I’m predicting Gary Kubiak, Lovie Smith, Marvin Lewis and John Fox get fired while Jeff Fisher gets one more chance (perhaps because the best candidates get signed before Bud Adams acts). Where would the most attractive spot be? I must say that while I think the top 3 spots are a tier slightly above the others, the other jobs are all about the same.
Now, this is evaluating the city and the personnel mostly. I will let an extreme case of bad owner or GM creep in to the rating process, but I believe that you get control by winning. We’ve seen two coaches – Jon Gruden and Jimmy Johnson – pile up victories, not get control, then land somewhere else and get control.
Here are my picks for the hot spots, now (and soon to be) vacated by coaches – with the exception of Fox – taking vacations at hot spots:
1. Minnesota. Young nucleus? Harvin and Peterson. Chris Cook, Gerhart and Webb look promising. Gotta sign Rice. Vets? Many to sign, but Jared Allen, Winfield and Henderson are under contract. Minneapolis doesn’t have a functioning stadium right now but – whether it’s the Twin Cities or Los Angeles – you have a big market, a big fanbase, and the best running back in football.
2. Houston. Young nucleus? Ryans, Cushing, Williams, Foster, Dreessen and an excellent O-line. Vets? Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Mario Williams, Antonio Smith. Houston has a team that has it absolutely together on offense. Schaub was missing Owen Daniels for half the season last year and still led the NFL in passing. Arian Foster leads the NFL in rushing yards and TDs. Even half a defense could put you in the Wild Card. Their patience would be strong if you could just get them into the playoffs once. That would be more than they’ve ever had.
3. Dallas. Young nucleus? Not really. This closing window, along with having to deal with Jerry Jones, are two reasons to avoid this job. They have talented young players like Sean Lee and Felix Jones but Dez Bryant is the only true leader and main contributor drafted by the Cowboys in the last four drafts. Vets? James, Romo, Newman, Free, Witten, Ware, Ratliff and McBriar all under contract make the strongest group of vets on this list. In Dallas, the expectations are a Super Bowl with coaches allowed to hang around while not reaching those expecations. I think being somewhere with patiently high expectations is the best scenario, where the pressure and challenge are huge but the fanbase and owner are understanding if injuries hit hard or if rebuilding must take place. I think Dallas fits that bill and the opportunity is to coach the 2nd biggest franchise behind the Steelers.
4. Cincinnati. Young nucleus? Nope. Vets? A lot of them are free agents or might be cut or approached for a paycut. This team has enough talent that if they lost half their star players, you’d still have something to work with. Hopefully, you can get there before they cut Terrell Owens and Cedric Benson, the only impact skill position players other than Leon Hall – who is having his worst season – and Antwan Odom – who has only played nine games the last two years. Like I said earlier, low expectations shouldn’t be a plus for any coach that is worth his weight. Just because a playoff win would endear you to the city forever, doesn’t make this job attractive.
5. Carolina. Young nucleus? This is tough because I think they have a lot of great young talent but they have no quarterback, and questions at pass rush and secondary. Beason, Stewart, Goodson and Anderson are all 27 or younger. Charles Johnson is a nice surprise with 8.5 sacks. Vets? Not a lot of great ones beyond Steve Smith and Gross. Carolina is a small market but you get to test yourself in the hottest division in the NFL. Also of note, the #1 overall pick in a year where there may be a rookie wage scale.
6. Denver. Young nucleus? Most of it is playing for Cleveland, Chicago and Miami. They have a nucleus that might have saved McDaniels’ job if they had stayed healthy. Vets? Champ Bailey needs to be re-signed but he and Brandon Lloyd are the only ones of note. Denver’s defense has intercepted a pass in just 3 of their 13 games and have given up more rushing touchdowns, 19, than anyone else. There is certainly a mystique there but GM Brian Xanders wants more control, Pat Bowlen is making some questionable decisions lately and they need a lot of players.
7. Chicago. Young nucleus? This is probably the worst group of players drafted between 2007-2010 on this list. Some decent special teamers, a pretty good safety in Danieal Manning and a decent back in Matt Forte but no offensive line. Vets? Strong veteran group, led by Jay Cutler. There aren’t many better football cities than Chicago. Their fans are passionate, it’s one of the biggest markets with some great rivalries for years to come. The main problems are the lack of depth and the potential problem of being hired while Angelo and Ruskell are still there. Personnel approval is necessary and there are a lot of holes to fill. It is going to be difficult to win there when the other three teams have more elite talent and Detroit and Green Bay have done such great jobs drafting.