By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Thanksgiving weekend marks an important moment in the 2012 NFL season.
It means that the firing season will soon be at hand.
The regular season will come to an end Dec. 30. That means that there could be 10 or more current NFL head coaches who have a very unhappy New Year because they will get their pink slip on New Year’s Eve.
Oregon’s Chip Kelly will be one of the top candidates to move from high-powered college head coach to the NFL. When you spend part of your offseason advising Bill Belichick and Tom Brady on how to run a fast-paced, no-huddle offense and follow that up by leading one of the most explosive college teams in recent memory, you are going to get fast-tracked yourself.
Kelly may or may not want to move on, but he will certainly listen. So will NBC analyst Tony Dungy and ESPN color man Jon Gruden. Both have an interest in getting back into coaching.
But the 2013 crop of NFL head coaches will almost certainly be filled out by some of the top assistant coaches in the business. Here’s a look at five who will be among the top candidates and will get a chance to lead their own teams if they handle the interview process:
Mike Zimmer, Cincinnati – The Bengals have had an up-and-down season, but defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has been one of the most impressive assistant coaches in the league during the last two seasons. Zimmer is known for his organization and his logic as a team leader. He has established a team that can stop the interior run thanks to the presence of Geno Atkins and Domata Peko. While Atkins has been widely recognized as one of the best interior linemen in the league, much of the credit must go to Zimmer, who puts him in the proper position to succeed. The Bengals don’t always get a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but don’t blame Zimmer. They don’t have a lot of pass-rushing talent. However, Zimmer disguises his coverages well and that allows the Bengals to get the most out of their talent.
Perry Fewell, New York Giants – Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell received much of the credit last year for the Giants’ explosive postseason run to the Super Bowl. The Giants did not play very well during the regular season last year and they have followed that pattern again this year. Fewell is respected for being able to get the best efforts out of his players in the biggest games. Fewell is under the gun right now because the Giants’ talented defensive line is not playing up to its ability. However, if the Giants can hold off the Cowboys and win the division, they have every chance to repeat last year’s playoff success and Fewell will be at the top of the interview list.
Greg Roman, San Francisco – The 49ers’ offensive coordinator will become perhaps the hottest of the head coaching candidates during the offseason. He has put together an offense that can be difficult for opposing defenses to figure out even though the Niners don’t have an elite quarterback. The 49ers have a power-type offense but they disguise their intentions with formations. Jon Gruden said in Monday night’s broadcast that the Niners were coming at the Bears “with formations they hadn’t used all season.” While that was technically correct, the variations from previous games were familiar to his players and they were able to make the adjustments with confidence even though they were using a backup quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who was making his first start.
Ray Horton, Arizona – The Cardinals are falling apart right now, but don’t blame their defensive coordinator. Horton has given them a defense that is able to carry the team nearly every week. Opponents have a difficult time throwing the ball against a secondary that includes multi-talented Patrick Peterson at cornerback. Horton, a former defensive back with the Bengals, is an excellent teacher with strong leadership skills.
Jay Gruden, Cincinnati – Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is one of the most creative minds in the NFL. Andy Dalton has rebounded from a few poor performances largely because Gruden has gotten him back on track. In addition to being a technician who can work with his players on their techniques, he is maniacal in his film study and he excels at finding his opponents’ weaknesses. While he has an intense personality, he is not as difficult to be around as his self-absorbed brother.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.