The Houston Texans fired head coach Gary Kubiak on Friday, one day after falling to 2-11 on the season. Kubiak's replacement will be asked to navigate a quick turnaround for a team that entered this year with Super Bowl aspirations.
For now, Wade Phillips will take over as the interim head coach. He could be one of the candidates to fill Kubiak's shoes eventually, depending on how he fares in his brief stint at the helm. Houston will be the sixth NFL team Phillips has led and the third as an interim.
But assuming the Texans opt to somewhat start from scratch after the 2013 season concludes, there already appear to be a number of candidates who could be of interest. Texans owner Bob McNair said that he would like to find someone with NFL and head coaching experience. Whether or not he would bend the rules for the right coach remains to be seen.
With that, a look at a few of the names that may be on McNair's radar:
Lovie Smith: McNair specifically mentioned at Friday's press conference that he wants to speak with Smith, formerly the head coach of the Bears from 2004-12. Though the Bears missed out on the postseason in each of his final two seasons in charge, he posted an 81-63 record with three division titles and a Super Bowl berth.
Smith is also a Texas native (Gladewater), and the fact that he's not currently coaching anywhere else could allow the Texans to get a jump start on the process.
Smith is known as a defensive mind, and the Texans could use some help there after slipping into the bottom third of the league in points allowed. An interesting subplot should the Texans go this route: Would potential soon-to-be free agent Jay Cutler consider following his ex-coach to Houston, where a new franchise QB is desperately needed?
David Shaw: The current Stanford coach was a bit of a hot name as far as NFL coaching openings went last offseason, and he should be again in the coming months. Shaw has an extensive NFL background -- he was an assistant for the Eagles, Raiders and Ravens before jumping back to the college ranks -- and he has had great success as a head coach, checking off both criteria McNair laid out as important for Kubiak's replacement.
Since taking over for Jim Harbaugh in Palo Alto, Shaw has posted three consecutive double-digit win seasons and took his team to BCS bowls in both 2011 and '12. That Harbaugh carried over his Stanford success to the pros should only help Shaw make his case if and when he's ready to attempt the same jump.
Art Briles: A popular name in the state of Texas, Briles played college ball at the University of Houston, later coached there and now has built Baylor into a national power. His wide-open offense might be an intriguing fit for a Texans team that boasts Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, among others. Briles also recruited Case Keenum before leaving Houston, so he has a tie to the Texans' current starting QB.
Briles, 58, has not coached at the NFL level, so that may stand as a strike against him in McNair's eyes. This could, however, be the 2014 version of Philadelphia's Chip Kelly home-run swing.
Mike Zimmer/Ray Horton: A pair of defensive coordinators overdue to get head coaching shots. Audibles' Doug Farrar pegged them months ago as two of the NFL assistants most ready for a promotion, and neither has done anything to hurt his cause.
Horton was in the mix for the Cardinals' job last offseason; they hired Bruce Arians instead, and a disappointed Horton joined Rob Chudzinski's staff in Cleveland as defensive coordinator. Zimmer, meanwhile, has been the Bengals' D-coordinator since 2008 and has helped build one of the league's better attacks.
Neither guy has head coaching experience, but both have prolonged and successful NFL backgrounds.
Kevin Sumlin: Another Houston-area college name, Sumlin replaced Briles at Houston and then moved to Texas A&M in 2011. All he's done between the two spots is run up a 54-23 record with four (soon to be five) bowl appearances. With Johnny Manziel as his quarterback at A&M, Sumlin helped expand the spread/read-option look in the SEC -- and really shocked the conference with an 11-2 record in 2012. In case you've somehow forgotten, Manziel likely will be available in the 2014 draft.
Sumlin's lack of experience could work against him: He's been a head coach for just five years with no NFL coaching background. But if the Texans opt to go the college route, Sumlin should be right in the mix alongside at least Shaw.
Jon Gruden: Does Gruden want to get back in the game? If so (and if the Texans will have him), he may not find a better situation than this one -- the possible No. 1 overall pick, a team that won the division in 2011 and '12 and superstars to build around in Andre Johnson and J.J. Watt.
Head coaching and NFL experience? Check and check, with a Super Bowl championship to boot.