The coaching carousel has begun to spin in the NFL, with seven teams possibly stepping on once the season ends. Those teams certainly know who is out there for the hiring: Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden and Brian Billick for starters.
Mike Holmgren already has landed in Cleveland, although he is not likely to be on the Browns' sideline in 2010. Holmgren was hired as president of the team, even though the coaching bug has never really left him. But don't expect to see him wearing a headset next year.
What might we expect in coaching moves? Here's a look at teams that might be headed for the merry-go-round, not including Tampa Bay or Dallas.
Some believe Raheem Morris is a one-year fill-in before the Buccaneers go for a bigger name with more experience, but there's been little evidence ownership is thinking that way. And Jerry Jones wants to find every reason to keep Wade Phillips at the Cowboys' helm, although failing to make the playoffs surely could change Jones' approach.
Holmgren's coaching genes tell him it's unfair to fire a coach after one season, no matter how disappointing and dysfuncational that season has been. But Holmgren also understands holding on to Eric Mangini for 2010 could mean delaying Holmgren's own program for rebuilding the Browns by another year.
When Bill Parcells took over in Miami, he weighed the same options before firing Cam Cameron and bringing in his own guy — Parcells has a lot of “guys” — in Tony Sparano. That's worked out pretty well, and Holmgren is likely to want a coach of his choosing.
Besides, Mangini hardly has been the most popular, diplomatic or understanding coach in the league, both in Cleveland and New York. All three of those traits defined Holmgren when he led the Packers and Seahawks.
They probably will define whoever he seeks to replace Mangini.
Don't be surprised to see Tom Cable return. Yes, the Raiders remain losers, and JaMarcus Russell has made virtually no progress at quarterback. But remember that Cable had nothing to do with Al Davis selecting Russell at the top of the draft in 2007, and his decision to go with Bruce Gradkowski late this season worked well enough.
Oakland plays hard, if not with consistent efficiency, and the players seem to respond to Cable. One thing that could hurt his future coaching opportunities: off-the-field issues that surfaced this year.
Plus, nobody can predict the whims of Davis, who might just decide a Super Bowl-winning coach needs to be brought to Oakland. Of course, Shanahan and Gruden already have been down that Black Hole.
Three seasons back, Lovie Smith was the toast of Chitown, as secure as any coach or manager in the Windy City. Now, followers of Da Bears are ready to bring out Da Ax.
And not just for Smith, but for general manager Jerry Angelo.
The Bears' frugality was legendary, but Angelo has spent big time on some of his stars, who have not played like stars, and he did get aggressive in acquiring Jay Cutler. Unfortunately for the GM and his coach, Cutler has been the season's biggest individual flop, more a franchise scourge than franchise quarterback thus far.
Chicago has looked inept and disinterested at times this season, about the worst indictment a coaching staff can be handed.
If Smith goes, don't look for a big name to replace him.
John Fox is an excellent coach who has been hamstrung by some poor contract situations (Julius Peppers) and decisions (Jake Delhomme). Fox was part of those choices by the Panthers, of course.
Carolina has been up and down for most of the decade, going 7-9, 11-5 (and a last-second loss in the Super Bowl), 7-9, 11-5 (and a trip to the NFC title game), 8-8, 7-9 and 12-4 under Fox. That might be too much inconsistency for owner Jerry Richardson and GM Marty Hurney, and if Fox is fired, he easily could wind up with another head coaching position quickly.
The Cowher factor plays heavily here. Does the former Steelers coach and superb TV studio analyst want to leave his comfortable gig? Cowher lives in North Carolina and would be a popular choice.
Since Daniel Snyder bought the Redskins in 1999, he has had six head coaches, one of them interim. It's clear that Jim Zorn won't be around for 2010, and new GM Bruce Allen had a long working relationship with Gruden in Oakland and Tampa Bay.
Snyder loves big names, doesn't mind spending big bucks, but Gruden has indicated he will stay in the broadcast booth next year. Plus, there's another megacoach out there in Shanahan, who wants back in. This looks like his landing spot, particularly if he's willing to have less say over personnel than he did in Denver.
One question: Would he have as much say about personnel as the owner?
Dick Jauron couldn't stick around long enough to go 7-9 for a fourth successive season. Perry Fewell has to win his last two, including beating the Colts, to get that high as he finishes out Jauron's term.
Owner Ralph Wilson says he will spend to get a quality coach and he had a long meeting with Shanahan after firing Jauron. This team desperately needs an infusion of offense regardless of who takes over, and Shanahan would be a good choice if he slips out of Snyder's grasp.
This was supposed to be the Texans' year after not making the playoffs or managing a winning record since their 2002 inception. It hasn't happened, although victories over Miami and New England would give them a 9-7 mark and at least slim hope of making the postseason.
Gary Kubiak has built a strong passing offense, but the Texans don't make the big plays in tight spots. He is 29-33 since taking charge, hardly the return on his investment that owner Bob McNair expects.
McNair, one of the league's most respected owners, could make a run at the big names if he parts with Kubiak.