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Head coaches in waiting: Top candidates for every NFL team


The Sports Xchange

While retread coaches have become a hot item in recent years, there’s still room for some newcomers in the NFL, too.

Three times in the last decade, two coaches on their first NFL job met in the Super Bowl — the Harbaugh brothers following the 2012 season and Mike Tomlin against Ken Whisenhunt and Mike McCarthy, respectively, following 2008 and 2010.

So who are the hot assistants now who could be in that next wave of successful, first-time head coaches? Here are some of the best:

Arizona: Coordinators James Bettcher and Harold Goodwin. Bettcher, early in his career, has established a commanding presence, and players seems to like him. The only thing that seems to be holding back Goodwin is that he does not call plays.

Buffalo: Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is considered an innovative offensive mind who isn’t married to one particular style and can adapt to the talent on the roster. In San Francisco he made the offense work with dink and dunk quarterback Alex Smith and a power running game, and then was able to utilize the particular skill set of Colin Kaepernick in a slightly different scheme.

Carolina: Assistant head coach/defensive backs coach Steve Wilkins is coach Ron Rivera’s right-hand man. He has done a good job for the last three years with a patchwork secondary.

Chicago: Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio did a terrific job in San Francisco and some were surprised he didn’t get the call to replace Jim Harbaugh. If his 3-4 scheme turns around a defense that ranked 30th in the NFL the last two years, he’s become a hot prospect.

Cincinnati: Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson actually had a head-coaching gig, of sorts — 8-8 with the Raiders in 2011, their best record in 13 years. Then he was fired. He did a good job re-tooling an offense that rose to sixth in the league a year ago, its best rating in more than a decade.

Cleveland: Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil has shown real leadership skills and gotten players to respond.

Dallas: Special teams coaches don’t often become head coaches, but John Harbaugh did — successfully — and so might Cowboys special teams coach Rich Basaccia. He had a head-coach interview in Cleveland last year.

Denver: Running backs coach Eric Studesville has endured two coaching changes and served four games as interim boss in 2010. He’s a good teacher.

Detroit: Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin nearly landed a head coaching job this offseason, and seems almost certain to get one next year unless the Lions’ defensive suddenly implodes.

Green Bay: Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt is held in high esteem by the players he has coached in Green Bay the last seven years, and the Packers lead the NFL with 114 interceptions on defense as well as 63 interceptions made by cornerbacks since 2009, Whitt’s first season in his current position. He’ll be only 37 this season.

Houston: George Godsey has risen from quarterbacks coach to the Texans’ offensive coordinator in just one season. Now, head coach Bill O’Brien, who used to be the playcaller, has given Godsey those responsibilities.

Indianapolis: The name of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has come up a lot in college coaching searches already. It may be just a matter of time before it happens in the NFL, too.

Miami: Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor rubbed some veteran wide receivers the wrong way with his candor last year, but he helped Nick Foles develop in Philadelphia and has done a fine job with Ryan Tannehill in Miami.

Minnesota: Scott Turner, son of Norv, is in his fifth year as an NFL assistant and, as the Vikings QB coach, did a terrific last year with rookie Teddy Bridgewater. The return of Adrian Peterson should give the Vikings offense a big boost this year.

Oakland: Defensive coordinator Ken Norton, a fiery leader, has worked under Seattle coach Pete Carroll and now he works for a former Dallas teammate, Jack Del Rio.

San Diego: Defensive coordinator John Pagano is the brother of Colts coach Chuck. He does a good job scheming to cover up a lack of talent.

Tennessee: Offensive coordinator Jason Michael will get a chance to polish his resume this year working with rookie QB Marcus Mariota, who must transition from a college spread offense to a traditional NFL system.

Washington: Offensive coordinator Sean McVay, just 29 years old, is the grandson of former Giants coach/longtime 49ers executive John McVay. Head coach Jay Gruden said the two of them think alike, and McVay’s development should get speed along this year from two old vets added to the coaching staff, Bill Callahan and Matt Cavanaugh.

–Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than four decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.

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