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Who Should Coach the Colts in 2016?

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In the last week, both Jim Harbaugh and Bill O'Brien have been asked about various coaching vacancies. As the college season wraps up, and the NFL season nears the end, the rumor mill will heat up. Here, Ben Lamers examines the potential Head Coaching vacancy the Colts will have in 2016, and who the team should hire.

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The media is already starting to swirl and ask questions to coaches already potentially linked to the Colts.

While all of this speculation is still a bit early, we're getting closer and closer to the end of the season. With each passing week it seems more and more certain that Chuck Pagano, and possibly Ryan Grigson, will not be returning to the Colts next season.

Owner Jim Irsay has already indicated he is planning on going "Big-game hunting" when it comes to hiring the next coach. With that in mind, let's take a look at some potential coaching candidates for the Colts in 2016.

And yes, some of these may be more realistic than others.

Chuck Pagano

Let's start with the man already in charge. Barring a Super Bowl run (and possibly needing a victory) it's doubtful Pagano returns. However, let's say Irsay opts to dump Grigson, and retain Pagano. Unlikely? Yes. Possible? Maybe.

Pagano certainly has his faults, especially when it comes to some game management and his team starting slow. However, the fact remains that he is a very, very popular guy in the locker room. And while his record has certainly been bolstered by the fact that with his quarterback, Andrew Luck, the Colts have still gone 11-5 every season of his tenure, and advanced further each year in the playoffs.

I know all of those arguments for and against Pagano have been made before, and that's what makes him such an odd case. For years, fans and media alike said that the Colts were a 6 win team at best if Manning went down. The first year under Pagano/Bruce Arians, some experts thought the talent level of the team was lower than that of the 1998 squad, Manning's first year in Indy. Yet, that team and the subsequent two won 11 games. One could attribute the talent level blame on Grigson, and the "over-achieving," if you will, on Pagano's shoulders.

Then again, Pagano typically makes head-scratching decisions at least once per week, his teams come out slow especially against quality competition, and he hasn't come close to building the monster that he promised.

Personally, I think Pagano is a good head coach. That being said, I highly doubt he remains in Indianapolis after the season.

Rob Chudzinski

Chud. By virtue of being the Offensive Coordinator, I had to throw Chudzinski's name into this. However, I think this might be the least likely of the names I'm throwing out in this article.

I think Chudzinski is a darn good coach, and a coach who should still be at the helm in Cleveland. In his one season in Cleveland, the Browns showed promise, and even got some real production out of Trent Richardson. He also helped to mold Cam Newton in the early stages of his career as well.

The reason it's tough to see Chudzinski being the Colts next coach is because he is a Pagano guy. I have a hard time believing that if Pagano is fired, that Chudzinski wouldn't be going right along with him. It's also very feasible that Chud (maybe Pagano as well) could be the next coach at the University of Miami.

It's doubtful to happen, but it might be intriguing to see what Chudzinski could do with the team if he was calling the shots.

Nick Saban

This is probably my least favorite choice, and yet it is the one that seems to be picking up the most steam.

Saban's lone stint as a head coach in the NFL didn't go all too well. In two forgettable years with the Dolphins, Saban compiled a 15-17 record and never made the playoffs. Yes, he was working with Daunte Culpepper at quarterback (instead of Drew Brees) which may or may not have contributed to the team's lack of success.

While Saban has had incredible success at Alabama, and may very well be on his way to another National Championship, his success never translated over to the NFL. Of course, one could have made the exact same argument against Pete Carroll when the Seahawks hired him. Carroll had flamed out both in New York and New England before turning USC into a national power.

Earlier this year, Saban hinted that if he had Brees in Miami, his teams might have been more successful. Many interpreted this as Saban saying he would be interested in an NFL job, if the team had a star quarterback, something the Colts have.

Still, it's tough to see Saban leaving a perennial contender in Alabama where he has complete control of the team.

Sean Payton

I put my two least favorite choices right next to each other.

Personally, I can't stand Payton, and that is in large part because I still hold a grudge over the Super Bowl loss. However, rumors have swirled that the Saints may be ready to let Payton go after this season (which, despite my feelings toward him, I think would be a huge mistake).

When you think of the coaches the Colts have had in recent years, there are a few things that connect them all. All of them were soft-spoken, player-friendly, defensive minded coaches (Ok, Jim Caldwell is technically an offensive coach). Payton is almost none of these things. And you know what, maybe that's what the Colts need.

I don't think Payton would be a long term solution for the Colts. However, I think with this current roster, he could do for the Colts what Jon Gruden did in Tampa. Give the team a shot in the arm the first year, and then gradually get worse as time goes on.

Josh McDaniels

Wouldn't this be intriguing?

I would actually be somewhat excited about hiring McDaniels, if he opted to leave New England for Indianapolis.

In New England, McDaniels has been a wizard as the team's Offensive Coordinator (both times). Yes, he does have Tom Brady under center, which helps quite a bit. But think about his total body of work. He directed the 2007 Patriots offense, one of the best ever. The next season, without Brady, his offense still had success with Matt Cassel leading the way. And look at the current Patriots. There aren't many players who really scare you at the skill positions (or the offensive line) and yet they still win. A lot of that has to do with Brady, I get it, but give McDaniels some credit too.

Now for the cons. McDaniels was awful in Denver. Awful. He is basically the reason the team traded Jay Cutler (because of some not-so nice meetings the two had) and drafted Tim Tebow. Overall the Broncos weren't the best with McDaniels at the helm, and he only lasted two years.

I'm not sure if a second stint would go better for McDaniels (it did for Bill Belichick), but if it does, the sky could be the limit for the Colts.

Jim Harbaugh

Maybe I should just stop myself, but I think this is every Colts' fan's dream.

As a player, Harbaugh led the Colts to the AFC Championship Game in 1995, and revitalized a losing franchise, helping win the team's first playoff game since moving to Indianapolis. As a college coach, Harbaugh turned Stanford into the winning school it is now, recruiting Andrew Luck and many other current Colts along the way. As an NFL coach, Harbaugh turned the perennial losing 49ers into a championship contender seemingly overnight. Now, back at Michigan, Harbaugh has the Wolverines competing with the nation's best, and is a botched punt away from being in the playoff discussion.

However, it's incredibly unlikely Harbaugh leaves Michigan after one year. If they weren't his alma mater, then maybe. I just can't see it happening. Harbaugh has a realistic chance to lead Michigan to its first national title since 1997 in the coming years.

Yes, we would probably all love it if Harbaugh decided to return to Indianapolis, but I don't see it happening.

Peyton Manning

This is a long-shot, I know. But is it terribly unrealistic?

Manning is all but done with his NFL career, as this will probably be his last season. He has said in the past that if he had to play another position other than quarterback, it would be coach. As a player, Manning knows how to read defenses, and study film like the best of them, many times being called an on-the-field coach.

It wouldn't be entirely unprecedented. Don Shula had been coaching directly after playing in the NFL (although he was an assistant) before being hired by the Colts. Shula was only 33 when hired, and had played with many of the players he coached. Bart Starr, with one season of being quarterbacks coach of experience, was hired by the Packers to be the head man as well. Sure it didn't go great, but we're talking about precedent here.

In other sports hiring younger, former players with little to no coaching experience is becoming commonplace. Jason Kidd and Derek Fisher were both hired immediately after retiring in the NBA. Goaltender Patrick Roy was immediately hired as a coach in Canada before making the jump to the NHL. And my favorite example (with a fair amount of bias) is the hiring of Fred Hoiberg as Iowa State's basketball coach.

It's tough to say if the move would work. But it would certainly raise the excitement level for the Colts franchise.

Wrap-up

Really, we don't know what will happen. These are just a few names that have been brought up, or that could be options if Irsay does go after a big name. Who would you like to see as the next coach for the Colts? Vote in the poll, or add your choice in the comments.