- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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Coaching hires go through trends. A few years ago, franchises handed out general manager titles to get big-name head coaches. For a while, teams went after hot assistants. Last year, owners wrestled some of the general manager titles away from the head coaches.
And this winter, experienced head coaches owe Bill Parcells a thank you. Parcells' success in turning around the Cowboys will move experienced head coaches to the front of the hiring process. Dennis Green, Tom Coughlin and even the soon-to-be-fired Jim Fassel will be at the front of the list in filling the six-to-nine expected head coaching openings.
Pro football turns over close to 40 percent to 50 percent of its head coaches every two years, and it's hard for head coaches to get a third or fourth chance. But the NFL is going through an interesting shaking out period.
As the salary cap enters its second decade, teams aren't operating in as much fear of the cap. They do a better job of keeping the top free agents on their rosters. Fewer starters reach the free-agent market. After 10 years, the mystery of this system is gone.
Coaching is more important. With the difference between the fifth best team and the 20th best team being minimal, you better have the right coach. Hence, owners might take fewer chances.
Green is a no brainer for any franchise. With Minnesota, his ultimate accomplishment was taking teams to the playoffs with a different quarterback each year. His offensive system was good enough that he could patch the quarterback position until he found the right one. That's quite valuable in this game.
There might have been a time when he wanted more control of front office decisions, but that isn't the case now. Green will probably end up with the Raiders. That's a perfect fit because Green works well with veterans. If Rich Gannon comes back next year, Green will be in the familiar spot of going with the short-term quarterback until the replacement is groomed. Plus, Green is a West Coast guy with a winning record.
Former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin might have scared off a few teams that interviewed him last year because he's all about control. It's not the power but the efficiency he's looking for. He built the Jaguars from expansion to conference champions by coordinating every decision and every action. He's a proven winner.
What will probably happen once the Giants fire Fassel is Coughlin will wow the Giants ownership in his interview. After all, ownership knows and likes him from his days as a Parcells assistant. What Coughlin must do at the risk of losing this job is not scare off general manager Ernie Accorsi.
If Coughlin comes in and convinces Accorsi they can work together without tension in personnel decisions, the Giants will go Coughlin, a disciplinarian with a strong offensive system. Another no-brainer.
And what about Fassel? People in the Cardinals organization are prepared to push him once Dave McGinnis is fired after the season. Fassel coached in Arizona and knows the landscape.
The "proven winner" scenario theory might also save a couple of jobs. It could keep Marty Schottenheimer in San Diego and Dave Wannstedt in Miami. The problem in any year in which there is a lot of head coaching turnover is filling out the list of candidates. Five should never be a problem. When there are six-to-nine openings, it's altogether different.
The most important question is will the replacement make the team better or worse? Wannstedt went into this season pretty much knowing he needed to make the playoffs to keep his job. Except for last year, when the Dolphins finished a tie-breaker out of the playoffs after a back-breaking schedule, the Dolphins have one of the longest playoff contending runs in football. The Dolphins and Broncos are battling for the last wild-card spot.
Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga hasn't gone through the whole hiring rigmorle since 1996 when he brought in Jimmy Johnson. As the assistant, Wannstedt became the logical replacement to carry on the Johnson legacy. If Green, Coughlin and Fassel are gone, which way does Huizenga go? College coaches are expensive and those without any NFL experience need time to adjust. Steve Spurrier's poor showing in Washington could scare Huizenga off of a hot college coach.
The other problem is that hot assistants aren't as hot as in past years. Six of the league's top 10 defenses are on teams with losing records. Plus, there is no dominating defense or offense this year. Worse, some of the best prospects among the minority candidates -- Ted Cottrell with the Jets, Greg Blache with the Bears and Tim Lewis with the Steelers -- might be coaching at different places next year.
It's not all bleak. The Patriots play this season has made Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis hot candidates. Offensive coordinators Al Saunders (Kansas City), Brad Childress (Philadelphia) and Mike Heimerdinger (Tennessee) along with defensive coordinators Lovie Smith (St. Louis) and Jim Mora Jr. (San Francisco) head the list of hot coaches.
Owners might look at those lists and decide their coach deserves another year. It's something Huizenga should consider. In San Diego, there have been so many changes since the Spanos family bought the team that ownership might be shy about going for a hot assistant.
The problem with hiring someone out of college, is the price of grabbing a big name. Nick Saban already has a $3 million a year package on his desk from LSU. To get Saban would cost $5 million. Ouch. Kirk Ferentz of Iowa would be another expensive commodity and almost a sure bet to be a success because of his NFL past. But he appears to be leaning toward staying in college. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer could be had, but he has no NFL experience.
Résumés will be important in this offseason's coaching search. The two most important items on those résumés will be NFL experience and a winning record.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
Experienced coaches like Tom Coughlin and Dennis Green could be in high demand.