Eight in the Box: Coaches likely to be pursued for head coaching positions
Black Monday takes its toll at the end of every NFL season, leaving several NFL teams on the hunt for new coaches after they fired their former top men. Seven teams let their head coaches go after the 2013 season, and we'll surely about that same number after this season, as teams look to take their franchises to the next level in '15.
Here's a list of the names likely to garner the most interest as that process moves along.
Todd Bowles -- Defensive Coordinator, Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals did the smart thing on Thursday by extending Bowles' current contract by three more years through the 2017 season. However, that move may be in vain, as there is no assistant in the NFL with a hotter name right now.
Bowles has kept Arizona's defense humming through injuries to several key players, the loss of linebacker Daryl Washington to a drug suspension and the loss of linebacker Karlos Dansby to the Browns in free agency. The longtime secondary coach has given cornerback Antonio Cromartie a new lease on life, seemingly removing Cromartie's longtime inconsistencies, and integrated new players, both young and old, in a seamless fashion.
Bowles has called the defense for the Cardinals with near-complete autonomy, and that will certainly help him when he makes the inevitable leap; he's been able to gain a larger understanding of what it takes to be a leader of men. And in head coach Bruce Arians, Bowles couldn't have too many better role models. Arians best prepare for this departure, and sooner than later.
Kyle Shanahan -- Offensive Coordinator, Cleveland Browns
Many angry fans blamed Shanahan for Washington's offensive woes in 2013 (when they weren't blaming his dad and trying to run both out of town on a rail). But in fact, it was the younger Shanahan who was responsible for the combination of mobility and efficiency that led the Redskins to the playoffs with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III the season before, and now the younger Shanahan has led a patchwork group in Cleveland to the top of the AFC North.
Shanahan's offensive style isn't exotic because he doesn't have the same level of talent -- Brian Hoyer is a reasonably efficient but limited quarterback throwing to decent targets and handing the ball off to good backs behind a better-than-average offensive line -- and that level of adjustment is called good coaching.
If the Browns take the division title this season, Shanahan's 2013 will be forgotten, and teams will start looking at him as someone who can turn their offenses around.
Dan Quinn -- Defensive Coordinator, Seattle Seahawks
Had Quinn not been busy designing the defense that blew up the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, he'd probably be working as a head coach already -- several teams wanted to talk to him after the Seahawks put together a historic defensive performance in 2013.
That defense isn't what it was now, but a lot of that can be attributed to injuries. The fact that Quinn has been forced to keep things together with lesser players at times will actually raise his stock. He's a good motivator whose players go hard for him, and he'll get his shot sooner than later.
Rod Marinelli -- Defensive Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys
We all thought that the Cowboys' defense would be one of the NFL's worst in 2014, but Marinelli, the team's first-year defensive coordinator who spent the previous year as the team's defensive line coach and the four before that as the man who helped make Chicago's defense great, went against the narrative.
Heading into the season, Marinelli had several injuries and free agency defections to deal with, and, outside of Henry Melton and Brandon Carr, no real estimable talent. He was working with players who could do certain things, and he immediately maximized the abilities of everyone on that side of the ball. Marinelli is currently leading a defense that ranks 19th in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics, which doesn't sound that impressive, but again, context is important here.
Marinelli got one shot as a head coach in the NFL, and unfortunately, it was for the Detroit Lions in 2006-'08, at the butt end of the Matt Millen era. Thus, he is remembered as the only man to lead a team to an 0-16 record. He deserves another chance in a better situation.
Kevin Sumlin -- Head Coach, Texas A&M Aggies
Sumlin's name was a lot hotter when Johnny Manziel was throwing passes for the Aggies, but after a relatively disappointing 2014 season in which Sumlin's team lost three straight games to highly-ranked opponents earlier in the year, Sumlin may be at a crossroads between turning his current program around and finding out if his name still has any pull among NFL teams.
It's more likely that Sumlin will stay put, but he'll certainly get looks if he decides to make himself available to talk to NFL teams as he did not after the '13 season.
Vic Fangio -- Defensive Coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
If the issues between Jim Harbaugh and 49ers general manager Trent Baalke come to a head after the 2014 season and Harbaugh moves on, there are two internal candidates who seem to be the hottest names -- Fangio and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
Tomsula has been a hot name for a couple seasons, but it's Fangio who runs that squad, and it's Fangio who has seen San Francisco's defense through a number of injuries and Aldon Smith's suspension. Fangio, who came from Stanford with Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman in '11, has NFL coaching experience going back to the mid-'80s, and if he ever wants to be more than an assistant, the time might be the post-Harbaugh era in San Francisco, or a similar situation.
Pep Hamilton, Offensive Coordinator, Indianapolis Colts
Some have decried Hamilton's supposedly unimaginative playcalling since he took over for Bruce Arians as Indianapolis' offensive mind in 2013, but the man who replaced Greg Roman as Stanford's offensive coordinator has taken the Cardinal offense back to Andrew Luck, who obviously excelled with it.
This season, the Colts rank sixth in passing and 25th in rushing in Football Outsider's metrics, and the rushing rank can be explained to a point by the albatross of a trade engineered by the front office last season that brought Trent Richardson to the Colts' backfield. Hamilton has done his level best to make Richardson productive, but where he really excels is in creating explosive pass plays out of run sets, keeping extra blockers in to compensate for his team's iffy offensive line. There's an increasing buzz around his name, and Hamilton will gain traction among NFL teams after the season.
Teryl Austin, Defensive Coordinator, Detroit Lions
Austin will have one season as an NFL defensive coordinator under his belt after this season, after several years as a secondary coach with several teams and one season as Florida's head defensive coach. But the job he's done with Detroit's defense from front to back, and the extent to which his players believe in him, will have teams more interested in impact than tenure looking his way.
Honorable Mention: David Shaw -- Head Coach, Stanford Cardinal; Greg Roman -- Offensive Coordinator, San Francisco 49ers; Darrell Bevell -- Offensive Coordinator, Seattle Seahawks; Adam Gase -- Offensive Coordinator, Denver Broncos; Jack Del Rio -- Defensive Coordinator, Denver Broncos