When NFL coaching jobs open, the names Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy immediately surface as potential candidates.
Much more likely than any of those Super Bowl winners returning to the sideline for 2013 would be the hirings of more obscure assistant coaches such as Mike Zimmer, Mike McCoy and Gus Bradley.
And Jon Gruden’s younger brother, Jay.
Sure, some of the best-known coaches, including Andy Reid, Lovie Smith and Ken Whisenhunt, who lost their jobs Monday, will be in the mix. So might college coaches Chip Kelly of Oregon and Bill O’Brien of Penn State.
Maybe even Nick Saban, although leaving Alabama for the NFL is a long shot.
Bringing in highly accomplished coordinators has been the most common route for NFL teams lately. Cincinnati’s Zimmer and Gruden and Denver’s McCoy top most lists, along with Bruce Arians, who went 9-3 as Indianapolis’ interim coach this season.
“Obviously, he’s earned any phone call he gets, he’s earned that right,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said of Arians, who replaced him for 12 games while Pagano underwent chemotherapy for leukemia. “And let me just say this, we do not want to lose Bruce Arians. We know who he is and what he’s meant to this football team ...”
Zimmer was turned down twice last season after interviewing with Tampa Bay, which brought in Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, and Miami (Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin). The defensive mastermind still wants to be a head coach somewhere, but isn’t getting his hopes up.
“Honestly, I don’t listen to that stuff anymore,” he said in early December. “Honest-to-God’s truth. I’ve had for so many years, have people say, ‘This is your year.’ Then at the end of the year for about three days I’m totally depressed because I see this guy get a job, that guy get a job, that guy get a job.
“So it’s in my best interest not to think about it, talk about it and just try to do the best job I can because I’m like (everybody else), I get disappointed too.”
Gruden, who cut his coaching teeth in Arena Football and has revived Cincinnati’s offense around Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, got some interest from other teams after last season. He quickly took himself out of the running, but might get more suitors with seven jobs open.
So might McCoy, whose adaptability is unquestioned after he adjusted Denver’s offense for Tim Tebow’s skill set last season, then made Peyton Manning’s transition from the Colts to the Broncos so smooth.
Arians joined the Colts after he was released as Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator. When Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, Arians stepped in and guided a team that went 2-14 a year ago into the playoffs.
Bradley has helped Pete Carroll build a physical, sometimes intimidating and always effective defense in Seattle. That style of defense will be attractive to teams such as the Bears, Browns and Eagles who have to deal with cold weather late in the schedule.
Kelly is one of the most intriguing candidates. The NFL is loath to admit it is enamored of anything college teams do, but Kelly’s wide-open, speed-based offense has lots of pro franchises salivating.
He has been mentioned for most NFL openings, and that figures to continue.
Retreads also will get interviews, and not only the coaches who were canned on Monday. Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio and Atlanta DC Mike Nolan might have earned another chance.
“When you’re a young guy and you haven’t been there, the urgency and desire to get that opportunity is such that you’d take just about any job given to you,” said Del Rio, who was in charge in Jacksonville for nine seasons. “I don’t feel that way now. If there’s something that fits and the right situation comes along, so be it. But in the meantime, I’m all in, 100 percent as a lieutenant on this staff. I’m somebody that John Fox, John Elway ... and the players can count on. I’m 100 percent invested in helping them be their best.”