Tom Curran: Hot NFL coaches
1. Bill Cowher
The Jaw is itching to get back into the game, presumably in a soup-to-nuts position in which he wields the power. Haven't seen a lot of those operations working really well - Mike Shanahan being a prime example in Denver. Cowher, 51, will need a good personnel lieutenant for long-term success, someone not afraid to disagree with him. One aspect of his candidacy that hasn't been noted is that, in Pittsburgh, ownership wasn't reactionary and prone to rash moves based on what happened on third-and-3 in Week 14. Wherever he goes, he won't be the recipient of such patience. Note: Cowher has publicly maintained he won't coach in 2009.
2. Mike Mularkey
Since the most recent work you do is the prime factor for every candidate, Mularkey's in a great position right now. The Atlant a Falcons - with a rookie quarterback in Matt Ryan and a running back in Michael Turner who's in his first year as a starter, the Falcons have been creative, efficient and productive. Mularkey wasn't a raging success in his time with the Buffalo Bills in 2004 and 2005 (14-18) but a once-fired coach is often the best candidate. He knows where the landmines are.
3. Jason Garrett
The Cowboys offensive coordinator's taken a major hit in 2008. The Dallas offense, despite all its talent, has consistently misfired and the Terrell Owens-led cacophony over playcalling calls into question whether or not Garrett's going to be able to put his foot down and be the boss. Garrett figured to be the successor to Wade Phillips in Dallas. Now, if Phillips goes, Garrett might go with him. Will another team want to hand over the reins to a guy who was in the midst of such chaos? Garrett will have a lot of explaining to do with whomever he interviews.
4. Rex Ryan
Certainly deserves a shot with somebody. The longtime Ravens defensive coordinator/assistant head coach is the beneficiary of some great, great players but Ryan maximizes their performances and - when the starters go down - is terrific at filling in gaps and masking them with defensive game plans. The 46-year-old was a candidate for the Falcons job last year but was beaten out by another veteran defensive coordinator, Mike Smith. Smith's success in Atlanta does guys who've paid their dues and punched the clock for years - like Ryan - a big service.
5. Brian Schottenheimer
When the Jets were putting up 25-plus points per game over a stretch earlier this year, Schottenheimer's star was on the rise. But the unimaginative and stagnating Jets offense down the stretch in 2008 is going to damage the 35-year-old's prospects.
6. Hue Jackson
A great job done by the 43-year-old Ravens quarterbacks coach this year with young Joe Flacco. In the league as a coach since 2001, Jackson's coached in Washington, Cincinnati and Atlanta. He helped develop both Chad Johnson T.J. Houshmandzadeh in Cincy. And while 2007 was a hellacious year to be in Atlanta, Jackson knows how to try and make order from chaos working with Joey Harrington, Chris Redman and the like.
7. Bobby April
He's been a special teams coordinator for the Bills since 2004 and they are consistently one of the NFL's best in that discipline. Also, the 55-year-old is the Bills assistant head coach, guys like April who've been in the league and understand the process of team-building that he's been a part of in Buffalo, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New Orleans and St. Louis need to be looked at, especially with the success of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, a former special teams coordinator.
8. Ron Meeks
The 54-year-old has been the Colts defensive coordinator for much of their stretch of excellence, Meeks is one of the guys that too often gets overlooked in the coaching searches. The Colts employ a personnel system in which just a few players get most of the money under the cap. So Meeks is often in a situation where he's got a couple of stars (Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney) and then a collection of mildly talented players he needs to be in smart schemes to get the most from. He's done it brilliantly year in and year out.
10. Brian Billick
He'll only come back if the perfect opportunity presents itself and, given the Ravens are still paying him, it has to be really, really perfect. Billick is a commanding presence and knows how to build and run a team. He'll get another job in the league at some point but this may not be the year that appeals to him.
11. Todd Bowles
A former safety with the Redskins and currently the assistant head coach/secondary coach for the Dolphins, Bowles was in the mix for both the Falcons and Miami jobs last offseason. The 45-year-old has done great work in developing the young Miami secondary this season.
12. Ron Rivera
Currently the defensive coordinator for the Chargers, held the same position with th e Bears when the Chicago defense was at its best. Rivera's worked under Buddy Ryan, Jim Johnson and Lovie Smith - three pretty good defensive minds. The 46-year-old had a nine-year career in the league as a linebacker.
13. Ivan Fears
The 54-year-old has been a coach in the NFL for 17 seasons. The bulk of it has been as a wide receivers and running backs coach with the Patriots. Currently, he's the Patriots running backs coach. Despite serious turnover at that position for the Pats, Fears has helped New England get production from stars and their backups. A well-respected teacher of the game.
14. Jim Fassel
Nearly hired by the Redskins last offseason until Jim Zorn blew the Washington brass away in his interview. Fassel, 59, has made no secret of his desire to return to the sidelines. He was a semi-successful head man in New York from 1997 to 2003. Also was the offensive coordinator for the Ravens until he was let go by Brian Billick during the season because Billick wanted to take control of the offense and Fassel didn't like that idea so much.
15. Leslie Frazier
The 49-year-old defensive coordinator of the stalwart Minnesota Vikings for the past two seasons after spending from 1999 through 2006 coaching defensive backs with the Colts, Bengals and Eagles.
16. Jerry Gray
The 45-year-old former corner for the Rams, Oilers and Buccaneers has shown up on the radar of the Detroit Lions. Currently the secondary coach for the Washington Redskins, Detroit has asked permission to interview Gray for the position vacated by Rod Marinelli. Gray also worked as the Bills defensive coordinator from 2001 to 2005.