Reports that Merrill Lynch ( MER) CEO Stanley O'Neal had some not-so-discreet talks with Wachovia's ( WB) Ken Thompson have set off a wave of speculation about the troubled U.S. securities firm. Most of the chatter has centered around potential successors to O'Neal. The usual suspects include Blackrock's ( BLK) CEO Larry Fink and NYSE-Euronext ( NYX) head John Thain. But there are other options too. Punk Ziegel analyst Dick Bove believes that should Merrill oust O'Neal, a likelier candidate may be Robert McCann, the head of the firm's global private client business. Bringing up a star of its brokerage unit to lead the company would lead Merrill back to its roots. Not having been a broker himself, O'Neal has created many enemies since taking the CEO job five years ago and has failed to garner respect internally. "Merrill has historically always been run by its sales force," Bove writes. "The change in this concept when Mr. O'Neal was put in as CEO may now be viewed as a mistake and the firm given back to the sales force." That said, Bove speculates that O'Neal has a good chance of keeping his job -- despite numerous reports to the contrary. The New York Times reported early Friday that O'Neal angered Merrill directors by calling Wachovia's Thompson to broach a possible merger without first consulting Merrill's board. The paper said directors were so angered by the executive's apparent disregard for board authority that they are considering replacing him and even discussed prospective replacements.