NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ The coach with the best record walked away tearfully in midseason, but most of the 10 others who have coached the New Orleans Saints went out like Mike Ditka _ fired as losses mounted.

Still, a day after Ditka left, the Saints job has gone from hot seat to hot commodity, and numerous NFL coaches past and present are considered candidates to fill it.

The names include former Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer; Dom Capers, a former assistant at New Orleans and now defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars; and Bill Belichick, former coach of the Cleveland Browns and Bill Parcells' assistant in New York before rejecting the Jets' top job.

Also, Gary Kubiak, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Denver Broncos; Dave McGinnis, defensive coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals; and Mark Martz, offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams.

Team owner Tom Benson said in a statement that he intended to, ``begin the same process that we used in 1986, a process that produced Jim Finks as president and general manager.''

Finks, in turn, hired then little-known Jim Mora as coach. Mora produced the only winning seasons in franchise history. Mora had a 93-74 record in 10 years with the Saints. But his teams faltered three years in a row.

Midway through the 1996 season, and a day after one particularly angry, profanity-filled post-game tirade, Mora held a tearful meeting with players, then announced his resignation at a news conference.

Bill Kuharich, who eventually landed the role of team president and general manager after Finks' death in 1992, hired Ditka three years ago.

Kuharich also was fired Wednesday.

``It's always important to have one person in charge,'' said Charles Bailey, the Saints' assistant general manager who is in charge of football operations. ``And it's important that the general manager and coach be able to work together.''

Bailey, who spent 10 years in the player personnel department of the Pittsburgh Steelers before joining the Saints, has said he would like to be a general manager. He refused to discuss the Saints job, however, saying he had not spoken to Benson.

According to Gil Brandt, an NFL consultant and former player personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys, Mark Hatley, director of player personnel for the Chicago Bears, is the leading candidate to become the GM. Brandt said those same rumors have Schottenheimer in line for the coaching position. The pair worked together in Kansas City.

``That's the word around the league _ Schottenheimer and Hatley,'' Brandt said.

Schottenheimer oversaw the Chiefs' rebuilding. Kansas City went 94-49-1 under Schottenheimer. He resigned after going 7-9 in 1998 and now is an analyst for ESPN.

Benson reportedly has called on NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue for advice in picking a general manager, much as he relied on Pete Rozelle when he selected Finks.

The NFL helps clubs searching for coaches and front office executives. Last year, the league taped interviews with more than 20 coaching candidates, and the Saints were among the teams requesting the tapes, said George Young, a senior vice president for the NFL.

With that in mind, there also is a lot of speculation that former Washington Redskins GM Charley Casserly is a leading candidate.

Casserly worked closely with Tagliabue as a member of the league's competition committee and is said to be supported for a general manager's job by Tagliabue.

``I'd rather not comment on the New Orleans situation,'' Casserly said. ``I'm not in a position to say anything. I don't think that's professional.''