Prospects found on contending teams

Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is among the NFL assistants who could draw some head coaching consideration.

Updated: November 19, 2003, 12:38 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Despite a lengthy coaching résumé, and success as a defensive coordinator, John Fox was still relatively unknown to many NFL fans when the Carolina Panthers hired him as head coach in 2002. Even after fashioning a 15-11 record in 1½ seasons, and leading Carolina to an 8-2 mark in 2003, Fox remains somewhat anonymous.

So who are the current assistants who, despite operating below the public radar, might be candidates for head coach openings in the near future?

Truth be told, there seems to be a dearth of so-called "hot" assistant coaches this year. In some cases, as well, many of the assistants doing the best jobs in 2003 are former head coaches now succeeding as coordinators. Other highly-regarded assistants may not make it onto owners' "short lists" for other reasons, like age.

But here is a look at a few assistant coaches with whom fans might not be too familiar, and who could some day be calling the shots for an NFL franchise:

  • Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator, Tennessee: Only four years ago, Schwartz was just a nondescript "defensive assistant," on Jeff Fisher's staff, a quality control aide. But he was elevated to linebackers coach in 2000 and then, when Gregg Williams became head coach in Buffalo in '01, promoted into his spot as coordinator. At age 37, the avid chess player is the youngest coordinator in the league.

  • Scott O'Brien, special teams, Carolina: Rare is the circumstance in which a special teams mentor is ever a candidate for a head coach position. Then again, O'Brien is a rare guy, one who studies the intricacies and nuances of special teams play and sweats all of the details of an often overlooked facet of the game. Given the success of the Carolina kicking game in 2003, O'Brien has commanded solid attention.

  • Charlie Weis, offensive coordinator, New England: In a few years, mark our words, people will be talking about the "coaching tree" that has sprung from the Bill Belichick staffs of the past and the present. Weis has been key to the development of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and, while skeptics criticize the wide-ranging mix of screen- and hitch-passes with which the New England offense is top-heavy, the scheme is evolving. The Pats are stretching the field more now and Brady is extending his grasp. Another current Belichick assistant, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, deserves mention as well. And two current college head coaches who were once on Belichick's staff with the Cleveland Browns years ago, Nick Saban (LSU) and Kirk Ferentz (Iowa), figure to be candidates for NFL jobs after this season, if they so choose.

  • Leslie Frazier, defensive coordinator, Cincinnati: Sure, being defensive coordinator for a team where Marvin Lewis is the head coach might be viewed by some as playing second chair in a symphony that includes one of the world's great violinists. But Frazier has lots of input and proved, during free agency, to be an effective recruiter. Frazier's a class act who has been vital in the Cincinnati turnaround.

  • Scott Linehan, offensive coordinator, Minnesota: Since he is only in his second season in the league, the inventive Linehan might have to serve an apprenticeship of a few more years before he is considered head coach material. Despite the current slump in which the Vikings are suffering, the offense still leads the league, and Linehan continues to design a high-octane attack that features power running and a vertical passing scheme. Definitely an up-and-comer.

  • Maurice Carthon, offensive coordinator, Dallas: Even though the Cowboys have slid from No. 1 in total offense to a perch near the middle of the pack, Carthon has done a nice job of getting production from a unit that doesn't have a lot of playmakers. Having the endorsement of Bill Parcells won't hurt, either, but Carthon is a guy who deserves a shot based on merit as well.

    Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Len a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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