- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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The firing of Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio on Tuesday started what looks to be another season of wild coaching hirings and firings.
The big question facing teams this year is where to find the replacements. Recent hires have drained the talent pool of options. As one general manager put it, the list of young wunderkinds has run dry.
Part of the problem is head coaches who call their own plays. Although those teams have offensive coordinators, those coordinators have very little, if any, play-calling experience. Play calling may not be vital in determining a potential head coach, but it sure helps in showing how he makes decisions under pressure.
Currently, 10 head coaches call their offensive plays. Eight offensive coordinators with NFL head-coaching experience call plays: Mike Martz (Chicago), Scott Linehan (Detroit), Mike Mularkey (Atlanta), Cam Cameron (Baltimore), Kevin Gilbride (New York Giants), Chris Palmer (Tennessee), Marty Mornhinweg (Philadelphia) and Josh McDaniels (St. Louis). Five head coaches call defensive plays, and there are nine former head coaches who are defensive coordinators: Wade Phillips (Houston), Dick LeBeau (Pittsburgh), Dick Jauron (Cleveland), Gunther Cunningham (Detroit), Mike Nolan (Miami), Jim Haslett (Washington), Rod Marinelli (Chicago), Romeo Crennel (Kansas City) and Gregg Williams (New Orleans).
There could be between five and seven head-coaching changes this year. Identifying the hot assistant is hard to do. Most of the changes could happen in the AFC, where Norv Turner (Chargers), Tony Sparano (Dolphins), Jim Caldwell (Colts) and Todd Haley (Chiefs) are sitting on hot seats. Things are more cloudy in the NFC, where you can't say for sure whether there will be changes in St. Louis, Philadelphia and New York.
As for hot coaches, is it too soon to say that Dennis Allen (defensive coordinator, Denver Broncos), Chuck Pagano (defensive coordinator, Baltimore Ravens) and Jay Gruden (offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals) are ready for head-coaching jobs? Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will be a strong candidate.
Owners who fire their head coaches will have to be more creative or willing to gamble more this year than ever before.
From the inbox
Q: With Mike Williams obviously not the receiver we all thought he was and with Arrelious Benn not looking like a true No. 1 receiver, what are the chances of the Bucs going after DeSean Jackson after this season?
Jay in Tampa, Fla.
A: I don't anticipate the Eagles letting Jackson hit the free-agent market, so I don't see that as an option. But let's say he did. Williams, like Jackson, came to his team with a checkered past and questions about how he handled himself. Though Jackson has had problems with his attitude this season, he had been a good citizen. Williams has been a good citizen, but his performance tailed off this season. So did Jackson's without the contract. If the Bucs pay Jackson, I fear Williams will let his performance slip even more because he's not getting the big money in the third year of his rookie contract. Putting Jackson on Tampa Bay with Williams could be a problem. I say no.
Q: You told a Jets fan to expect Mark Sanchez to be the QB for several years. But what about Peyton Manning? The Colts are making clear signs they'll pick Andrew Luck. With all the holes on that team, it makes much more sense to trade Manning than Luck.
Joe in New York
A: I don't see a trade for Manning because his $28 million option bonus is due before the start of the 2012 trading period. If the Jets want to sign him, they can sign him if he hits the open market. But Jets coach Rex Ryan is committed to Sanchez. You can't go to AFC title games every year. I know the Bills did it for four years, but that was a rarity. Like it or not, the Jets' quarterback is Sanchez. They just have to upgrade the talent around him.
Q: Huge San Diego fan, but hurting badly because of the performance this year. With the way Philip Rivers is playing this year, and QBs being pulled for bad play all over the league, can we expect to see Billy Volek anytime soon?
Daniel in Lawrence, Kan.
A: Things are bad enough with the Chargers. The last thing they should do is bench Rivers. Rivers is working with a group of pass-catchers that simply is not as good as in the past. Antonio Gates can't get downfield. Vincent Jackson can be double-covered. Malcom Floyd is nowhere to be seen. And the O-line is injured and not protecting. Write it off as a bad year and wait to see if there is a coaching change.
Q: The Peyton Manning situation only proves that the Colts are quite possibly the worst-run team in the entire NFL. When you put all your eggs in one basket and the basket breaks, you have nobody to blame but yourself.
Jordan in Wisconsin
A: The Colts' offense is designed for pass-blocking and the pass sets up the run. Without Manning, the Colts can't do anything. Yes, they do need to re-evaluate how they stock the talent on this team. They can't go for light, pass-blocking offensive linemen. They need to get bigger on defense. But the big decision is whether to keep Manning and draft Andrew Luck or trade Luck for draft choices.
Q: How often do teams change their playbooks and insert college-type plays and philosophies, the way the Panthers are doing for Cam Newton and the Broncos for Tim Tebow? I have heard of them constricting the playbook, like the Steelers did in Ben Roethlisberger's rookie year. I just haven't heard of playbooks being completely tailored to a QB on this level. Is this a precedent or just being brought to light more because of the names associated with it?
Les in Augusta, Ga.
A: Coaches steal everything, so they often look to college for new solutions. Bill Belichick took a lot of the Mike Leach passing plays for his offense. A lot of teams are putting a read-option run into their playbooks. Very few revamp their playbook like the Broncos did for Tebow, but coaches are always looking for new things to confuse defenses or offenses.
Q: Why is it that no one ever talks about the Eagles' history of terrible signings. They seem to never want to pay their receivers, and lose them one way or another. They signed a corner they didn't need and overpaid Michael Vick. Their second-best player, DeSean Jackson, is one of the lowest-paid No. 1 receivers in the league. Without him, they wouldn't have made the playoffs last season. Don't you think its time for a GM change?
Andre in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan
A: One of the problems of bringing in high-priced free agents is that it could rip apart the locker room. I believe that happened this year. Asante Samuel wasn't happy after the Eagles paid big money for Nnamdi Asomugha. Jackson isn't the same after the offseason of big contracts. The one thing that is factual is that we've been talking about the big contracts just about every day. No one is ignoring it, that's for sure.
From E in Atlanta
A: Great point. Yards per attempt often judges how much a team is getting the ball down the field. If you are around 6.5 yards per attempt, your offense is in trouble. Some of the problems with a low yards per attempt is play calling as the offensive coordinator often doesn't let the ball go down the field. Apparently, the Falcons felt the YPA argument was valid. They traded five draft choices to be in position to draft Julio Jones. With Jones, Ryan has gone from 6.5 yards an attempt to 7.3. That's opened up Tony Gonzalez for longer passes in the middle of the field.
Q: No one in their right mind can defend Ndamukong Suh's antics on Thanksgiving. And I don't intend to. I would, however, like to get your opinion on the inconsistencies of officiating and suspensions in the NFL and how to resolve it. During that Green Bay drive, Suh was blatantly held twice by two Packers, almost as if they were hugging him. Both times there were no flags.
Shane in Pfafftown, N.C.
A: As longtime NFL observers say, holding can be called on every play. There are always going to be inconsistencies with officiating and suspensions. There are going to be more inconsistencies now because the NFL is going through a major change in the way tackles are made. In another year or so, things should be a little more consistent. Like it or not, the league is making players change the way they tackle to better protect players from injuries. Players are adjusting, but it takes time. Still, there is no excuse for Suh's extra antics. A two-game suspension was the right call.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter
The pool of qualified head-coaching candidates isn't nearly as deep as usual, John Clayton writes in his latest mailbag.