A week after “Black Monday,” five NFL teams remain without a head coach. The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs have ended their searches, hiring Doug Marrone and Andy Reid, respectively.
Several coaches that were fired after the end of the regular season have emerged as some of the top candidates for the current openings. The Chicago Bears let go of Lovie Smith, but Smith could land a job before the Bears find his replacement.
Even though he was fired, Smith has a resume that makes him one of the best candidates available. He made a Super Bowl appearance in 2007 when the Bears lost to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The 54-year-old went 81-63 in nine seasons, and even won 10 games in 2012. Chicago missed out on the postseason because the Minnesota Vikings won the tiebreaker for the final NFC wild card spot.
As college coaches and coordinators go off the market, Smith is quickly becoming the most viable candidate for multiple teams. That may soon be the case with the Cleveland Browns, who have just lost out on their top choice.
Chip Kelly had been the top candidate in NFL circles among college football coaches. In four seasons at Oregon, he’s lost just seven games, reaching the Rose Bowl twice and the National Championship Game once. His offensive system has turned the Ducks into a juggernaut and a title contender every year.
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The Browns were reportedly ready to make an offer to Kelly over the weekend. However, that changed when he reportedly showed reluctance about making the leap to the pros. Now, reports say Kelly has decided to remain at Oregon.
With Kelly off the market, it will be hard for Cleveland to find a better option than Smith. Since the franchise was reactivated in 1999, they haven’t had a proven head coach. Eric Mangini was the most experienced, after just one postseason with the New York Jets in three seasons. Former college coaches like Chris Palmer and Butch Davis couldn’t get the job done.
In the past 13 seasons, the Browns have just one playoff appearance and two years with a record above .500. That might have something to do with the fact that their head coaches, in that time, had just three total years of head coaching experience. Smith was the head man in Chicago for almost a decade, and might be the change that Cleveland needs.
Another possible destination for Smith is the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers fired general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner last Monday.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, San Diego wants to meet with Smith about their open head coaching position. The club hopes to hire a general manager soon, so he can join in on the search.
Smith would have a chance to win right away in San Diego. The Chargers haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, but they haven’t been a bottom-feeder in the AFC like the Browns. They have a .500 record in the past three years, and made the postseason in the previous four years.
The Chargers already have an established quarterback in Phillip Rivers. The veteran’s numbers have regressed in the past few years, but his weak offensive line has been partially to blame. Rivers was sacked 49 times in 2012, second to only Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers.
In the 2006 season, Smith led the Bears to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at quarterback. If he can turn an average San Diego defensive unit into a top one, the Chargers could be a force in the AFC. Smith’s Bears teams were always among the top defensive teams in the NFL, and there’s a good chance he could do the same with the Chargers.
Smith has already had one interview, but won’t be getting that position. He met with the Bills before they hired Marrone.