We're just about halfway through the 2015 NFL season and some teams have already seen their season slip away. The Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans already fired their head coaches and several others are already on the hot seat. Every year, it seems to be a given that at least five head coaches will lose their jobs, due to not meeting expectations, fallout with management, or the coach could even take a job elsewhere.
Last year, we saw Rex Ryan, Marc Trestman, John Fox, Jim Harbaugh and Mike Smith all lose their jobs. The year before, Mike Munchak, Jim Schwartz, Leslie Frazier, Rob Chudzinski, Gary Kubiak and Greg Schiano all get canned on Black Monday or shortly after.
Remarkably, some fired coaches are able to land on their feet, as we saw Gary Kubiak get another head coaching job just one year after his firing in Houston and John Fox only had to wait a few days after parting with the Broncos to get his next job. There will be coaches fired at the end of the year and some hires will either leave fans scratching their heads. Very rarely do re-treads work, but we've seen it done a little more, hence why former head coaches will be on this list. Here they are, the top 15 head coaching candidates for 2016.
15 Dan Campbell
While Dan Campbell is currently the interim coach in Miami, we all know interim midway through a season essentially means it's an audition for a full-time position in the future. Dan Campbell took over in Miami after the team fired Joe Philbin following a disappointing 1-3 start. Campbell brought his team back firing on all cylinders following a bye week, blowing out both the Titans and the Texans before a loss to New England brought them down to earth. If Campbell brings the Dolphins to a playoff spot, or even a winning record, it'll be tough for the Dolphins to let him go.
14 Mike Mularkey
We have our second interim coach on the list, as Mike Mularkey has taken over for a fired Ken Whisenhunt, who went 3-20 in his tenure as Titans head coach. Mularkey is now auditioning for the full-time gig in Tennessee and one thing he has going for him is a bad division. It's not out of the realm of possibility for the eventual AFC South winner to finish with a losing record. That makes Mularkey's task a little easier and it's hard to imagine he'll do any worse than Whisenhunt. That increases his chances of being retained as head coach. Still, the Titans should be weary of a guy who already had two coaching jobs, in Buffalo and Jacksonville, finishing with a combined 16-32 record with those teams.
13 Teryl Austin
Teryl Austin's stock has sunk a little compared to last year, hence why he's 14th on our list. Detroit had a ferocious defense in 2014, which made up for inconsistencies on offense, allowing the Lions to reach the playoffs as a wildcard team. Losing Ndamukong Suh to free agency has hurt Austin's defense and the team has had a nightmarish start. If teams are willing to look past this year though and focus on Austin's total body of work, he might get a few looks at open jobs come winter.
12 Matt Patricia
Disciples of Bill Belichick always seem to creep up as coaching candidates even though those have always seemed to end badly. Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels and we're still seeing if Bill O'Brien will pan out in Houston. Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has very quietly led a solid New England defense that is overlooked since they usually have Tom Brady and co. spotting them 30 points a game. Still, you can't deny Patricia's defenses have always made the play when they needed to, particularly in Malcolm Butler's game saving INT in the Super Bowl. Even though his defense lost both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in free agency, he still has them off to a great start.
11 Mike Smith
I know what you're thinking... why the heck would Mike Smith be hired after the way the Falcons looked in his last two years? Frankly I agree with you there, but this list isn't about who fans would hire as coaches, it's about who will be seen as candidates. Nobody thought Gary Kubiak would get a job so quickly after being fired following a 2-14 season in Houston, did they? If we're building a case for Smith, he did lead the Falcons out of dark times following the Michael Vick scandal and turned Atlanta into a regular playoff team, even bringing them as far as the NFC Championship as the no.1 seed. There certainly are worse coaches than him.
10 Jim Mora
Jim Mora always seemed to a coach that was hired at the worst possible time. He was hired by the Falcons just as Michael Vick's past attitude problems were creeping up and the Seahawks hired him to succeed Mike Holmgren, while the team was still rebuilding into the team it is today. His NFL coaching record is 31-33, but he has done some great work at UCLA since then. He is 34-13 there with two Bowl wins. The man who came after Mora in Seattle, Pete Carroll had failed as a NFL head coach in the past, only to make a triumphant return after a successful college stint. Perhaps a team will give Mora another chance at the NFL.
9 Ben McAdoo
It's a shame we haven't been able to see Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham healthy at the same time for an extended period. Ben McAdoo's offense would likely light teams up and his stock would rise higher. Tom Coughlin can't have many years left in the NFL, now in his late 60s. If the Giants want to keep some continuity when Coughlin calls it a career, it might be wise to keep McAdoo around to keep working with Eli Manning.
8 Adam Gase
My, how quickly one could fall down the rankings. Adam Gase was one of the favorites for a head coaching position going into last offseason. It looked for a while that he would take over the vacancy left by John Fox in Denver or he would go to San Francisco to help resurrect Colin Kaepernick's career. Instead, after missing out on head coaching jobs, he kept working for Fox, now in Chicago. While Chicago's offense has been terrible, that was expected, given their injuries and the fact they traded Brandon Marshall.
While Denver is sitting just fine at the moment, their offense has struggled and perhaps Gase's offense preserved Peyton Manning more than we thought. He should get another look.
7 Jim Schwartz
Jim Schwartz had trouble keeping his Lions teams disciplined, but to be fair, it was a young inexperienced team when he took over. He literally started at zero, as he took over following their 0-16 season. In his third year, he led them to a playoff berth, but disappointing seasons followed, leading to his dismissal. He did a bang up job as defensive coordinator in Buffalo for 2014 but due to the hiring of Rex Ryan as head coach, Schwartz has been left without a job. Perhaps a team looking to build some toughness would give Schwartz a look.
6 Kevin Sumlin
Kevin Sumlin has rebuilt Texas A&M and with his recent contract extension with the Aggies, this may seem like a longshot but the lure of the NFL has drawn top college coaches before. Sumlin was able to handle the media circus that came with Johnny Manziel and that's admirable, especially in comparison to the way the Browns have. Whether or not he's interested in jumping to the NFL, Sumlin will be on NFL teams' wishlists.
5. David Shaw
It's hard to see David Shaw making the jump to the NFL when he has such a secure job at an amazing university like Stanford. Shaw could have the job for decades if he wants to, as Stanford's priorities aren't necessarily to win at all costs like other top schools. If Shaw jumps to the NFL, he'd have to turn a team around within three years or will find himself on the hotseat.
Shaw has kept the Stanford program strong since Jim Harbaugh's departure and since Harbaugh had so much success in the NFL, teams may look to give Shaw a look.
4 Sean McDermott
After a failed stint in Philadelphia, Sean McDermott has quietly turned Carolina into a stout, fundamentally sound defense, which in turn has turned them into a perennial playoff team. McDermott's defense is what's allowed Carolina to overcome just about the worst receiving corps in football, especially without Kelvin Benjamin and an inconsistent offense overall. McDermott even kept his defense dominant after losing Greg Hardy, a guy who registered 15 sacks for them just two years ago.
3 Kyle Shanahan
You have to admire Kyle Shanahan. The guy gave an entire presentation to Cleveland Browns as to why they should release him from his contract. That is persistence my friends. Shanahan landed himself a sweet gig in Atlanta after that, getting a chance to work with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and company. The Falcons have responded to Shanahan's offensive scheme as they seem to be playoff bound barring a second half collapse this season. While his father may never get a coaching shot, Shanahan's in his mid 30s and looks like a rising star in coaching. If it's not 2016, he'll land a head gig eventually.
2 Hue Jackson
I always felt Hue Jackson got a raw deal in Oakland. Sure, in hindsight it was dumb of him to give up a first and second round pick for Carson Palmer, but the man was trying to save his job. After a 4-2 start in his first, Jackson had the Raiders playing solid football. Jason Campbell finally looked like a starting quarterback. A season ending injury to Campbell seemed to spell the end of their season. Owner Al Davis passed away, with all management decisions going to Jackson, hence his authority to trade for Palmer, who was sitting out in Cincinnati demanding one.
Even in all that chaos, Jackson still managed an 8-8 season in Oakland, but due to a change in GM, Jackson was not retained following the 2011 season. He has since done a great job in Cincinnati, first as a running backs coach and now offensive coordinator. This man deserves another shot in a stable situation and not having GM duties thrust upon him overnight.
1 Josh McDaniels
All Belichick disciples have failed, right? Well, the mastermind himself was unsuccessful in his first head coaching job, so maybe his brightest student will soon go through the same process. Josh McDaniels was simply given too much too soon when he took the Broncos head coaching job. He was given full control over personnel, which led to him immediately seeking a trade for Matt Cassel. When Jay Cutler heard of the news, he demanded a trade, leaving Kyle Orton as the Broncos' starting quarterback. He started 6-0 as a coach, but then went 5-17 from there, and he was fired midway through 2010.
McDaniels has built his reputation back up, as his offense looks as great as ever in New England. Hopefully he's learned from his past mistakes and will be a little more humble in his next opportunity. It's going to come eventually.