Does Sean Payton even rank on this list?
By mid-December last season, three NFL teams—the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins—had fired their head coaches. Week 14 of the 2012 NFL season is already under way, and not one NFL head coach has been let go.
While weekly speculation continues to build around multiple organizations, the fact that not one team has used the hook on a coach is surprising. There is a growing sense that at least six head-coaching positions could be open heading into the 2013 season.
There is a good possibility one or more of the men on this list will be fired before the season is completed. More will be let go on “Black Monday” after Week 17.
Turnover happens quickly in the NFL head-coaching ranks. Only six current head coaches have Super Bowl rings.
Some of these coaches will soon be looking for employment.
This season has been a train wreck for Andy Reid. The expectations were enormous. After leading the Eagles to five appearances in the NFC championship game, Reid was expected by many to lead this team to the Super Bowl.
Not only are the Eagles nowhere near the playoffs, but this team could finish with the worst record of any Reid-coached team. Injuries have played a part, but Reid, the longest-tenured coach with one team in the NFL, looks resigned to moving on.
Moves to fire assistant coaches have done nothing to improve a team that looks fragmented.
Norv Turner was on the hot seat the past two seasons after spoiling the Charger faithful by leading the team to three straight years in the playoffs. But the end is near for the three-time head coach. The Chargers have grossly underachieved and will almost certainly miss the playoffs for a third straight season.
Turner has been a head coach for the Redskins, Raiders and Chargers. In his 15 years as the lead decision-maker, Turner has only made the playoffs four times. Turner is known as an innovative play-caller but seems to have lost this team.
His days are numbered in San Diego.
There is no question about the character and leadership of Romeo Crennel from his players or coaching staff. The exemplary way he handled the situation with Jovan Belcher was beyond reproach.
Unfortunately, the NFL is a business, and tough decisions will be made about Crennel as a head coach.
In four seasons as a head coach in Cleveland, Crennel never made the playoffs. With the Chiefs, many pundits expected the team to compete for the AFC West title in 2012. Instead, the Chiefs are one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Crennel is a solid coach, as his Super Bowl rings won as an assistant attest. But a record of 28-51 as a head coach is hard to defend.
Crennel will get an assistant job quickly if let go by the Chiefs.
There is a good possibility that many NFL fans do not even know that Chan Gailey is the head coach of the Bills. The Bills have finished fourth in the AFC East the past two seasons and could end up in the basement again. Outside of the Patriots, the AFC East may be the weakest division in football.
Gailey had success in his two seasons as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, but he has struggled in Buffalo. He may get another season to try to right the ship. However, if Bills management decides to get a new starting quarterback, Gailey may be forced out in favor of a fresh offensive mind.
Another retread as a head coach, Mike Mularkey was given the keys to the Jaguars less than a year ago and is already on the hot seat. As the head coach for the Bills for two seasons, Mularkey did not reach the postseason.
Mularkey was brought into Jacksonville to help get quarterback Blaine Gabbert on the right path but was snake-bitten by injuries to running back Maurice Jones-Drew and then Gabbert.
Mularkey is tied to general manager Gene Smith. With new ownership looking to replace Smith, Mularkey will be hard pressed to hold on to his job.
Pat Shurmur is coaching a lot of young players and is getting them to play well in spurts. But like Mike Mularkey’s situation, Shurmur is coaching under new ownership and eventual new leadership in the front office.
If a new general manager is named in Cleveland, that executive will more than likely want to bring in his own head coach. That puts Shurmur back on the street.
A solid offensive coordinator for the Rams before taking the head job with the Browns, Shurmur should get an assistant job quickly if let go.
In a “what have you done for me lately” society, Ron Rivera is on the hot seat because of his success with rookie quarterback Cam Newton in 2011. Pundits and fans alike expected the Panthers to at least compete for a playoff spot in 2012.
Instead, the offense and Newton have taken a step back, and the entire team has regressed. General manager Marty Hurney has already been fired, and the search has begun for his replacement.
The new hire for the front office will surely want to hire someone who can connect better with Newton, so Rivera probably will not be an NFL head coach in 2013.
Super Bowl XLIII seems so long ago. Ken Whisenhunt was a hot coaching prospect back then, having led the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl. Fast-forward four NFL seasons, and Whisenhunt may be looking for work in 2013.
The Cardinals offense is one of the worst in the NFL, and the lack of a solid NFL quarterback has led to Whisenhunt’s demise. He is looked at as an offensive coach, and with an underperforming offensive line and quarterback play, the onus falls on him.
Whisenhunt’s loyalty to his players and assistant coaches may ultimately cost him his job in Arizona, but the former NFL tight end will not be out of work for long.
Jason Garrett seems to always be on the hot seat in Dallas. Many times in the past two seasons, Garrett’s time-management skills have been called into question.
Garrett has the Cowboys at 6-6 this season, but they figure to be underdogs in the four games left on their schedule.
Owner Jerry Jones may talk positively about Garrett’s future as the Cowboys' head coach, but Jones has also shown a quick hook in the past.
If the Cowboys miss the playoffs again, Garrett will have a tough time convincing Jones to bring him back.
While the rumors that Jon Gruden is headed back to Oakland seem to be exaggerated, that they are out there does not bode well for Allen. Still, general manager Reggie McKenzie is not the type of person to boot Allen after such an extensive head coaching search earlier this year.
While the Raiders, under Allen’s watch, have not performed well, he inherited a team that was pieced together randomly over the past three seasons.
With a full year under his belt and a chance to draft players for his systems, Allen should get at least another season to right the ship.
Rex Ryan led the Jets to AFC championship games in the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Now fans and media alike are calling for his head in the Big Apple.
Not long after Hard Knocks, featuring the Jets and Ryan, aired on HBO, it seemed every player in the NFL wanted to be in New York.
Times have drastically changed. Riddled by injuries, the loss of veteran players and questionable personnel moves, the Jets are looking at their first losing season under Ryan.
Even with all the drama surrounding the Jets, the team is still 5-7, and the players seem to play hard for Ryan. He should get another season to turn around the team. But even if that occurs, Ryan will be No. 32 on this list next year.
Mike Munchak finished his rookie season as a head coach in 2011 at 9-7, yet he is already hearing rumblings about his demise. The entire team, especially quarterback Jake Locker, seems to have taken a huge step back.
Munchak has already dismissed offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and admitted his entire staff is on notice to be fired.
Munchak was a Hall of Fame player and has the respect of his players. But if he is extended another season as head coach, look for sweeping changes on his staff.
He must find a way to better unify his offense and defense.
Leslie Frazier was named the interim head coach in 2010 and led the Vikings to a 3-3 finish. Then in 2011, in Frazier's first full season as head coach, the Vikings went 3-13, finishing with their worst record since 1984.
Frazier is a mild-mannered coach, but his players respect him. The Vikings are 6-6 this year with an outside chance of making the playoffs. They have talented young players in place on both sides of the football, but owner Zygi Wilf must decide if Frazier will remain head coach.
If Minnesota finishes 8-8 or better, Frazier will be back. If not, the possibility of a coaching change will be explored.
Coming off their first postseason appearance since 1999 last season, the Lions looked like the hot team in the NFC coming into 2012. They have plenty of offensive weapons and one of the better defenses in the NFL.
But the Lions have seriously underperformed and will have to run the table to finish the season with a .500 record. Jim Schwartz does not look to be going anywhere as the Lions' head coach, but expect some major turnover to his staff for the 2013 season.
If the Lions don't make the playoffs in 2013, Detroit will be looking for a head coach for 2014.
Mike Shanahan is in his 19th season as an NFL head coach and will always be remembered for being a two-time Super Bowl champion. But Shanahan has not made the playoffs in his last five seasons as a head coach, and his teams have made only seven playoff appearances.
With rookies Robert Griffin III at quarterback and Alfred Morris at running back, the Redskins seem to have reinvented their offense. As a result, they have a shot at the playoffs in 2012.
Should they miss out this year, however, Shanahan may have to make changes to the defensive staff to help get him back to the postseason.
Joe Philbin seems to be the perfect hire for the Dolphins. He is known as a solid teacher, and his young players seem to enjoy learning from him. The former offensive coordinator has slowly transformed a stagnant offense in 2011 into a solid unit in 2012.
Philbin still has work to do with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins could also be one of the teams hardest hit by free-agent losses after the 2012 season.
If general manager Jeff Ireland can get Philbin the kind of players who fit his system, Miami should be set at the head coaching position for years to come.
Jeff Fisher has taken one of the worst teams in the NFL and made it relevant again. The Rams are one of the youngest teams in the NFL and are well positioned to acquire more talented players in the draft, having traded for several high draft picks in recent years.
St. Louis is 4-0-1 in the NFC West, having beaten and tied the San Francisco 49ers, and the Rams' five wins are a third of the team’s 15 wins over the past five seasons.
While he doesn't figure to lead the Rams to the playoffs this year, Fisher, whose teams made the playoffs in six of his 17 previous seasons as head coach, clearly has them on the right track.
Marvin Lewis is the “Teflon Don” of NFL coaches. He has been a head coach for the Bengals for 10 seasons despite having a record below .500. No Lewis-led team has advanced past the AFC Wild Card Round.
Lewis has the trust and ear of Bengals owner Mike Brown. As long as he produces somewhat competitive teams, Lewis will be the head coach in Cincinnati.
The Bengals have good young talent in quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver A.J. Green and defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
The second-oldest head coach in the NFL has his Seattle team playing well, especially at home. The drafting of rookie quarterback Russell Wilson seems to have revitalized Pete Carroll and the entire Seahawks fanbase.
Carroll relates well to his players and, in his third stint as an NFL head coach, already has an NFC West title on his resume. Carroll and general manager John Schneider work well together.
As long Carroll has the passion, the former Jets and Patriots head man should be leading Seattle.
There has not been a better inspirational story in sports this year than the saga of Chuck Pagano and the Colts. Pagano started his NFL head-coaching career 1-2 but was diagnosed with leukemia, which forced him to turn the team over in the interim to Bruce Arians.
The young team has rallied around Pagano’s fighter spirit and continues to play inspired football.
With the Colts deep into the playoff chase, Pagano is eyeing a return to the sidelines. He will be coaching the Colts for years to come and continues to be idolized by players and fans.
Players and coaches want to work for people like Pagano.
Greg Schiano rubbed coach Tom Coughlin the wrong way early in the season. Schiano had his defensive players going full speed even when Giants quarterback Eli Manning took a knee to seal the win.
Schiano has restored order and discipline to a Buccaneers team that desperately needed it. That tough love has produced a 6-6 record and made the Buccaneers a formidable force now and for the future.
Schiano looks to have a bright future as an NFL head coach.
Once a coach on the hot seat, Gary Kubiak did the one thing most coaches can never do: hire a coach that may be better than you. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is 82-59 in the regular season as a NFL head coach and knows how to coach in big games.
That hire may have saved Kubiak's job and shows just how good the former NFL quarterback can be as a decision-maker. After Phillips was hired, the Texans made their first playoff appearance under Kubiak in 2011.
Kubiak has the Texans playing like a Super Bowl contender. If he can bring a championship to Houston this year, he may be in the top five on this list next season.
Mike Smith is the winningest head coach in Falcons history and has never had a losing season. Smith has a regular-season record of 53-22 entering Week 14. He made the playoffs in three of his first four seasons, and the Falcons already have clinched a playoff berth in Smith’s fifth season.
The albatross around Smith’s neck is his 0-3 record in the playoffs. Smith has an owner (Arthur Blank) who believes in him and a general manager (Thomas Dimitroff) who provide him with tons of talent.
However, Smith needs to prove he can win in the playoffs.
The former NFL quarterback has proven to be a successful head coach at the college and NFL levels. Jim Harbaugh turned around the 49ers in 2011 and was a turnover away from having his team in the Super Bowl.
Harbaugh resurrected the career of quarterback Alex Smith and has brought a different culture to the 49ers organization, one that had disappeared after the Bill Walsh/George Seifert eras. The 49ers are 8-3-1 this year. Barring a complete meltdown, they will make the playoffs again in Harbaugh’s second season.
He will continue to call the shots in San Francisco.
John Harbaugh has been the Ravens' head coach since 2008 and has already appeared in two AFC championship games. Harbaugh has led the Ravens to the playoffs in each of his previous four seasons as head coach.
Baltimore is leading the AFC North and poised to make the playoffs under Harbaugh for a fifth straight year. All that stands between Harbaugh and the top seven on this list is a Super Bowl appearance.
Taking his record into consideration, Harbaugh is right on the verge of that feat.
If this list were composed at this time in 2010, John Fox would have been in the 30s. The former Carolina Panthers head coach was 2-14 in his final season in Charlotte and looked like a tired old coach. Funny what a change of scenery and winning can do.
In 2011, Fox took over a Denver franchise that was in disarray and produced a playoff-winning squad with Tim Tebow at quarterback. Fox then helped recruit quarterback Peyton Manning this season. Denver already has clinched its division, and Fox hopes to take this team to the Super Bowl like he took the 2003 Panthers.
Only this time, Fox needs to win.
Lovie Smith is in his ninth season as the Bears head coach and continues to have his team playing at a high level. Smith led the Bears to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season, and the Bears played in the NFC championship game in 2010.
This season, Chicago is 8-4 and tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North.
Smith is trusted by ownership. Even when the front office was turned over prior to this season, he was viewed as the man to lead the Bears into the foreseeable future.
While Sean Payton may not be on the sidelines for the Saints this season, he is technically considered the head coach. That being said, there may not be a coach anywhere in the country with more job security.
While there are reports that Payton’s contract with the Saints has been voided, just like the case with quarterback Drew Brees and his holdout, Payton is simply gaining leverage for a monster contract.
Payton is already a coaching legend in New Orleans and will be able to write his own check, especially after the team's offensive struggles without him.
Mike McCarthy brought a Super Bowl back to “Titletown, USA,” and has a regular-season record of 71-36. He is one of the best offensive minds in the business. McCarthy has helped quarterback Aaron Rodgers become one of the best in the NFL.
McCarthy can write his own ticket as the head coach of the Packers. Unless he has a falling-out with general manager Ted Thompson, McCarthy can coach the Packers for as long as he keeps producing.
Mike Tomlin was not the popular hire for the Steelers after Bill Cowher resigned, but he has paid off big for the city of Pittsburgh.
Tomlin is in his sixth season as head coach and already has won a Super Bowl and appeared in another. He has never had a losing season.
Tomlin is one of the youngest head coaches in the NFL, yet his players respect and listen to him. The Rooney family knows it has one of the league's best coaches and will not be letting Tomlin leave anytime soon.
Tom Coughlin has won two of the last five Super Bowls. That alone gives him outstanding job security. But Coughlin can also be used a guiding light for any of the coaches on this list.
Before the amazing turnaround that produced the win in Super Bowl XLII, players and media in New York were calling for Coughlin’s job.
Before that, Coughlin built the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars into a consistent playoff team.
As the oldest coach in the NFL, Coughlin will be the one who decides when his coaching career is over.
Bill Belichick is in his 13th season as head coach of the Patriots and has had only one season (2000, his first) when the team had a losing record. The Patriots have won the AFC East 10 times in that span, including this season.
Belichick has won three Super Bowls in New England and is a sure-fire Hall of Fame coach. As the acting general manager as well, Belichick has the most clout and security of any coach in the NFL.