Head coaching hot seat: Possible destinations for Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden

Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden have established themselves as top notch head coaching candidates. What teams will come calling this offseason?

In the NFL, Nine weeks is usually long enough.

Long enough to know where you stand as a football team, to grow frustrated with underachievement, joyous with over achievement or uneasy as you rest in that middle ground. Long enough to judge what has already happened and expectantly wait for what is next. Long enough to praise and condemn.

And it is long enough to want to fire your head coach.

Enter the NFL head coaching casino, where the slot machines are endless and there are only 32 players. You've been sitting at one particular machine for the better half of a night. You've grown comfortable with this machine. There have been big wins, but there have been more losses and like most players, you're down. You grow antsy. You want gratification, you want a payout and you want it now. Do you deserve anything less? You've spent a decent amount of time and money to this machine, and you've been patient. Win now, or you'll take your bucket of coins somewhere else.

But with no guarantees of success, how can you just keep waiting, especially when you see so many other players around you winning? The San Francisco 49ers sat down at that fresh, loud machine on the west side of the casino no more than 30 minutes ago, and already they've hit multiple jackpots. Every time you look over, the machine lights up and sounds its alarm of congratulations. Same for the players from Baltimore and Atlanta. There is success all over this room. Who's to say one of these unoccupied machines won't become the biggest winner of the whole hall?

It's tempting to want to switch machines, especially during a cold streak. Close to a dozen players are feeling that sentiment right now, four are seriously flirting with the option and two very enticing machines remain unoccupied at this moment: Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden.

By my count, 11 coaches have been rumored to be on the hot seat this season. Eleven is a lot. I doubt one-third of the NFL head coaches are canned following this season, but I would not be surprised to see between four and seven. And these particular four seem to be the most likely: Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs. Maybe even the Dallas Cowboys, but that seems to be a question of Sean Payton's availability more than anything.

Zimmer is a top head coaching candidate and received serious looks from teams the past few offseasons, most notably from the Miami Dolphins last offseason before they ultimately decided to go with Joe Philbin. His prowess as a defensive coordinator is noted. Seldom given much to work with (see: middle linebacker Rey Maualuga), Zimmer produced a top ten defense in 2011 and a top five defense in 2009. What's the probability he finds his way to a head coach-less team this time around?

Gruden entered the NFL in 2011 as the Bengals offensive coordinator after more than a decade of coaching in the AFL and immediately found success. He took a rookie quarterback, a rookie receiver, a decent offensive line and a less than stellar running back, and somehow created a playoff caliber offense. Results like that drew suitors last year, but a desire to generate a bigger resume with an extension from Mike Brown enticed him to stay.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Organizations usually allow coaches more than one season before sending them to the curb, but was Romeo Crennel ever really the Chiefs' man to begin with? He came in for only three games in 2011, replacing Todd Haley, and beat the 13-0 Green Bay Packers. He beat the seemingly unbeatable. That's how he got the full-time job. And wouldn't ya know it, that win was just as much of a fluke as we all thought, proved by the fact that his 2012 Chiefs team is HORRENDOUS. They have not held a lead this season. Consider that. They have not held a lead at any point of any game this entire season (their one win came in overtime, so while winning, they technically did not hold a lead for any time).

Points, a pretty big factor in the game of football, are the main issue for Kansas City, as they have allowed the third most points per game while scoring the third least. Both sides of the ball need help, so both Zimmer and Gruden make sense. But Zimmer is the more likely candidate. His experience in the league and his nose to the grindstone mantra fits well with the deep historically rooted Kansas City franchise. Also, he has a vastly different coaching style than Romeo. Don't get me wrong, I think Romeo Crennel is a wonderful and warm human being who brings a sense of joy to all who surround him. But he isn't a successful NFL coach. A fiery, energetic pissed-off Zimmer may be a welcome change of pace for the Chiefs.

A recent fanpost on the Kansas City Chiefs blog, Arrowhead Pride, made a case for both candidates.

Jay Gruden also comes to mind, he is turning Andy Dalton into a star, and he leads the currently 6th ranked offense this year, he most likely has the fire his brother, Jon, has too, and maybe a little more reserved also which could be good., Mike Zimmer also comes to mind, Yes, he is 4-3 d coordinator but he can adjust. Players simply love playing for this man, and he has a huge passion for the game, and loads of heart.

BUFFALO BILLS

Chan Gailey is in his third season with the Buffalo Bills is well on his way to his third straight last place finish in the AFC East. The NFL, especially due to the parity of the league and the likelihood of a different contender every year, orients itself on a "win now" attitude, and Gailey isn't getting the job done.

Buffalo's clear weakness is on defense, where they've allowed the second most points in the league, so logic says Zimmer should be the guy. But one fanpost on the Bills' SB Nation blog, Buffalo Rumblings, lobbies for Gruden.

Although Jon (Gruden) might be a long shot, Jay Gruden is starting to get some looks as a serious head coaching candidate due to his work with Andy Dalton, and its well warranted. I'm just going to say, I don't think Cincy is missing Carson Palmer? Jay Gruden was asked to interview for 3 head coaching jobs [last] offseason, (STL, IND, and JAX)

CLEVELAND BROWNS

This one is about as close to a sure thing as you get. Pat Shurmur's job was already on the line heading into Sunday's loss against the Ravens. After a boneheaded decision not to punt on fourth down at their own 28-yard line, down seven points with 3:53 on the clock and two timeouts remaining (the conversion attempt, of course, failed), he is now also a laughingstock. His two-year NFL head coaching career is tanking, and no one can do anything but stop and watch the wreckage.

So, who will replace him? Branson Wright of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland believes Jay Gruden is one of many candidates, including his brother, Jon.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Philly fans are ruthless. They hit a 14-year long heater the moment they sat down at the Andy Reid slot machine. No, they never hit the Grand Prize, but they've hit huge jackpots and they've hit them consistently. The other teams on this list are firing coaches after two 4-12 seasons. The Eagles are considering a change after six NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl. I understand that at the core of gambling is greed, but after a decade and a half, Reid has left Philly fans with a sizable profit. Still, the Eagles are likely looking for a new machine after 2012.

What makes this particular scenario so interesting is that the Eagles, unlike the other teams on this list, are built to win now. They aren't winning now, hence the firing, but that was the plan. The pieces are in place. Would a new coach put it all together?

If and when Reid is fired, Zimmer's and Gruden's names will come up as candidates but likely will sit behind more prominent names, such as the elder Gruden or Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly. One member of the Philadelphia Eagles blog, Bleeding Green Nation, posted about Jay Gruden's candidacy in the middle of last season.

This guy just knows football...And he is doing an incredible job for the Bengals. Some guys are just naturals and Jay Gruden would appear to be just that. He has a strong track record of winning at different levels in different situations, he has a players' background, he has Superbowl and playoff experience, he was mentored by his brother Jon Gruden (Bill Walsh coaching tree) and he has shown the ability to develop and utilize talent effectively. Keep an eye on him.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

As it constantly seems with this team, Marvin Lewis' name is not free of hot seat discussion. And the argument is warranted given the Bengals' disappointing 2012 season. Both sides of the debate have been stated many times, and they'll surely be stated again in the coming weeks, so there's no need to delve too deeply into the subject right now. But from an outsider's perspective, here are the facts:

He has a losing record. He has never won a playoff game. His teams regress in the year following a playoff berth.

That is after nine seasons. It's not an overreaction to call for Marvin's job. If it's any source of comfort, the Bengals should consider themselves lucky they have these two terrific head coaching candidates in Gruden and Zimmer already in the organization. A promotion within the organization to head coach is a decently popular route for coaches to take in the NFL. It's the route Jason Garret took with the Cowboys, Leslie Frazier took with the Vikings and Jeff Fischer took with the Titans.

Teams are going to come calling for Zimmer and Gruden this offseason. That is for sure. Whether any will commit to either candidate, however, is not so certain. Zimmer has been passed over several times in the past few years. Will that trend continue? Gruden made it clear last offseason that he wanted to stay the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Does he still feel as strongly?

They are fresh, attractive candidates, but rarely do the sexy, new slot machines pay out. Who knows how it will shake out. That's why they call it gambling.

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