Let’s assume for a moment that Jason La Canfora’s report for CBS Sports is essentially true — that Arthur Blank has decided to fire Mike Smith and replace him with “a big-name head coach.” That wouldn’t conflict with anything I believe is apt to happen, nor would it clash with Blank’s make-a-splash nature.
Question is, which big-name head coach might come here? Jon Gruden is always the top name on such lists, but he shoved Rich McKay aside in Tampa Bay, and McKay isn’t just the Falcons’ president — he’s one of Blank’s closest friends. Bill Cowher hasn’t coached since the 2006 season, which was so long ago that Blank was firing Jim Mora. Tony Dungy hasn’t coached since 2008. Brian Billick might be a possibility, except for the detail that he happens to be Mike Smith’s brother-in-law.
A really Big Name would be Jim Harbaugh, who’s expected by many to bolt San Francisco, but then we have to ask: Why is a coach who has taken the 49ers to three consecutive NFC title tilts so eager to get out of town?
Obviously everyone considers Nick Saban the gold standard of football coaching, although he wasn’t very good with the Miami Dolphins (he lasted two seasons) and he already has a better job. Still, he’d constitute a Major Splash. But so, I’d argue, would Bob Stooops.
The Falcons kicked the tires, as it were, regarding Stoops when they wound up hiring Mora to replace Dan Reeves in January 2004. Back then, the Falcons were led to believe that Stoops wasn’t interested in leaving Oklahoma then — but that he might be in time. The Falcons came away with the impression that what they were hearing from Stoops’ camp was “not now, but maybe someday.” Could this be that day?
Stoops would not, however, be my first choice. Mine would be Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M. For what that’s worth.