, exciting college coaches, and respected former head coaches alike are all looking for a head coaching gig in the NFL, and when a door closes for someone in the NFL, the same door opens for someone else.
While the pickings are a little more slim than last season, where a flurry of hires turned into three coach of the year candidates and three playoff berths, there are still a number of interesting candidates available for teams looking for a new leader. Who will be the hottest names on the market this season? Here are the top five candidates for a head coaching position in the NFL this season.
1. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M Head Coach
Kevin Sumlin certainly has some decisions to make in the next month or so. Does he stay with A&M and his nice contract to try to turn the Aggies into a perennial powerhouse, or does he leave his position to pursue the bright lights and glory of the NFL?
Most people like to point out that the NFL has not been kind to college coaches, but that trend has been bucked with the recent hires of Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh, and Chip Kelly. All three of the former college legends made the playoffs this season, and are considered three of the best head coaches in the NFL today.
Sumlin’s offense has been exciting but unconventional in college, and while he may need to make some changes to fit in the NFL, is the best candidate to coach an NFL team this season.
Potential destinations: Washington Redskins, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys
2. Ken Whisenhunt, San Diego Chargers Offensive Coordinator
Last year, Ken Whisenhunt was one of the coaches on the chopping block. 2013 looks to be a lot more kind to the former Arizona hero, as Whisenhunt has already been linked to quite a few teams for their vacant head coaching positions and is one of the hottest names on the market this season.
After a string of disastrous seasons that saw seven starting quarterbacks, Whiz was fired from the Cardinals after earning tons of praise and experiencing tremendous success with the Arizona Cardinals, including a Super Bowl berth. He then took over as offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, and is credited for the resurgence of five time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers.
While his tough attitude and track record as a coordinator will entice teams, whoever hires Whisenhunt may want to make sure they have an established signal-caller already in place for him. He has not shown the ability to find and develop a passer, but can bring the best out of talented quarterbacks who need to get their careers back on track. Your move, Detroit.
Potential destinations: Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns
3. Bill O’Brien, Penn State Head Coach
Even though analysts are reporting that a deal with the Houston Texans is imminent, O’Brien is still on the market and his name has been thrown into the hat of most vacant head coaching positions. He has led the resurgence of the storied Penn State the past two seasons, and was the offensive coordinator for a New England Patriots team that lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.
O’Brien has celebrated tremendous success in a difficult position at Penn State, but doubters point to him being a Bellichick disciple, which has yet to produce a quality head coach in the NFL. That hasn’t stopped the Texans from pursuing him, and many believe he will end up there.
Potential destinations: Houston Texans, Washington Redskins
4. Lovie Smith, Former Head Coach of Chicago Bears
After a year off from the NFL, Lovie Smith is looking to make a return and will likely be a coveted acquisition for teams looking for a head coach. Smith was fired after a 10-6 season in which the Bears barely missed out on the playoffs, and has had a track record of success in the NFL.
Lovie’s Bear were routinely in playoff contention, made it to a Super Bowl and an NFC Championship game, and he himself won the Coach of the Year award in 2005. He is not the sexy pick as a head coach, but is the safest name on this list by far.
Potential destinations: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings
5. Ray Horton, Cleveland Browns Defensive Coordinator
This time last year, defensive whiz Ray Horton was set to become the Arizona Cardinals head coach after turning the Cards defense into one of the best in the league. The team proceeded to interview Andy Reid, hire Bruce Arians, and Ray Horton was asked to be relieved of duty.
Now Horton is again out of a job, but steps into a less star studded market. The Cleveland defense improved on paper despite fielding a 4-12 record this season, and the NFL has him on a list of coaches they are recommending to teams looking for head coaches. While his at times over-aggressive play calling and having yet to be linked to any NFL teams at this time are causes for concern, not everyone can hire Bill O’Brien and he should get a head coaching position in the NFL sooner rather than later.
Potential destinations: Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings