Seats on the Coaching Carousel Are Getting Hot for Nearly Half the NFL
It's a good year to be an NFL assistant or high-profile college coach with aspirations to lead an NFL franchise. NFL insiders have been saying for weeks that as many as 10 head coaching positions could become available by season's end. That's a lot of open space on the carousel. Hopeful candidates should let the hot seats cool off before grabbing one.
Is it really possible that 10 coaching positions will be open this offseason? That's nearly one-third of the entire NFL, which seems like far too many vacancies to actually occur.
Or is it not enough?
Nearly half the NFL head coaches could realistically be worried about their jobs over the last five weeks of the season. That number does not include Sean Payton, stuck in contract chaos with the New Orleans Saints; or Marvin Lewis with the Cincinnati Bengals, who is always sitting on one of the hotter seats on the carousel this time of year.
Still, half the league? Really?! Really. Let's get the obvious ones out of the way.
Andy Reid wasn't fired Philadelphia after last week's drubbing in Washington, something fans and media around the Eagles think was a mistake by owner Jeffrey Lurie as the team plays a nationally televised home game on Monday night. Two weeks ago, fans at Lincoln Financial Field were asked to remove signs that said anything negative about the team, and the team admitted to turning up the public address volume to drown out the boos.
The result was a public relations disaster, surely contributing to the team firing its head of public affairs last week. On the field, things have gone from bad to worse after a decent start, and facing the country on Monday Night Football with Jon Gruden in the booth is certainly not the recipe for brotherly love sent Reid's way.
Reid's team is facing the Carolina Panthers and Ron Rivera, a head coach sure to be fired after his second season if he can't get this campaign turned around quickly. Rivera's Panthers have the fewest wins in the NFC and, at 2-8, he has presided over a season in Carolina where star quarterback Cam Newton has regressed from his rookie year.
If the Panthers were showing any signs of improvement, Rivera may get another year. With the way things are going through 10 games, both Reid and Rivera could be coaching on Monday night just to keep their jobs through the week, let alone the rest of the season.
Speaking of getting through the week, has Norv Turner been fired in San Diego yet? What could Turner possibly say at this point in the wake of an overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens that only happened because his defense couldn't stop Ray Rice on 4th-and-29 with minutes to go in the game? If the run of mediocrity in San Diego hasn't been enough to force Turner out yet, 4th-and-29 certainly has to be.
Given that San Diego is still alive for a playoff spot in the AFC, currently in second place in the AFC West, it actually would come as a bit of a surprise if the Chargers blew things up right now. That said, it's only a matter of time for Turner.
It's only a matter of time for Romeo Crennel in Kansas City as well. In his first full season as head coach after taking over in an interim capacity last season, the Chiefs are the worst team in all of football. He is sure to be fired, and it will be interesting to see who in the front office in Kansas City is shown the door with him.
Speaking of front-office turnover, Pat Shurmur is not long for Cleveland, especially with a new front office taking over under new ownership. Beating rival Pittsburgh was a nice win under his belt this week, but at 3-8 the victory probably served to keep him afloat for just another week, not another year.
Back to the AFC West, Dennis Allen is the third coach in that division sitting on a relatively hot seat right now, especially considering the Raiders' penchant for doing the unexpected. That said, as bad as Oakland has been at times this season, Allen may be able to keep that job for more than one season no matter how poorly it finishes.
Mike Mularkey in Jacksonville may not be so lucky. The Jaguars actually showed a sign of life this week in beating the Tennessee Titans, thereby making the decision to fire Mularkey a tiny bit harder now that he has two wins instead of just one.
The funny thing about the situation in Jacksonville is that with two wins through 11 games, Mularkey still controls his own coaching destiny if he can turn things around the rest of the season with Chad Henne taking over for Blaine Gabbert.
The Jaguars play Buffalo, the Jets, Miami, New England and Tennessee to end the season. Four of those games are against teams the Jags could beat with three coming against coaches that are sitting on seats just at hot as Mularkey's.
Joe Philbin is certainly safe after his first season in Miami, but the same certainly cannot be said for Chan Gailey in Buffalo, Rex Ryan in New York or Mike Munchak in Tennessee.
Some pundits thought the Bills would be a playoff team this year and while they aren't mathematically eliminated yet, at 4-7 they are clearly not living up to the preseason expectations. If the Bills don't win the rest of their games, Gailey is surely gone before next year.
Ryan is an interesting case and, not surprisingly, part of one of the most polarizing coaching situations in the NFL. This season has been a disaster in New York, but is that his fault, GM Mike Tannenbaum's fault, or both? Does Woody Johnson like the fact that Ryan is such an outspoken face of his franchise, or will the owner finally grow weary of the act if the team misses the playoffs and shows little sign of life down the stretch?
Things are great when your coach is bombastic and he's getting you to the AFC title game. They aren't so great when you are floundering against a division rival on national TV.
Munchak may survive another season in Tennessee by nature of having been a great player there, not yet a great coach. That said, the Titans are looking at 6-10 at best, and that's if they can beat the Jets and Jacksonville at home. With games against Houston, at Indianapolis and at Green Bay, the season is all but lost at 4-7. If Munchak loses to Jacksonville twice in the same season, will his job be all but lost as well?
By my count, that's 10 coaches sitting on seats with varying degrees of heat. We've gone through 10 coaches that could possibly be out of their jobs by the end of the year, and there are at least five more guys still handing in their tickets to take the carousel ride every coach tries to avoid.
How in the world have we gotten this far without mentioning the Dallas Cowboys? My apologies to you and to Jason Garrett, who certainly deserves higher billing for how hot his seat on the carousel must feel after losing on Thanksgiving to the rival Washington Redskins.
Everyone thinks if Payton does leave New Orleans he is a shoo-in to be wooed by Jerry Jones to come back to Dallas. That said, if Payton stays in New Orleans, what other options does Jones have? Would he bring in another untested NFL assistant? Would he try to bring in a hot college name like Chip Kelly? Norv Turner may be available.
In all seriousness, the Cowboys can still make the playoffs, so it should be a while before anyone figures out where Garrett will be employed next year. Remember, Jones does not like to be told what to do, so Garrett could be back just because everyone keeps saying he won't be. Nobody, not even the owner, has any idea what Jerry the GM will do.
Looking further west, will Ken Whisenhunt survive a losing season in Arizona, especially given the debacle at the quarterback position over which he's currently presiding? The Cardinals started the year with so much promise, but after that 4-0 start, Whisenhunt's team has been unable to find a victory anywhere.
Now the Cardinals face three teams in a row with coaches in similar situations to their head man before finishing the season with Chicago and San Francisco, both of which could be playing for first-round byes or home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The Cardinals face Ryan and the Jets before heading to Seattle then back home to Detroit. Is anyone sure Pete Carroll will keep his job with the Seahawks if they don't make the playoffs? What about Jim Schwartz in Detroit? His seat may be the hottest of anyone after last week.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that Carroll will keep his job, especially with the progress of rookie Russell Wilson this year, but it was Carroll who opted to play Wilson over high-priced free agent Matt Flynn, likely making Carroll's developmental leash a bit shorter than it may have otherwise been.
Right now, it's hard to think Carroll will lose his job, but the Seahawks are teetering on the brink of implosion right now and a run of losses like this past weekend to the Dolphins could possibly mean the end for Carroll.
Schwartz is even harder to figure out. The team did give him a contract extension, but this season has been a catastrophe in Detroit, especially given the expectations heading into the year. The Lions have just four wins on the season, coming against St. Louis, Philadelphia, Seattle and Jacksonville. Schwartz ends the season with four of five games against near-certain playoff teams, facing Indianapolis, Green Bay, Arizona, Atlanta and Chicago.
How many wins does Detroit have left on the schedule? Will 5-11 or even 6-10 be enough to keep Schwartz in Detroit? Heck, will 8-8?
In all reality, the list of coaches with total job security is the same length as the list of those who could lose their jobs before next year.
Lewis in Cincinnati and Leslie Frazier in Minnesota have coached their teams well enough thus far to be sitting on a much cooler seat on the carousel. Jeff Fisher will get as much time as he needs to turn things around in St. Louis. Chuck Pagano will obviously get as much time as he needs to get healthy in Indianapolis (though Bruce Arians may have coached himself into leaving town…for a head coaching gig somewhere).
Greg Schiano has turned around Tampa into a playoff contender. John Fox should win his division in Denver for the second year in a row. Mike Smith, John Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin, Mike McCarthy, Gary Kubiak, Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and, yes, Lovie Smith are nowhere near the carousel right now, on the log flume or Tilt-a-Whirl or some totally different ride halfway across the NFL's giant amusement park.
Of course, should Belichick or Coughlin decide to retire after this season, that could add another coaching job or two, but that's another series of speculation for another time.
The only current head coach we haven't named is the guy who is the absolute hardest to figure out: Mike Shanahan. Two weeks ago, Shanahan was sitting on one of the hottest seats on the ride. Now, with back-to-back division wins, the Redskins are in position to make a second-half run to the playoffs. Shanahan could go from a coach sure to be fired to a guy with not only job security but an obvious successor-in-waiting with his son, Kyle, running the resurgent offense.
What the Shanahan clan has done with Robert Griffin III this season is worthy of another year, for sure. The schedule lines up favorably for the Redskins to make the playoffs too, with three of the last five games coming in the division and just two road games, at Cleveland and at Philadelphia, left on the slate.
Washington could be fighting for the final playoff spot in the NFC with Minnesota, Dallas, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Seattle. How hot Shanahan's seat gets will depend on Washington's last five games, and what happens in these other towns.
I count 15 names, with more potentially in line for the ride than not. I'll be honest, I started this with the goal of debunking the notion that more than 30 percent of the NFL's head coaches will lose their jobs this year and ended up making a case that nearly 50 percent should be sit with caution.
The coaching carousel is as full as it has ever been, and some seats seem to be pretty darn hot. On the plus side for those coaches who do get fired, there should be a lot of job openings available, if they are able to even stay on the ride.
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