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Giants defensive coordinator candidates: Who will replace Perry Fewell?

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Let's look at some of the candidates.

Steve Spagnuolo
Steve Spagnuolo
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Who are some of the candidates to replace the ousted Perry Fewell as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants? Let's look at a potential short list.

Steve Spagnuolo

Spagnuolo was, of course, the architect of the aggressive defense that helped the Giants win the 2007 Super Bowl. When potential successors to Fewell are discussed, his name is always at the top of the list. Whether a return to New York by Spagnuolo is realistic, or smart, is something that the organization will have to look into.

We discussed a potential return here several weeks ago. Much has happened with Spagnuolo since he left the Giants after the 2008 season. We laid out both the pros and cons of bringing Spagnuolo, currently coaching defensive backs for the Baltimore Ravens, back to the Giants. Spagnuolo is no longer one of the hot young coaching prospects in the league as there have been some black marks against him since his time with the Giants. Here is part of what I wrote:

It can't simply be assumed that a Spagnuolo who would come back to the Giants in 2015 is the same one who left after 2008. The entire situation would need to be fully vetted, including his current work with the Ravens.

Baltimore Beatdown says Spagnuolo "has done a great job" with the Ravens injury-riddled secondary.

Pepper Johnson

The former New York Giants linebacker just completed his first season coaching the defensive line for the Buffalo Bills after 13 seasons with the New England Patriots, where he coached the linebackers and defensive line at different times. Now 50, Johnson made it clear when he left the Patriots that he was doing so in order to put himself in position to eventually become a defensive coordinator. He told BuffaloBills.com that becoming a defensive coordinator was "a dream of mine and a goal of mine."

NFL.com Bills beat writer Chris Trapasso recently told me that Johnson has done a "great job" with the Buffalo defensive line.

"You'd think he'd be a good DC candidate because he's been in NE and has coached LBs and DL now," Trapasso said. "And he obviously has experience running multiple fronts. Also, Bills backup DTs and DEs have been very good this year too under Johnson."

There are a couple of factors that might work against the hiring of Johnson, if the defensive coordinator job is available. First is the fact that Tom Coughlin's time is probably running short. He could well be one more year and done with the Giants. Back in 2007 Coughlin gambled by hiring a relative unknown in Spagnuolo to lead the defense. That, of course, turned out to be a brilliant move. Last year Coughlin handed the offense to a first-year coordinator. Would he be willing to do it again?

The other nagging question is why did Johnson, who both played and coached for Bill Belichick, have to leave the Patriots to seek a promotion? Johnson was a defensive assistant in New England for 13 years, and was consistently passed over for the coordinator job. To give him the job in New York, you have to think the Giants need a satisfactory answer to that question.

Also, keep in mind that Johnson is under contract in Buffalo, meaning the Bills could deny him permission to interview with the Giants or anyone else.

Mike Nolan

The highly-regarded veteran defensive coordinator is likely to be available because the Atlanta Falcons, where Nolan was in charge of the defense the past three seasons, fired head coach Mike Smith at the end of the season. Falcons assistant coaches apparently have not as yet been informed of their fates.

Nolan was Giants' defensive coordinator way back in 1993, when he was only 33 years old. He held that job until 1996. Nolan has also been defensive coordinator with the Washington Redskins, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins. He was head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from 2005-2008.

Mike Smith

Instead of Nolan, how about the guy who was Nolan's boss with the Falcons for the past three seasons? Smith went 66-46 as head coach of the Falcons over the past seven seasons. He took Atlanta to the playoffs four of his first five years before going 4-12 and 6-10 the past two seasons.

Smith, 56, would certainly like another head coaching job. That seems unlikely, though, without a stopover as a coordinator first. He was defensive coordinator of the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2003-2007.

Other names

We don't know what the Giants' short list actually looks like. Here are a couple of other names I've seen tossed around as possibilities today. Former Oakland Raiders head coach Dennis Allen, defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos in 2011. Long-time NFL coach Vic Fangio, who could lose his job as defensive coordinator with the San Francisco 49ers now that Jin Harbaugh is gone.