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Potential Head Coach Candidates, Part 3: NFL Assistants

As the Jets begin their search for a new head coach, there are any number of directions in which they may go. The majority of the great head coaches in the league were hired straight from assistant positions. Assistant coaches are intriguing. They come full of enthusiasm and fresh ideas and are motivated to prove themselves. They are also cheaper than retreads. The issue is they are also unproven. Running an entire operation is different from coaching a position or a unit. Be advised the next head coach might be an assistant not on this list. Most assistants who get hype are coordinators, who generally have higher profiles than assistants. However, John Harbaugh and Tony Sparano proved this season that non coordinators can step in and do a fine job in the head role.

Steve Spagnuolo, Defensive Coordinator, New York Giants

Pros: Turned the Giants from an average defense into one of the league's most feared units. Developed a gameplan that shut down statistically the most potent offense in league history in Super Bowl XLII. Has a proven track record of beating Bill Belichick.

Cons: Has only been a coordinator for two seasons. May not be ready to take over an entire operation.

Verdict: Spagnuolo is the hottest coordinator in football. He would be a risk. Do the Jets really want to roll the dice with somebody this inexperienced again? It will be interesting to see whether Woody Johnson is willing to hire a Giant to right the ship. He probably would be a popular choice among the fans. He may join Bill Belchick and John Fox as former Giants defensive coordinators who became successful head coaches.

Rex Ryan, Defensive Coordinator, Baltimore Ravens

Pros: Adjusts schemes to his talent. Loved by his players. Led one of the league's best defenses for four years. Son of a coach who grew up around football. Brilliant X's and O's guy. Has received a ton of responsibility from the Ravens.

Cons: Ravens defense had been dominant for years when he took over. Other former Ravens defensive coordinators have had tough times as a head coach, namely Marvin Lewis and Mike Nolan.

Verdict: As I wrote last night, I think Ryan has a bright future ahead of him as a head coach. He has one of the brightest strategic minds in football and knows how to motivate his players. He may have taken over a unit with a lot of talent, but he put his own stamp on it. Holding Lewis' and Nolan's struggles against him would be like holding Ray Handley's struggles against Bill Belichick. If I was Woody Johnson, Ryan would be my fallback option if Cowher did not want the job. The question is what the real Woody Johnson wants.

Josh McDaniels, Offensive Coordinator, New England Patriots

Pros: Oversaw the greatest statistical offense in league history a year ago. Was instrumental in the development of Matt Cassel into a quality quarterback. Learned under Bill Belichick. Has three Super Bowl rings as an assistant.

Cons: Only 32 years old. Took over three and a half quarters to adjust to Giants pass rush in Super Bowl XLII.

Verdict: McDaniels was overwhelmed in that Super Bowl. All season long, the Patriots had success by spreading the field. Why it took him until New England's last drive to realize doing that and hitting quick slants was the way to slow down Tuck, Strahan, and Umenyiora is enough to make me leery of his ability to gameplan. At any rate, his prospects are bleak. Teams typically try to hire the opposite of a departed head man. The Jets are not going to hire another young New England assistant after the way Eric Mangini worked out.

Jason Garrett, Offensive Coordinator, Dallas Cowboys

Pros: Instrumental in the development of Tony Romo into an elite quarterback. Highly regarded in league circles. Helped build one of the league's most dynamic offenses in Dallas.

Cons: Played a prominent role on the league's biggest underachiever in 2008. Only four years of NFL coaching experience. Publicly questioned by some of his players in wake of Dallas' disappointing season coming to a end.

Verdict: This is not happening. The Jets are not going to replace Eric Mangini with a guy with so little experience and at the center of a meltdown worse than their own. Even if they wanted him, Jerry Jones loves Garrett so much that he would probably fire Wade Phillips and promote Garrett to head coach the second he heard the Jets had interest.

Jim Schwartz, Defensive Coordinator, Tennessee Titans

Pros: Leads one of the league's most feared defenses. Six years of experience as a coordinator. Learned under Jeff Fisher and Bill Belichick. Is interested in the most modern statistical analysis in looking for ways to improve his team.

Cons: When hit with cap trouble and a talent decrease, his defense played poorly a few years ago.

Verdict: The only weakness tells the story. When his talent went down, so did his performance. The same is true with just about every coach. Schwartz has the potential to become an excellent head coach. He has all the tools. The question is whether he is a big enough name for the Jets as they look to entice fans to pay for personal seat licenses in the new stadium.