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http://www.profootballweekly.com/PFW/The+Way+We+Hear+It/WWHI/2008/wwhi122908.htm

Assisted giving

Spagnuolo tops list of hot head-coaching candidates among league assistants

By Dan Arkush

Dec. 29, 2008

They call it Black Monday — the day after the regular season ends, when fallen victims start dotting the head-coaching landscape.

With the coaching carousel about to start spinning, the time seems right to take a look at the top NFL assistant coaches likely to be considered for this year’s head-coach vacancies, especially considering the smashing success former assistant coaches Mike Smith (Atlanta), John Harbaugh (Baltimore) and Tony Sparano (Miami) have enjoyed in their maiden voyages as head coaches, each of them deserving legitimate consideration for NFL Coach of the Year honors.

What follows is a rundown of the five assistant coaches who we hear could be the hottest commodities in this year’s head-coach marketplace, complete with comments from league insiders:

1. Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo

The 49-year-old Spagnuolo burst onto the head-coaching radar screen big-time last season following his defense’s impressive performance on the road to a Super Bowl title. The showing by the defense was culminated by its eye-opening effort against New England’s record-breaking offense, which couldn’t have served as a better audition for a head-coaching job.

But after being interviewed by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder for the job that was eventually given to former Seahawks assistant coach Jim Zorn, Spagnuolo was rewarded with a $2 million-a-year contract that makes him one of the league’s highest-paid assistants.

There is a school of thought that the Giants could try to convince Spagnuolo to become the team’s “head coach in waiting.” But with current head coach Tom Coughlin still having three years left on his contract, and Spagnuolo staring age 50 squarely in the face, we hear he’s more likely to graduate into the head-coaching ranks now.

“Spags is a players’ coach,” a league insider told PFW. “He comes from the proven (Eagles defensive coordinator) Jimmy Johnson, pressure-driven, intensive philosophy. He gets the most out of his players. He understands personnel and how to maximize it. He’s very professional, hardworking and diligent.

“He’s got an undeniable passion for the game. He found a way to beat the unbeatable Patriots. He’s with the reigning Super Bowl champs and has a legitimate chance to repeat. There’s little not to like, and he’s an even better person than he is a coach.”

2. Vikings asssistant head coach/defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier

Considered by most insiders to be the top minority head-coaching candidate, Frazier has earned strong reviews for the job he’s done this season in his second year as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator, overseeing a unit ranked first against the run and sixth overall. He was interviewed by Bill Parcells for the Dolphins’ opening last season and has an impressive winning pedigree.

Prior to joining the Vikings, Frazier served under Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, receiving a Super Bowl ring as a going-away gift. He also won a Super Bowl ring as a player (1985 Bears), and in his 10 seasons as an NFL coach, he has suffered a losing season only once — his first season with the Eagles in 1999.

“Leslie Frazier is very much like Tony Dungy in his demeanor and knowledge of the game,” said a veteran league executive. “(Frazier) has a very good understanding of the game and people.

“He knows what buttons to push to get people to play, but he also has a calming demeanor to get his point across without raising his voice. And he’s a great teacher.”

3. Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan

The son of former NFL head coach and assistant coach Buddy Ryan and brother of Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Baltimore’s defensive mastermind has coaching in his blood.

In Rex Ryan’s 10 years with the Ravens, the last four as the team’s D-coordinator, Baltimore’s defensive units have been frequently among the league’s highest-ranked. Considered a master at disguising coverages and making defensive adjustments, Ryan interviewed for openings in Atlanta, Baltimore and Miami last offseason.

“Rex Ryan gets great players to play great all the time,” a league executive said. “They don’t let up. To beat that ‘D,’ you have to beat them.”

4. Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz

Schwartz has earned his spurs, first entering the league as a scout with the Browns in 1993 under Bill Belichick. Completing his 10th season on head coach Jeff Fisher’s staff, he’s been Tennessee’s D-coordinator since 2001 and has consistently assembled units that are strong against the run and in third-down situations, although he has had a strong core group to work with, as is the case for Ryan in Baltimore.

Schwartz may be the most qualified assistant in terms of pure brainpower, but he has a tendency to come across as overly arrogant — a quality that should be very interesting to monitor in the coming days and weeks.

“I wish there was more consistency from Jim Schwartz,” said one veteran league source. “Would you have said he were a hot candidate last year? … He’s very, very smart, but he’s always the smartest guy in the room.

“You have to know what you’re getting and be able to manage him.”

It’s also worth noting that a few league observers believe Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger could get some feelers after the job he did this year with a rejuvenated Kerry Collins under center.

5. Panthers offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson

In Davidson’s first year as Carolina’s offensive coordinator last season, the Panthers’ offense hit the skids after QB Jake Delhomme was lost for season in Week Three.

With Delhomme healthy in Davidson’s second season as the coordinator, Carolina’s offense has become one of the most potent and balanced the league has to offer, with the one-two punch of DeAngelo Williams and first-round rookie Jonathan Stewart running rampant behind an underrated O-line that has allowed only 20 sacks, and Steve Smith providing an explosive aerial complement.

“In some ways he has been a bit handcuffed by the (head coach John) Fox philosophy,” a league expert said of Davidson. “He comes from the Belichick/Parcells coaching tree, and he could be this year’s Mike Smith flying under the radar and knock off an owner’s socks in the interview process.”

Added another source: “Davidson doesn’t come across like a great communicator. But the same could have been said about Smith last year.”

Just missing our top-five list is 32-year-old Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who has earned kudos for the job he did bringing QB Matt Cassel along this season in place of the injured Tom Brady. Finishing his eighth season with the Pats, McDaniel has been rumored to be part of a potential package deal with Cassel for a team looking for both a new head coach and a quarterback.

“Josh McDaniels has a good deck to work with,” a league exec said. “I thought, more than anything, it was Tom Brady calling the offense in the past. I was not a big fan. … But look at what Cassel has done this year, and it’s difficult to argue with the results.”

Yet, the way we hear it, there are some league observers who believe McDaniels could become the latest in a long line of Belichick understudies (Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini) who have left a lot to be desired as head coaches — should he even want to pursue such an opportunity.

“I’m still not convinced he’s going anywhere, regardless of what happens to (Patriots VP of player personnel Scott) Pioli,” said one league source. “I think Josh knows he’s not ready.”

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This assumes the head coaching gig is an "open position", and they aren't just going to promote from within.

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This assumes the head coaching gig is an "open position", and they aren't just going to promote from within.

If they did, I would have a problem with that. I also have an issue with not firing Coletto. He should be gone, although I really like zone blocking.

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if you were a top coaching prospect, why would you ever go to an organization that declined to even bother looking at external GM candidates after the worst season in NFL history? my guess is we get the first guy who is willing to take the $$ that his one and only head coaching contract will pay.

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If they did, I would have a problem with that. I also have an issue with not firing Coletto. He should be gone, although I really like zone blocking.

Knowing how WCF works, it is very reasonable to suspect Colletto is a leading candidate for the head coaching position. At a minimum I would not be surprised if he was interviewed, and I would not be shocked at all if he was named head coach.

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Knowing how WCF works, it is very reasonable to suspect Colletto is a leading candidate for the head coaching position. At a minimum I would not be surprised if he was interviewed, and I would not be shocked at all if he was named head coach.

Sure! Why not? I mean, he's already here, Mr. Ford likes him, and it obviously wasn't his fault Matt Millen gave him bad players.

Sounds perfect!!!

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I'd hire him. You don't want to destroy everything that was established here over the last three/eight years. Just get rid of the bad stuff. And chances are you can get rid of the bad stuff with 1-2 firings and about 10-20 promotions within.

After all, how bad can they all be? They all thanked Sr. for the Christmas card he sent each of them.

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I wonder why Schottenheimer's name isn't being mentioned anywhere. I always liked him.

it was, with Cleveland a couple of weeks ago. he does not seem interested in returning to the sideline

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I wonder why Schottenheimer's name isn't being mentioned anywhere. I always liked him.

He might choke in the playoffs, but at least his teams MAKE the playoffs.

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He's a retread.

but he's done more than 1 good thing in his career, so he's more than qualified.

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Yeah, im tired of getting assistants. Give me someone whose been a head coach. Marty would be perfect. Eric Mangini is out there and made the playoffs two out of three years. Mularkey in Atlanta has done a great job tailoring that offense to Matt Ryan, we could be in the same spot next year with a Stafford/Bradford type. Brian Billick?

What do you guys think of Dick LeBeau? Genius cordinator who failed with Cincinnati but they were even worse then they are now. They were like we are now.

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Nobody worth a crap is coming to this mad house. Why would you ruin your career by coaching the Lions?

Fred Kwan to HC?

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Yeah, im tired of getting assistants. Give me someone whose been a head coach. Marty would be perfect. Eric Mangini is out there and made the playoffs two out of three years. Mularkey in Atlanta has done a great job tailoring that offense to Matt Ryan, we could be in the same spot next year with a Stafford/Bradford type. Brian Billick?

What do you guys think of Dick LeBeau? Genius cordinator who failed with Cincinnati but they were even worse then they are now. They were like we are now.

Noooooooo Mangini. Did you watch the Jets game yesterday? Jets playcalling has been horrendous for about a month. He's not a good coach.

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but he's done more than 1 good thing in his career, so he's more than qualified.

He's 65, and not a long term solution. They need the next Schottenheimer, even though he was a career 5-13 in the playoffs.

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He's 65, and not a long term solution. They need the next Schottenheimer, even though he was a career 5-13 in the playoffs.

At least he made the playoffs.

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