All of a sudden, the Houston Texans are leading the NFL offseason news cycle -- with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
In the midst of an 11-game losing streak that is pushing the Texans toward the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, head coach Gary Kubiak was fired on Friday, with founder, owner and CEO Bob McNair confessing he cleared his breaking point with a second loss to the moribund Jacksonville Jaguars on the league's network Thursday.
McNair said Friday in announcing Kubiak's ouster, he prefers a coach with an NFL background. The first candidate is known: Wade Phillips, the interim coach, will get an interview for the head coaching job at the appropriate time, McNair said.
There are other out-of-work coaches sure to appear on the list of general manager Rick Smith and McNair with three weeks until current NFL coaches are available to discuss the opening in Houston. Experience in the NFL and preferably as a head coach is preferred, and McNair talked as if it might be required.
"If you take someone who has been a coordinator, you're basically moving them from a lower level of management, let's say, to a higher level of management that they've never been in before," he said. "So, there's a question mark as to whether they can elevate their performance to be able to handle those additional responsibilities, and some people can't. Some people who have been players always have a player mentality and you can't have a player mentality and be the manager, be the coach, be the guy that's got to make tough decisions."
In addition to Phillips, here are the names of candidates likely to be bandied at Texans' headquarters before the 2013 regular season mercifully ends in Houston.
David Shaw, head coach, Stanford
Shaw meets McNair's stated qualifications -- he has an NFL background, and since taking over the Cardinal when Jim Harbaugh jumped to the San Francisco 49ers, he has posted a 33-6 record. Stanford is back in the Pac-12 Conference title game Saturday at Arizona State. The undeniable pedigree of playing for Bill Walsh cannot hurt. Before he joined Harbaugh in Palo Alto, Shaw was an assistant coach with the Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens. He's articulate, commands respect and is an offensive-minded coach with proven success working with quarterbacks. He was quarterbacks coach with the Ravens and offensive coordinator of the Andrew Luck-led Stanford teams (2009-11). That's important for a franchise likely looking at a quarterback at the top of the 2014 draft. It won't be easy to pry Shaw away from Stanford. He became the first alum to be head coach in 40 years when he took the job in 2011.
Lovie Smith, former head coach of Chicago Bears
Smith was fired after a 10-win season and is a picture of poise and leadership. His track record of ineffective hires on the offensive side of the ball -- Terry Shea, Mike Martz, Mike Tice -- and marriage to a zone-only 4-3 defense won't help his cause. Smith was mentioned as a good candidate by McNair -- albeit in response to a direct question about Smith -- and is on the team's list of calls to make.
Smith was 85-63 as head coach of the Bears. He did not coach in 2013, opting to collect $5 million from the Bears for the final year of his contract, but interviewed for openings with the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills last offseason.
Bill Cowher, former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach
Retirement, he said as recently as October, is treating Cowher just fine. But Cowher is still young -- at 56, he's younger than John Fox (58) and Bill Belichick (61), for example -- and might jump at a job that, from all outside appearances, has the potential to be a quick rebuild. His success coordinating the Steelers' 3-4 defense (1992-2006) and the pieces already in place on the Texans' roster could entice Cowher -- if he gets the itch to return to coaching. Cowher is in his seventh season as an analyst for CBS.
Jon Gruden, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders head coach
It's not an NFL coaching search without dragging one or both Grudens -- Jon's kid brother Jay, offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, has been considered a head-coaching candidate for two years -- into the mix. Jon Gruden said in August he likes the three-day work week and plush setup as the color commentator in ESPN's "Monday Night Football" booth. But a frustrated, embarrassed McNair could easily dig into his deep pockets and pull out an $8 million-per-year offer that could prompt the Return of Chucky. Gruden was 95-81 as an NFL head coach, learning the ropes as an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles when the Raiders called in 1998. He won Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 with the Buccaneers. One rub with Gruden: Television prospect sessions aside, he was a veteran-loving coach quick to turn away from inexperienced players. Will he sign off on hitching his wagon to the inexperienced Keenum?
Greg Roman, San Francisco 49ers
With no experience as a head coach, Roman might not fit the profile, but don't file his resume in the trash bin just yet. Roman, 41, was an assistant coach with the Texans from 2002-2005, flourished at Stanford and went with coach Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers. He gets plenty of credit for molding second-round pick Colin Kaepernick into an NFL starter ahead of schedule and has a system that should transfer to the Houston core of skill players (OT Duane Brown, WR Andre Johnson, RB Arian Foster). If San Francisco survives all the way to the NFC title game for a third straight season, it pads Roman's credentials -- but lengthens the wait for an apparently eager McNair and Smith.