The Miami Dolphins are down to their final game under interim head coach Dan Campbell. The team will face the New England Patriots on Sunday and officially move into the search for a new head coach. With the firing of former head coach Joe Philbin 13 weeks earlier, the franchise has had plenty of time to start building lists and developing a plan for how to attack this offseason. Who could be on that list of potential head coaches for a team that, despite a decade of mediocrity, still ranks as the fourth winningest franchise in league history?
We have had a running list of potential coaches for the Dolphins, scouring the ranks of former NFL coaches, current coordinators, and potential college coaches looking to jump to the professional league. The most recent version of the list has 27 potential candidates on it, and still does not include names like Chip Kelly, who was fired from the Philadelphia Eagles last night; Gary Patterson, who has sprung TCU back into the national spotlight the last few years; Chuck Pagano, who could be heading into the end of his tenure with the Indianapolis Colts; and Sean Payton, who may or may not be fired by the New Orleans Saints. Trying to make a comprehensive list is nearly impossible, so today, we do something a little different.
Today, I present to you my top five wish list for the team. This is not to say any of these guys will be interviewed or hired by the Dolphins, but it is my personal short list for the job. Feel free to make your own top five in the comments after the article, as well as tell me why you think anyone on this list should or should not be there.
And, to be fair, this listing could change over the next week or two as Miami starts their search and leaks begin to trickle out about who they are considering.
Top Dolphins Coaching Candidates:
Honorable Mentions: I believe the Dolphins have to look for a head coach who has been a head coach before, particularly an NFL head coach. That said, if the team wants to look at the up-and-coing coordinators, three jump out for immediate consideration: Ben McAdoo, offensive coordinator, New York Giants; Adam Gase, offensive coordinator, Chicago Bears; Teryl Austin, defensive coordinator, Detroit Lions
Wildcard: Eric Mangini, defensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers - Mangini worked with Miami Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum with the New York Jets and is close to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. He probably fits somewhere into the equation, but where I do not know.
5. Mike Shula, offensive coordinator, Carolina Panthers - Shula does not have NFL head coaching experience, and is among the "up-and-coming" coordinators, but he has been a head coach, spending four years at Alabama before being fired, to be replaced by Nick Saban, who was leaving the Dolphins. Would Shula consider making his NFL head coaching debut with the team that his dad coached, leading to five Super Bowls with two championships, and is the definition of a legend?
4. David Shaw, head coach, Stanford - Shaw has been the head coach at Stanford since 2011, when he took over when Jim Harbaugh jumped to the NFL. It is his first head coaching job, but he has been a position coach at the NFL level for multiple teams. He has a 53-14 record as a coach at Stanford, leading the team to bowl games every year, including the Fiesta Bowl in 2011 and the Rose Bowl three times (including this year). Shaw has not indicated he wants to move to the professional level, and the common wisdom has him moving to the Colts if he does make the jump, reuniting him with Andrew Luck, but the Dolphins could try to sell him on Ryan Tannehill and Stephen Ross has the deep pockets to offer Shaw a huge payday.
3. Doug Marrone, offensive line coach/assistant head coach, Jacksonville Jaguars - Marrone is going to be an interesting candidate to watch this year, particularly with how he left the Buffalo Bills after the 2014 season. Marrone was hired by the Bills in 2013 after having been the head coach at Syracuse for four years. He had worked his way through various position coaching jobs in both college and NFL levels, eventually becoming the Saints' offensive coordinator, a position he held from 2009 to 2012 until taking the Syracuse job. Marrone went 6-10 in his first season with the Bills, then led them to their first winning season in 10 years, ending 2014 at 9-7. Things looked like they were heading up for the Bills, and then Marrone used an opt-out clause in his contract and just walked away, though the Bills were still required to pay him his full 2015 salary. Marrone seemed to believe he was going to walk straight into another head coaching job, but after a poor interview with the New York Jets, he had to settle for a position as an assistant head coach and offensive line coach for the Jaguars. As Sean Payton's offensice coordinator, Marrone saw quarterback Drew Brees rebound from his exile from the San Diego Chargers, leading the league in passing yards for two of the three seasons, including his first 5,000 yard passing season, as well as leading the league in attempts and completions in two seasons and touchdown passes once. Marrone is going to be looking for a head coaching position this offseason, and the Dolphins could look his way, if they are not scared off by the random opt-out from the Bills.
2. Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots - McDaniels went 11-17 in his season-and-a-half as the head coach for the Denver Broncos. He tried to control too much in his time with the Broncos - trying to be the next Bill Belichick before he was ready to assume that much power, and it did not go well. He has admitted that he did not allow his coordinators or the front office to have enough input, and he seems to have learned from his mistakes. Since being fired, he worked a season as the St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator and has been back with the New England Patriots the last four years as the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. McDaniels does come with some risk, given his trade of Jay Cutler and his first-round drafting of Tim Tebow, but he does seem to be back in the head coaching candidates group this year. He has been selective the last two seasons, choosing to stay with the Patriots rather than take the Cleveland Browns head coaching job in 2014 or the San Francisco 49ers job this year, due in large part to the organization management structure, and how management was involved in the coaching. If McDaniels were to come to Miami, the team would likely have to clean up the front office structure (one that got tons of attention last year as unusual, though it really is not that unique around the NFL). The team's head coaching search committee does not include General Manager Dennis Hickey, which could be a sign that the Dolphins are willing to replace him this year, or it could just be the way they decided to use their personnel this offseason.
1. Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator, Cincinnati Bengals - Jackson does not appear to be on the initial short list Miami has put together, though he is on the periphery. He only has one season as an NFL head coach, going 8-8 with the Oakland Raiders, but was fired when new general manager Reggie McKenzie took control of the team. Jackson then returned to the Bengals, where he had served as the team's wide receivers coach from 2004 to 2006, before a year as the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator, two years as the Baltimore Ravens' quarterbacks coach, a year as the Raiders' offensive coordinator before his year as the team's head coach. The Bengals are putting up points this year, fourth in the league at 26.3 points per game, though they are just 13th in yards per game (362.4). In the two years since Jackson became the Bengals' offensive coordinator, Andy Dalton has returned to Pro Bowl form, earning a trip to the all-star game last year, and appearing to be headed to another appearance this year before an injury sidelined him in Week 14; Palmer's completion percentage is at a career high this year, two percentage points higher than last year's career high, he is fourth in the league in passing yards, third in touchdowns, and second in passer rating. Jackson's influence on Dalton - and now A.J. McCarron, who missed his entire rookie year last year with a shoulder injury but has filled in nicely for Dalton, throwing for 694 yards with 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, a 67.4 completion rate, and a 95.1 passer rating - should thrust him toward the top of all the coaching searches this offseason.