Jones working on list, but expect to see these names

Bill Parcells' retirement puts the Cowboys in a tough spot as far as finding a new coach, but here are some names you can expect to see on Jerry Jones' list, writes John Clayton.

Updated: January 23, 2007, 3:58 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Bill Parcells left Jerry Jones in a bind, a tough bind.

His Monday retirement 16 days after the season leaves Jones in the tough position of finding a head coach for the Dallas Cowboys past the conference championship games. While that certainly leaves them in position to consider a Super Bowl coach such as Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, it would leave Rivera in the position of trying to put together a playoff-caliber staff in February, a job that is virtually impossible.

Romeo Crennel tried to do it in Cleveland, and the former New England Patriots' coordinator is already on his second and third configurations of Browns' offensive staffs. Timing is everything in coaching hirings, and Parcells left Jones hanging a little too long.

There is another timing problem. Jones wanted a big name when he talked Parcells out of retirement the first time. He gave him a four-year, $17.1 million contract and bumped up his salary last year to give him extra incentive. Certainly, Jones knew Parcells was a year-to-year proposition when he hired him. Though Parcells' health has been good, Jones had to make sure the environment was right and that Parcells had his type of players. Terrell Owens didn't help the mix, but that's a different column.

Where Parcells put Jones in even a tougher spot: Jones won't be able to come up with a big name fast. After the 2007 season, everyone expects another major shakeup of head coaches. There were six changes this year. Estimates range from nine to 11 possible changes in 2008. Bill Cowher, for example, will be available in 2008. Had Jones talked Parcells into coming back for another year, he could have prepared to jump into the Cowher sweepstakes. Jeff Fisher's contract is up in 2008, and although Fisher is probably going to get a big extension with the Titans, he would have been on Jones' radar.

Jones must hire a coach and give him a three-, four- or five-year contract, so the Cowboys will be out of the big names coming free in 2008 unless their 2007 season is a disaster and the new coach is fired after just one season.

Parcells' announcement came with such suddenness that Jerry and Stephen Jones hadn't had enough time to reach out to coaches or their agents. But here is quick list of possibilities.

Bill Cowher, former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach: Jones at least has to make the phone call. Wayne Huizenga of the Dolphins contacted Cowher's people and let him know of the Dolphins' interest. Cowher's intention is to sit out the 2007 season and maybe longer. No one expects him to change that position. For the Cowboys to be able to acquire Cowher, they would have to make a trade. The cost probably would be three high draft choices spread over two or three years. Cowher is so good, it could cost a first, a second and a third starting in 2007, but consider this option an incomplete pass.

Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans head coach: Forget about it. Bud Adams wouldn't let Fisher out of his contract in 2007 for five draft choices. Plus, he would never let one of the top coaching assets in the NFL go to Dallas when Bud lives in Houston. This one is impossible. The Titans were very clear Monday night. "Dallas has not requested permission to speak to Coach Fisher and in the event they did, there are no circumstances under which permission would be granted," Chief operating office Steve Underwood told The Tennessean in Nashville.

Mike Martz, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator: Jones is on the competition committee and that allows him the chance to get to know a lot of the top coaches. He got to know Martz when the former Rams head coach was on the competition committee. Fresh in Jones' mind is how Martz' Lions breezed through the Cowboys' defense in the regular-season finale with street free agents in the backfield and a converted undrafted safety at wide receiver. Jones knows the value of the quarterback position, and he knows Martz could do good things with Tony Romo.

Wade Phillips, San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator: The Cowboys were a disappointing 3-4 defense last season. Phillips runs one of the best 3-4 schemes in the league. He keeps it simple. He lets playmakers make plays. His blitz schemes aren't complicated. Phillips has head coaching experience in Denver and Buffalo and has been a winner.

Ron Rivera, Chicago Bears defensive coordinator: Jones can't interview Rivera until Feb. 5 -- the day after the Super Bowl -- but Rivera would be an ideal choice. The Steelers thought he was so ready to be a head coach that they were willing to give him a second interview had the Bears lost Sunday. Then it would have been Rivera going against Mike Tomlin of the Vikings. When the Bears had the fourth-quarter lead, the Steelers made their formal offer to Tomlin and made him their coach. The problem of waiting until Feb. 5, though, is the difficulty of getting a great staff together.

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma Sooners head coach: No, this isn't a repeat of the Barry Switzer scenario. It's going to take a lot more convincing to get Stoops to leave Oklahoma. Stoops would be the biggest name available for the Cowboys. As a defensive-oriented coach, Stoops could do good things with the talent assembled by Parcells. The problem is getting Stoops out of Oklahoma. Money won't be a problem. Jones could pay him $4.5 million to $5 million a year. The problem is college coaches without NFL experience struggle and often fail. Of course, Jerry did have success with Switzer and Jimmy Johnson.

Jim Mora, Seattle Seahawks assistant head coach: Mora is pretty well settled after accepting the assistant head coaching position with the Seahawks on Sunday. It gave him a chance to return to Seattle, where he went to college. It also gave him a chance to work with Mike Holmgren. Mora took the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game in his first season as head coach and at least deserves to be on any list.

Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis Colts assistant head coach: The Tony Dungy coaching tree is a pretty good one. Dungy is facing his former assistant Lovie Smith in the Super Bowl. Caldwell was active in a lot of job interviews after the regular season ended. He is a solid person and a good coach.

Mike Zimmer, Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator: One of the bad parts of Parcells' late decision is that the Cowboys didn't have a chance to retain Zimmer. Parcells was going to go a different direction and probably give Todd Bowles the job if he returned. Jerry Jones always has liked Zimmer, who is more of a 4-3 coach, but he learned the 3-4 working for Parcells. He knows the talent and could be of service.

Norv Turner, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator: Turner made a big mistake trying to bail out the Raiders a couple of years ago, but it allowed him to return to the Bay Area to live and work. The 49ers gave him a chance to coach offense and not move, and Turner and his family liked that. It's hard for coaches to get three chances at head coaching jobs and Turner's already been a head coach with the Redskins and the Raiders. Jones likes Turner and rightfully so. When Troy Aikman was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Turner was the presenter. He meant a lot to Aikman and the Cowboys, but Jones would have to do some convincing for Turner to take one more chance at head coaching. He has a playoff team brewing with Mike Nolan in San Francisco.

Mike Sherman, Houston Texans offensive coordinator: The former Packers coach gained a lot of praise for his help in maturing the Texans' running game even though it didn't have much running talent. Sherman has been active in several head coaching searches. He has a good offensive mind and is very organized. Plus, he was a playoff regular when he was with the Packers.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

ALSO SEE