After an intense opening news conference, all of us — including Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross — are willing to see what interim head coach Dan Campbell can do. He’s an NFL veteran with plenty of clout on the field and he’s only spent a few years without a helmet and pads on. This goes a long way with established players.
That being said, there is no doubt Ross will be looking around in the meantime and after the season ends. And when he does, he’ll be looking at one of the three major coaching categories every owner sifts through.
Here, at this point a quarter way through the season, are the best candidates available at the moment in those spots:
Second-chance NFL head coaches
Jim Schwartz, free agent
The former Lions head coach has worked with Ndamukong Suh in the past and knows how to use him effectively. While that won’t be the sole reason Ross picks a coach, it will certainly be a large part of the interview process. Schwartz is also a part of the illustrious Bill Parcells coaching tree, having gotten his start under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns back in 1993, and we all know that goes a long way in Miami.
Raheem Morris, assistant head coach, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons‘ defensive backs coach and assistant head coach is a part of the hottest staff in football right now, especially with Kyle Shanahan earning some well-deserved head coaching buzz as well. Morris, though, is an interesting case because he got some head coaching experience at a very young age. He’s still only 39 and has the energy and enthusiasm to connect with younger players. He has also been studying NFL passing attacks for the past four years and could be a draw for a team looking for answers to slow down New England.
Todd Haley, offensive coordinator, Pittsburgh Steelers
Regardless of how disastrous Haley’s tenure in Kansas City ended, he’s done a nice job taking an established veteran quarterback in Pittsburgh and bringing his game to a new level. The Dolphins, although not tied long-term to the hip of Ryan Tannehill, will want someone to come in right away and work magic with their franchise quarterback. Having Parcells connections won’t hurt, either.
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots
This feels like the year McDaniels will re-enter the head coaching ranks, regardless of how deep New England goes. The 39-year-old is also young, also connected to Parcells and also a part of one of the league’s most efficient offenses. There is a difference between coaching Tom Brady and making the next one, but McDaniels should do well for himself the next time around.
Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals
Jackson is one of the most well-liked and well-respected offensive minds in football. More than that, though, he is a player’s coach and is in the midst of a pretty phenomenal early-season run in Cincinnati. Jackson has been deserving of another shot for some time now. Perhaps this is his chance.
Coordinators with no NFL head coaching experience
Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Atlanta Falcons
Why not? His offense was great in Washington, it was serviceable in Cleveland — a compliment, all things considered — and it is downright nasty in Atlanta. Shanahan has coached different types of quarterbacks and has found success across the board. A good pedigree doesn’t hurt, but he’s looking to make a name for himself and is on the right track.
Adam Gase, offensive coordinator, Chicago Bears
His interview schedule will be largely dependent on his success without Peyton Manning. And while his current situation in Chicago is less than ideal, he can also look at this as a way to establish a stronger case for owners this January.
Pep Hamilton, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts
Like Gase, this is all going to depend on how the season shakes out. Hamilton has a classic coaching pedigree with strong NFL roots and now has a cadre of weapons to work with on offense. Yes, Indianapolis is off to a shaky start, but is anyone willing to bet that Andrew Luck won’t finish as a top-five passer again this season?
College coaches with no NFL head coaching experience
Gus Malzahn, head coach, Auburn
The Auburn head coach will be unfairly associated with whatever successes or failures Chip Kelly has in Philadelphia, but it’s important not to lump the two in together. Malzahn is an extremely creative offensive mind that knows how to get the most out of his star players and he could bring some fresh ideas to the table as the NFL rapidly changes.
Brian Kelly, head coach, Notre Dame
Notre Dame has found a way into the national conversation over the past few years thanks to Kelly’s program management ability. His offense is versatile and blends the pro style well with read-option elements. That being said, he came out very strongly against coaching in the NFL after interviewing for the Eagles‘ vacancy back in 2013.
Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Texas A&M
Like people have said about a Jim Harbaugh-NFL reunion, there are some jobs that are better than the Miami Dolphins job, and Sumlin’s job at Texas A&M, like Michigan, might be one of those. Some coaches are smart enough to realize that they are in the perfect situation, and while we’re not sure about Sumlin, we know he’s one heck of a football coach.