As part of ESPN.com's recent survey of NFL head coaches, we asked who the best assistant coach in the league was. It inspired interesting answers. Nineteen different assistant coaches received votes.
The league is surely in good hands when it comes to assistant coaches, the men who do the dirty work. But nearly every assistant coach in the league desires to be the head man someday. While several coaches were named the best by their colleagues, the following is a look at some of the hottest names, based on my opinion and from scuttlebutt around the league, who could be on top of the short list of owners around the league next January as the proverbial NFL coaching carousel begins to turn again.
Steve Spagnuolo, New York Giants defensive coordinator
Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator
Frazier got some good head-coaching buzz this past winter, and his name surely will be on top of some lists after this season. Frazier, 49, will be especially attractive if his Minnesota defense performs as expected this season. An already-good defense got better with the acquisition of sack master Jared Allen. The defense, along with second-year running back Adrian Peterson, is expected to carry the Vikings in 2008. It also could carry Frazier into the head-coaching realm. A member of the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl team, Frazier is known for his quiet demeanor, his knowledge of the game and his approach to coaching. Frazier has been an assistant to both Andy Reid and Tony Dungy, and his experience will help him take the next step in his coaching career.
Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator
Garrett might be the most interesting assistant coach to watch after the season. Though Dallas head coach Wade Phillips shouldn't be on the hot seat, he will be if the Cowboys don't make a lot of noise in the postseason. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones loves Garrett, and it has long been expected that Garrett someday will be the head man in Dallas. But Phillips has done a nice job, so Garrett's head-coaching opportunity may be elsewhere. Garrett, 42, a former backup to quarterback Troy Aikman, is one of the most exciting young offensive minds in the game. He was highly sought after by Baltimore and Atlanta for coaching gigs this past January, but he decided to stay with Dallas. Even though Jones pays Garrett like a head coach, Garrett probably will get an offer he can't refuse after this season.
Gregg Williams, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator
Williams will be a head coach in the NFL again, although he did not have great success as Buffalo's head coach from 2001 to 2003. One of the most respected defensive coaches in the league, Williams was widely expected to succeed Joe Gibbs as head coach of Washington after Williams was the defensive coordinator there. The Jaguars think Williams could be the missing link to a special season, but they had better strike quickly: Williams, who turns 50 next week, might not be around in 2009.
Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary coach
The casual NFL fan likely has not heard of Morris, but that will change soon. He will be an NFL head coach. It might not be in 2009, but it won't be long after that. Some shrewd teams will examine Morris after this season. And even though Morris is just 31, two head coaches named him as the best assistant coach in the league in the ESPN.com survey. Morris is known as a motivator and a strong X's and O's man. He has drawn comparisons to Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin, who just three years ago held the same position Morris currently holds. Mark it down, Morris is a coach to watch.
Though these five coaches will get strong consideration, it is unknown how many jobs will open. Remember, Seattle already named Jim L. Mora as its successor to Mike Holmgren after this season, and Indianapolis will name Jim Caldwell head coach after Dungy retires.
Here are some other names to watch for head-coaching gigs after this season: Former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher, former Baltimore coach Brian Billick, Arizona assistant Russ Grimm, Tennessee assistant Jim Schwartz, San Francisco assistant Mike Singletary, New England assistant Dom Capers, Jacksonville assistant Mike Tice, St. Louis assistant Jim Haslett and Philadelphia assistant Marty Mornhinweg.
Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com.