Where will NFL coaching prospects land in 2013?

There is one thing that sports fans can tell you: Conventional wisdom is not always followed.  This can be especially true when teams are interviewing potential head coaching candidates.  And if some NFL franchises are even looking for a new general manager and a coach, things can get even crazier.

While the interviews and signings are going on right now, lets take a look at which coaches would best suit the teams looking for a new coach and teams who might be looking for a coach.

Arizona Cardinals – When the news broke that Arizona interviewed former Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, the move made some sense.  The Cardinals quarterback issues continued to pose problems, and what choice could be better than to reunite Reid with quarterback Kevin Kolb? Sadly, Reid has since signed on with Kansas City, leaving Arizona looking for a coach who they feel can develop a quarterback.

CBS analyst and former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher would be a great hire for Arizona, but it would certainly be a long shot.  Instead, why not try for Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy who has done an outstanding job of developing systems around the quarterbacks that he had been given?  Arizona’s defense has been terrific under defensive coordinator Ray Horton who is also considered a head coaching prospect. If Arizona could somehow bring in McCoy and retain Horton, the Cardinals could have a formidable team.

Buffalo Bills – Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone interviewed with the team recently, and that does seem to be a good fit.  Bills G.M. Buddy Nix will stay with the team this year, and Buffalo has been vocal about bringing in a franchise quarterback this season.  Marrone, who also served as the New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator during Sean Payton’s first three seasons on the job, knows what it takes to run an offense in the NFL.

Speaking of New Orleans Saints offensive coordinators, why not give Pete Carmichael a look?  While Carmichael does not have the head coaching experience that Marrone does, Carmichael has worked under both Payton and Marty Schottenheimer.  Both Payton and Schottenheimer have found a lot of success in their careers as NFL head coaches.  Either way, Marrone or Carmichael can give Buffalo the coach who can develop the franchise quarterback they are looking for.

Chicago Bears – Lovie Smith’s firing made absolutely no sense.  Despite posting a 10-6 record, Chicago decided to go in a different direction.  The Bears might regret that decision in the years to come, but one thing is for sure: Teams should give Smith a look for the vacancy at head coach.  If by some unforeseeable reason Smith does not get a head coaching job, he will be one of the league’s premier defensive coordinators.

Even though his name has been dropped in San Diego and Philadelphia, Monday Night Football analyst and former Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden would make sense here.  Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has all the tools to get the job done, even though there have been some questions about his maturity, but he needs better protection if Chicago wants to make a move to be a contender in a tough NFC North.

Gruden will have the offensive know-how to let Chicago’s offense shine, and he will also have a Tampa 2 defensive scheme ready to go.  When Gruden was Tampa’s head coach, the Buccaneers ran a Tampa 2 with Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator.  Kiffin, who resigned from Southern Cal, could make his return to the NFL.  And what better situation than to be reunited with Gruden and a previously made Tampa 2 defense?

Cleveland Browns – Reports coming out of Cleveland are saying that new owner Jimmy Haslam wants University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.  There is no doubt that Kelly is one of the most popular prospects for an NFL head-coaching job. However, there is one candidate that is simply a better fit for Cleveland.

As incredible of a story as it has been for Indianapolis and coach Chuck Pagano, much credit has to be given to Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians for the Colts’ playoff season. Before arriving in Indianapolis, however, Arians served as the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator.  When the Steelers let Arians walk a year ago despite having success there as the offensive playcaller, it was a huge surprise.  And that is why Arians to Cleveland makes so much sense.

Arians is familiar with the AFC North and knows what it takes to be successful there.  He helped develop Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and has also coached Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He’s got the offensive knowledge to help Cleveland be productive against a very defensive division.

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid already signed on as the coach for Kansas City, but this fit does not make too much sense.  It’s obvious that getting an offensive-minded coach was definitely the right move, but the Arizona job makes more sense for Reid.  Someone like Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, brother of Jon Gruden, makes sense as he was directly involved in the development of quarterback Andy Dalton. Moving forward, Kansas City needs a quarterback that they can rely on.

If Reid and the Chiefs new general manager (whoever that is) decides that they want to get West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith in the draft, then this choice makes more sense. Reid developed another scrambling quarterback, Donovan McNabb, who led them to several NFC Championships and even a Super Bowl appearance.  K.C. may be asking Reid to work the exact same magic he had in Philly about a decade ago.

Philadelphia Eagles – Oregon coach Chip Kelly would make for an interesting hire for Philadelphia.  Michael Vick is still on the roster, and it would be fascinating to see what Chip Kelly’s offense with Michael Vick would look like.  Still, reports are that Kelly is getting very close to becoming Cleveland’s head coach.

So if Kelly is out of the mix, who could step in? Despite Philly needing someone who could help them offensively, Lovie Smith could be a great hire.  The Eagles defense has talented players, and bringing in someone like Smith could only help booster their play.

There is no doubt that there will be questions about Philadelphia’s quarterback situation as Nick Foles did a great job as the starter.  With both Vick and Foles on the roster, quarterback controversy will be there. The next coach coming in must see that and know that he has to deal with that from day one.

San Diego Chargers – Bruce Arians’ name has been rumored here, but Ken Whisenhunt would be a terrific hire for the Chargers.  Again, Arizona was plagued by not finding a franchise quarterback.  Whisenhunt wouldn’t have to worry about that with Philip Rivers already on the roster.  If Whisenhunt could find another great defensive coordinator like he did with Horton in Arizona, there is no reason to think that San Diego couldn’t compete with Denver for the division title.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Head coach Mike Mularkey has not been fired.  Well, at least not yet.  A report came out recently that the Jaguars assistants were told to look elsewhere.  That is not a good sign for Mularkey at all.

It all comes down to the hiring of a general manager. If the new G.M. wants Mularkey to stay, he will.  If not, Mularkey goes.

Should Mularkey get fired, the direction of the team from there should make sense.  Jacksonville has expressed interest in acquiring quarterback Tim Tebow.  Tebow’s presence could help Jacksonville get fan attendance back where it needs to be.

So if Tebow does go back home, which coach would be the best choice to lead them?  Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is the obvious choice.

McCoy coached Tebow in Denver in 2011.  That year, Tebow led the Broncos to a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs.  If Tebow does come back, a reunion with McCoy may very well be the recipe Jacksonville needs to get back on the winning track.

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Three NFL quarterbacks that need big 2012 performances

In an era of professional football where the demand of having a high-quality quarterback on a roster is at an all-time high, some quarterbacks have a lot to prove in 2012.  For some of these quarterbacks, 2012 will be the deciding year in determining if they have what it takes to be a franchise quarterback or if they will be thrown in the “bust bin.”

2011 presented each franchise with a different set of challenges due to the NFL lockout.  Free agency did not take place until after a collective bargaining agreement had been reached, but the 2011 NFL Draft took place anyway.  Four quarterbacks (Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder) came off the board after the first 12 picks.  Two showed glimpses of success in 2011 while the other two left much to be desired.

Christian Ponder arguably bears the biggest burden of anyone in the NFL.  Minnesota drafted Ponder 12 overall in the 2011 draft, which was a huge surprise.  Even though speculation exists that had Tennessee passed on Jake Locker and Minnesota would have taken Locker instead, the point still remains that Ponder was selected with the 12 overall selection and brought with it the high expectations of being a early-pick quarterback.

Christian Ponder’s 2011 can be described as unimpressive at best.  Should Ponder’s 2012 fare as well as 2011, that could lead many fans and even the front office to question whether they drafted the right guy.  Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier wants both to feel like Ponder can be the franchise quarterback.  By adding USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, the Vikings want to give Ponder more protection to find the open receiver in the passing game.  Minnesota’s rushing attack is led by Adrian Peterson and gives offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave hope for major improvement in 2012.

Musgrave utilized Peterson as well as Percy Harvin last year.  If Ponder makes huge strides in 2012, this is an offense that very productive heading into 2012.

Speaking of the need of improved play out of a team’s quarterback, perhaps no team went through more changes this past offseason than the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Not only does this team have a new head coach in Mike Mularkey, but the franchise is also under new ownership in Shahid Khan who hopes to build attendance back to where it needs to be.  Gene Smith remains as the team’s general manager from a year ago, giving the rest of the team some familiarity heading into 2012.  Smith drafted Gabbert in 2011 who, like Ponder in Minnesota, did not play very well at quarterback.

Mularkey was hired mainly to develop Gabbert into becoming a successful NFL quarterback.  Khan’s hopes that Gabbert’s successful development will mean increased attendance by the fans.  The addition of former Oklahoma State wideout Justin Blackmon will certainly help both.

Gabbert needs to have a strong showing in 2012 to gain confidence from both himself and the front office, but most importantly Gabbert wants to gain confidence from the new owner.  Another lackluster performance could lead Khan to think that maybe his franchise does not have the quarterback of the future.

The last of the three quarterbacks needing a big 2012 is actually a guy who has had success in the past, but rumors continue to swirl that maybe he’s not quite the guy his franchise believes he is.  For years, people have looked at Dallas and wondered if Tony Romo can truly succeed in the NFL.  Dallas continues to stand behind Romo, but their stance can quickly shift if Romo does not reach the level that everyone wants him to.

Being in the NFC East means battles against Michael Vick and Eli Manning.  Being compared to quarterbacks like that can be difficult, especially if one just came of a Super Bowl championship like Manning did.  So if Romo does not play at a high level, Jerry Jones might find someone who can.

Unlike Ponder and Gabbert, however, Romo’s situation is not as bleak.  Romo has succeeded before, and that success can be used to argue that Romo is their guy.  Romo has made the throws that head coach Jason Garrett asked him to make, but a mediocre season could make all of that success irrelevant.  Romo’s record in the playoffs continues to plague him, but a few playoff wins could cure that and silence Romo’s critics once and for all.