2016 is going to be a slow year for head coaching changes in the NFL.
Normally in recent seasons by Week 15, there have been at least a half dozen and usually more coaches very much on the bubble.
Jeff Fisher became the first domino to fall on Monday following the Rams' 42-14 loss to the Falcons.
There are multiple reports that Rex Ryan could be in trouble in Buffalo. Some believe Todd Bowles could be out after the season with the Jets and others suggest John Fox might get the axe in Chicago.
The Way We Hear It, however, both Bowles and Fox are likely to survive and be given a chance to turn things around in their third seasons with their respective clubs.
Mike McCoy appears to have dodged a bullet in San Diego after starting 1-4 by going 4-4 since, but the Chargers have dropped their last two.
Marvin Lewis probably deserves the axe in Cincinnati, but few believe Mike Brown will wield it, and we’re not convinced even Chip Kelly knows what his next move will be.
Beyond that, there may be a surprise or two. Other than Fisher, though, the only other guy who is certainly a dead man walking is Gus Bradley in Jacksonville.
So for the most part, what we’re hearing is the only jobs certain to be open are in Los Angeles and Jacksonville. There’s a chance Buffalo opens up and we won’t be shocked if the Chargers make a change.
Who are the hottest candidates out there?
We are hearing you can bet the house on Josh McDaniels (Patriots OC), Kyle Shanahan (Falcons OC), Jim Bob Cooter (Lions OC), Teryl Austin (Lions DC) and Matt Patricia (Patriots DC) all getting interviews and most likely multiple interviews.
The second tier of candidates will include Dave Toub (Chiefs ST), Vance Joseph (Dolphins DC), Jim Schwartz (Eagles DC), Anthony Lynn (Bills OC), Sean McDermott (Panthers DC), Scott Linehan (Cowboys OC) and Tom Coughlin.
Heading the wild card list is Jim Harbaugh, who multiple pundits rushed to encourage Stan Kroenke to do whatever it takes to pry out of Ann Arbor, but we’re hearing that won’t happen.
Other names you will probably hear are Penn State’s James Franklin, former Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden, and what would this list be if Bill Cowher wasn't on it?
Is Bradley’s replacement set to go in Jacksonville?
There is one very hot name we’ve saved because, the Way We Hear It, he might already have a job, and that’s Tampa Bay defensive coordinator and former Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith.
Sources have told us that Smith might believe the Jaguars job is his if he wants it, and that he has already begun reaching out to candidates to put a staff of assistants together.
To be clear, Jaguars owner Shad Khan has not confirmed that Gus Bradley will be fired, and we at Pro Football Weekly do not wish to play any role in promoting the loss of his job, but we have confirmed with multiple sources very close to the situation there is next to nothing Bradley can do now to save that job after going 14-47 though three seasons and 13 games.
There are multiple dots you can connect to get Smith to Jacksonville, but a number of them depend on whether Khan intends to retain general manager David Caldwell and allow him a second shot at hiring a head coach.
Caldwell’s first act after getting the Jaguars GM job was to fire Mike Mularkey and hire Bradley.
According to our sources, Khan believes the Jaguars' talent is better than the record indicates and that Caldwell will get another crack at hiring a coach.
So let’s look at the multiple ways in which Smith fits in Jacksonville.
He spent five seasons in Jacksonville as the club’s defensive coordinator from 2003-07 under Jack Del Rio and was so successful the Atlanta Falcons hired him to be their head coach in 2008.
That same year, the Falcons hired Caldwell to be the director of college scouting, a position he held through the end of the 2011 season, when he was promoted to personnel director in 2012.
Following the 2012 season, Caldwell got the Jaguars GM job.
In his first year as Falcons head coach, Smith was voted the 2008 NFL Coach of the Year for guiding Atlanta to an 11-5 record and wild-card birth, after taking over a 4-12 football team.
During the five years Caldwell and Smith worked together in Atlanta, Smith compiled a 56-24 record and took the Falcons to the playoffs four times.
In their final season together, the Falcons were 13-3 and lost to San Francisco, 24-28, in the NFC title game.
It is easy to see why, if he is allowed to make this hire, Caldwell would favor Smith, and there is more.
In just his first season as the defensive coordinator in Tampa this year, after a 3-5 start, the Bucs have won their past five with most of the credit going to improvement in Smith’s defense, which has allowed just 12.8 points a game, including five to Seattle and 11 to the high-powered Saints offense last week.
There is also a belief in Jacksonville that with exciting youngsters Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler Jr., Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue, and high-priced free agents Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, Davon House and Prince Amukamara, the right defensive coach just might be able to guide the same kind of instant turnaround as the one Smith oversaw in Atlanta in 2008.
We’re also hearing that even though there are a ton of hot young coordinators out there, the hottest are almost all on the offensive side of the ball, and after the disappointing experience with Gus Bradley – who was absolutely the flavor of the month four years ago after working as the Seahawks defensive coordinatior – Khan and Caldwell both are more comfortable with a proven veteran winner this time around.