The next great NFL coach is ...

This man could be hoisting a Lombardi Trophy within the next decade. For real. Getty Images

This feature appears in the January 11, 2010 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

There must be something wrong, a fatal flaw in the research that led me here. Because, according to the best data available, gleaned from multiple studies, the unassuming man sitting opposite me in Philadelphia on a late-December afternoon -- the one sporting a Philadelphia Eagles hat over his thinning brown hair -- could morph into the next great NFL coach.

The regular season is nearly over, which means the season of firing and hiring will soon begin. In the coming weeks, six teams are likely to make head-coaching changes. This year's candidate crop -- more than any in recent memory -- seems loaded with talent: big-name free agents like Bill Cowher and Mike Shanahan, and hot assistants like New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. It seems virtually impossible for needy front offices to whiff with any new hire. Yet many owners will probably do just that. Unless, of course, they rely on cold, hard data to make their decisions.

Don't laugh.

Over the past few years, a number of NFL teams and independent researchers have been working hard to devise a quantifiable method for finding a great coach. In analyzing more than 100 bench bosses, they have considered the presence of every imaginable factor, from Super Bowl victories to experience as a pro player to coaching trees to race.

But in the end, the majority of the most successful NFL headmen -- past and present -- have possessed at least one of the following four characteristics:

    1. They were between ages 41 and 49.

    2. They had at least 11 years of NFL coaching experience.

    3. They were assistants on teams that won at least 50 games over a five-year span.

    4. They had only one previous NFL head-coaching gig.

Accordingly, I applied those conclusions to this year's assistants and most-discussed candidates, looking for guys who met all four of the criteria. My research led to a man who's not on any owner's radar: Marty Mornhinweg.