All indications are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t ready to end their search for a head coach. Monday will mark the three-week anniversary of Raheem Morris’ firing.
Since then, the Bucs seemingly have been talking to anyone (almost everyone), but don’t appear close to making a hire. They could be waiting to talk to more coaches that are still involved in the postseason. Or they soon could be narrowing their lengthy list and bringing a few candidates back for second interviews.
What we do know is that by the end of this week the Bucs will have interviewed at least eight candidates. We don’t know exactly how those candidates stack up in the team’s eyes.
But I’m going to give you my rankings of the candidates that are known to have interviewed or are expected to interview by the end of the week. I'm factoring in some insight on what it appears the Bucs are looking for in an ideal candidate. I’ve also talked to coaches and front-office types who have worked with some of the candidates as well as media members who have covered them.
So let’s take a look at my list:
1. Mike Sherman. Even before Morris was fired, Sherman’s name was tied to this job. Part of it was due to the fact Sherman uses the same agent as general manager Mark Dominik, who undoubtedly is going to have a big say in this hire. The Bucs want a cohesive relationship between their front office and the coaching staff and all indications are Sherman and Dominik would work well together.
But there are more reasons why Sherman remains No. 1 on my list. The first is that he’s almost exactly the opposite of Morris in just about every way and that appears to be what the Bucs want. Sherman is 57 with lots of experience. Although his most recent job was a lackluster tenure at Texas A&M, he has been an NFL head coach before. A lot of people tend to forget Sherman’s time in Green Bay was pretty productive.
He produced a winning record in five of his six seasons. He comes from an offensive background and I think that scores points with the Bucs. Tampa Bay needs quarterback Josh Freeman, who it wants to be the foundation of the franchise, back on track after a disappointing 2011 season.
Also, there’s the fact that Sherman is a strong disciplinarian, another thing Morris was not.
2. Mike Zimmer. Like Sherman, Zimmer is mature and would clean up the lack of discipline and accountability that plagued the Bucs under Morris. Zimmer hasn’t been a head coach, but he’s got a long résumé as a defensive coordinator -- he's currently working in Cincinnati with stints in Atlanta and Dallas before that. Zimmer is universally respected in league circles and the only potential knock against him for this job might be that he doesn’t come with an offensive background.
But Zimmer could end up with this job if he can convince the Bucs he can bring in a strong offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
3. Tom Clements. He’s 58 and has never been an NFL head coach and only did a two-year stint as a coordinator in Buffalo, but he still has pretty strong credentials. He’s been the quarterbacks coach of the Green Bay Packers for six seasons and you could say that coaching Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers is a lot like being the Maytag repairman. But those who know him well say Clements is a big part of the reason the Packers made such a strong transition from Favre to Rodgers.
Prior to joining Green Bay, Clements was quarterbacks coach in Pittsburgh, Kansas City and New Orleans. He also played quarterback at Notre Dame (back when the Notre Dame quarterback pedigree meant a lot) and was a Hall of Fame player in the Canadian Football League.
Clements, who also is an attorney, is known for his no-nonsense approach.
4. Marty Schottenheimer. If you based it only on experience, which obviously is a big factor, Schottenheimer would be the hands-down choice. He spent 26 years as an NFL head coach, with stints with the Browns, Chiefs, Redskins and Chargers. Schottenheimer’s career record is 327-200, which almost makes it easy to overlook his 5-13 postseason record. Freeman potentially could be better than any quarterback Schottenheimer ever worked with (and that includes Drew Brees only as he was in San Diego, not after he got to New Orleans).
But Schottenheimer is the one candidate who age could work against. He’s 68 and hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2006. He’s been a successful builder before, but can he do it again at this age?
5. Rob Chudzinski. At 43, he’s the youngest of the known candidates. He had a two-year stint as offensive coordinator in Cleveland and helped Derek Anderson (yes, that Derek Anderson) get to a Pro Bowl. But Chudzinsk’s a hot name right now almost entirely because of his work in his first season in Carolina.
Without an offseason program, he installed an entirely new offense and rookie quarterback Cam Newton had a record-setting season. If Chudzinski did that for Newton, the Bucs have to be imagining what he could do with Freeman. But Chudzinski also would have to convince the Bucs he could bring them a proven defensive coordinator.
6. Jerry Gray. He currently is the defensive coordinator in Tennessee and had a pretty successful run as coordinator in Buffalo when Gregg Williams was the head coach. Williams also has a strong background as a secondary coach.
Gray also had a good NFL career as a defensive back and finished his playing career with the Bucs in 1993. The fact that he’s a former player helps his candidacy because he can relate to players. But the fact that he is 49, means that unlike Morris, he would not be a contemporary to the players.
7. Joe Philbin. The offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, Philbin already has had a second interview for the job as Miami’s head coach. Philbin has led a very good Green Bay offense since becoming coordinator in 2007. But head coach Mike McCarthy has handled play-calling duties. Although Philbin had 19 years of experience in the college ranks, the Packers are the only NFL team he has worked for. His rise has been pretty rapid. Philbin joined the Packers (then coached by Sherman) in 2003 as an assistant offensive line coach and became tight ends coach the next year. He later became offensive line coach for one season before becoming coordinator.
8. Brad Childress. Yes, Childress had some success as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. He had a winning record in two of his five seasons, but his tenure was marked by inconsistency and turbulence, including the fiasco in which Randy Moss returned to the Vikings. Some who have covered Childress say stability isn’t necessarily his biggest strength. In Minnesota, he seemed prone to go with the quick fix, bringing in Favre and begging him to stay for a second season. That’s the kind of approach that could remind the Bucs, who are going to remain committed to building through the draft, a little too much of the Jon Gruden era, in which there never seemed to be a long-term plan.
Before joining the Vikings, Childress was offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. But head coach Andy Reid called the plays. I do think there’s a chance Childress could be hired by Tampa Bay, but as the offensive coordinator for one of the other candidates.