How Each Beseiged NFL Head Coach Ended Up on the Hot Seat

Dan Van WieContributor IIIDecember 13, 2012

How Each Beseiged NFL Head Coach Ended Up on the Hot Seat

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    Since the shelf life of NFL head coaches is so short to begin with, it is an interesting exercise to look at how each head coach wound up with the "hot seat" designation.

    There are truly a wide range of scenarios that can undermine a head coach which leads to speculation that he will be gone.

    Here are just a few examples:  Poor regular season performance; stringing consecutive losing seasons together; coach becomes overly conservative and coaches not to lose; has trouble relating to younger players; coach has been there so long his message is wearing thin on players; divided locker room over two starting quarterback controversy.

    Other issues could be: A change in ownership or with the GM; coach has lost the locker room; not enough success in the postseason; falling attendance; fans want to fire the coach and become boisterous about it; trouble relating to the media; poor public relations style; a rash of injuries hit the star players; bad decisions; poor play-calling; or a new hot coach becomes available.

    You could probably go through each of those scenarios and think of a prior NFL head coach that falls into one or more of those reasons for why he was canned.

    We will visit every current NFL head coach that is sitting on a hot seat and identify why he is in trouble.

Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhut

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    Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt started out the 2012 season 4-0, but things quickly eroded from there. The Cardinals have since gone into a major tailspin by losing nine straight games. It looks like Arizona finally hit rock bottom in Week 14 when it got totally outplayed by the Seattle Seahawks 58-0.

    The Cardinals committed eight turnovers, and there didn't appear to be any fight to the team. In that game, it looked like the team quit playing for Whisenhunt, and that is something that you never want to see happen.

    In an article on, Cardinals team president Michael Bidwell reacted to the Seattle shutout with the following:

    I know that there is a lot of emotion around what happened yesterday but I don't intend to make any decisions based on emotion. Bidwell also said a decision on whether Ken Whisenhunt remains as coach will be made after the season.

    During the past month, Larry Fitzgerald shared that it was easier to laugh about how bad the team was, because any other emotion would have been too painful to express. Things are clearly bad in Arizona. 

    GM Rod Graves has brought in quality talent on defense, but his ability to land talent on offense, (outside of WR Larry Fitzgerald) is less than stellar. Arizona has the worst overall offense in the NFL, but has the No. 12 overall defense.

    The three biggest issues on offense would be the following:

    a) Organization has been poor at evaluating franchise quarterbacks.

    b) Not investing enough resources to improve the offensive line.

    c) Poor running attack compromises what the offense can do.

    Some of these issues belong to Graves, but who will be the Bidwell's choice to be the fall guy? Graves or Whisenhunt? Who knows, maybe they will clean house.

    Whisenhunt is now in his sixth year, and his regular season record is 44-49, which is a winning percentage of .473. Whisenhunt coached the Cardinals to an appearance in Super Bowl XLIII, but this will be the third straight year that the Cardinals will have missed the postseason. Whatever good graces Whisenhunt received from the Super Bowl run have worn off by now.

    The Kevin Kolb deal is just one example of poor evaluation by Arizona, and it will be a shame if Whisenhunt loses his job over the shortcomings of the front office. But it wouldn't be the first time that a coach was fired for that reason, nor will it be the last.

Buffalo Bills Head Coach Chan Gailey

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    Chan Gailey of the Buffalo Bills has been lauded as a solid offensive strategist and outstanding offensive coordinator. That may be where his ceiling is, because his tenure as head coach may be running out of steam. In Buffalo, Gailey has led the team to a 15-30 record, which is a .333 winning percentage. That kind of performance is usually sufficient to get you fired in the NFL.

    Gailey is finishing up his third year on the job with Buffalo. The franchise had gone 10 years without a postseason appearance prior to Gailey, and he has now extended that streak to 13 years—the longest such active streak in the NFL.

    The Bills are a team that usually is competitive every week, and rarely gets embarrassed by any opponent. The Bills are struggling with learning how to win in the fourth quarter, as they struggle in closing out games in the fourth quarter and seem to lack a killer instinct.

    There are a number of reasons why Gailey is sitting on a hot seat, so let's name them off:

    1) Takes responsibility for the offense only. He leaves the defense to Dave Wannstedt and the special teams duties to Bruce DeHaven. Gailey coaches the team as an offensive coordinator would, but the head coach is supposed to be responsible for everything that happens. Gailey doesn't operate that way.

    2) His play-calling in the red zone has bordered on the side of bizarre for the last two months. The Bills have been great at moving the ball down to the red zone, but once there, they often look clueless. They have an outstanding weapon in TE Scott Chandler, but don't go to him nearly enough.

    3) The Bills have been involved in some close games but Gailey coaches as if he is being strangled by the pressure. Specifically, he has passed up reasonable field-goal attempts for Rian Lindell, only to try to punt the ball to back opponents up.

    The Bills watch hopelessly as the opponent then drives the field to score the decisive points. This is what we refer to as coaching "not to lose, instead of coaching to win". His lack of confidence in certain players or lack of aggressiveness at times is disheartening.

    4) Predictability. The lack of gadget plays, special plays on special teams, is another way that Gailey has grown overly conservative in his third year. The Bills become more and more conservative every year under Gailey.

    5) Keeping the ball out of the hands of your best player. C.J. Spiller is unquestionably one of the most exciting running backs in the NFL. Yet Gailey has mysteriously kept the ball out of Spiller's hands in too many games in 2012. The only time he is guaranteed ample touches is when Fred Jackson is out hurt.

    6) The Bills had a solid start in 2011 at 5-2 after shutting out Washington. In that game, starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick took a shot from London Fletcher that resulted in cracked ribs and a bruised sternum.

    Fitzpatrick's season quickly went downhill from there. While it was obvious to all observers that something was wrong with Fitzpatrick, Gailey simply put his head in the sand. Rather than pull his injured QB, he let the team go 1-8 over their final nine games so it came into 2012 with no momentum whatsoever.

    According to, Gailey signed a three-year deal originally with the Bills. If his contract is up after the 2012 season, then the Bills have to decide to either: Fire him at the end of the year; sign him to a one-year deal to see if he can produce a winning season; or opt to give him a longer extension.

    Buffalo GM Buddy Nix is fully behind Gailey, so it would not be a surprise if Gailey comes back. If Nix is fired as the GM, then all bets are off.

Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera

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    In 2011, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera made his head coaching debut in the NFL, going 6-10 on the year. He has the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in QB Cam Newton, and things were looking up for the 2012 season.

    But here we are coming into Week 15, and the Panthers have actually regressed in Year 2 under Rivera. Their record is 4-9 and they may be hard pressed to match last year's record.

    On the surface, you might think that since Rivera is only in his second year on the job, that his position is relatively safe. That just isn't true. The Panthers fired GM Marty Hurney back in October. Since Hurney was responsible for hiring Rivera, whoever is hired to ultimately take over the job may want to bring in his own head coach.

    So, when the new GM is named, Rivera may be out of a job just like that. The NFL can be cruel sometimes, but that is the nature of the beast.

Chicago Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith

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    In 2011, Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith led the team to a 7-3 start, only to watch helplessly as key injuries wrecked his team for the stretch drive. The Bears lost five of their last six games to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs.

    In 2012, the Bears once again started out with a very good record of 7-1, only to lose four of their last five games to fall to 8-5. Just like last year, injuries have been a major reason for the collapse.

    Chicago is trying to prepare for a huge showdown game with the Green Bay Packers in Week 15, but 11 starters had to miss practice on Wednesday. The Bears cancelled the practice as a result, and some of the walking wounded were able to participate Thursday on a limited basis. That really restricts what the team can do in the practice setting, much less how well they can prepare for the big game.

    The Bears need this win against Green Bay. Since Smith was named the head coach in 2004, the Bears have gone 8-10 against Green Bay in the regular season and the playoffs. From 2004-2007, the Bears were 6-2 against the Packers under Smith. Since then, the record has been 2-8. If Green Bay wins in Week 15, that would give it two wins for each of the last four years against its main rival.

    Some organizations are able to take on a number of injuries to key players and find a way to continue to win. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens come to mind in that regard. But for whatever reason, the Bears just aren't able to step up and overcome the adversity. 

    That could be a reflection on the depth of the talent on the team, but it could also be a reflection on Smith's ability to have the bench players coached and ready to contribute when their number is called.

    If the Bears fail to reach the playoffs even with the additions of free-agents RB Michael Bush and WR Brandon Marshall, that might be deemed as inexcusable by the Chicago front office.

Cleveland Browns Head Coach Pat Shurmur

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    The Cleveland Browns are obviously in a rebuilding mode, as they turned over their offense to a number of rookies in 2012. Thrown directly into the fire, they were allowed to learn on the job, which some people think is the best way to go.

    Cleveland head coach Pat Shurmur watched the Browns begin the year 0-5, but he was able to hold the team together. The Browns continued to fight and coming into Week 15, they have a record of 5-8, which includes wins over AFC North division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

    The Browns have a three-game winning streak now and that is clearly evidence that the team is playing better football under Shurmur. Sure, the three wins weren't against the elite teams of the NFL, but the Browns will gladly take any win over Pittsburgh whenever they can.

    In October, the Browns franchise was sold to Jimmy Haslam. Nobody knows how the Browns front office will look like in 2013, but you would have to be naive to think that a new GM wouldn't want to bring in his own head coach.

    Now, if Shurmur were to somehow able to lead the Browns to sweep their remaining games and finish the year at 8-8, that would make it rather difficult to tell him to hit the road in 2013. We will see what happens.

Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett

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    Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is still under contract through the 2014 season. Just because a coach has two years left on his deal doesn't mean that he is safe from getting axed. With an impatient owner like Jerry Jones that kept insisting that the window was closing, Garrett can't take his position for granted. Far from it.

    One of the issues surrounding Garrett is that Jerry Jones is fond of New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton. Payton still is without a new contract since the NFL voided his deal with the Saints. As long as Payton is technically a free agent, Garrett isn't safe.

    Another factor in Garrett sitting on the hot seat is that ever since he stepped in as the Dallas head coach in 2010, his overall record is 20-17, which amounts to a .541 winning percentage. The Cowboys haven't reached the playoffs since Garrett took over, and while they are close to catching the New York Giants in the NFC East right now, any kind of a setback might be the final straw that broke the camel's back.

    That is the bigger picture issues. From a narrower perspective, the offense, play-calling and clock management decisions that Garrett has made this year have come under fire from Jones. That only adds more fuel to the fire that Jones isn't happy.

    Of course there is always the owner giving the ringing endorsement, and then turning right around weeks later to say that he is firing his coach. If the Cowboys do win the NFC East and win a playoff game or two, that would seem to keep Jones at bay, and Garrett in Dallas for a while longer.

Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey

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    Few NFL head coaches could have begun with a rockier set of circumstances than Jacksonville Jaguars first-year head coach Mike Mularkey. Consider the various issues that Mularkey inherited in 2012:

    His best player, and the clear No. 1 threat on offense, RB Maurice Jones-Drew decides to hold out from the team in an attempt to demand more money. Jones-Drew misses OTAs, training camp and the preseason. He is far behind on the new offense that Mularkey wants to implement in 2012.

    Secondly, Mularkey is taking over a team that has a quarterback in Blaine Gabbert that left a tremendous number of question marks from his rookie season. Gabbert was tagged with happy feet in the pocket and Mularkey was asked to coach a team with a quarterback directing an offense that was suspect.

    First-round draft pick WR Justin Blackmon gets nailed for a DUI and the bad news just keeps rolling in.

    So, now that the season is almost over, where are the Jaguars? Their record is 2-11, which means that they are tied with Kansas City for the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2013. Jones-Drew has only played in six games this year due to an ankle injury, which has limited what the Jaguars could do on offense.

    You would like to think that Mularkey would be given more than one year on the job, but with owner Shad Khan taking over the team, he will have to be patient to let Mularkey do his job. Shad has helped to increase the attendance at Jaguars games, but will he be patient enough with Mularkey? That remains to be seen.

Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Romeo Crennel

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    The Kansas City Chiefs were picked by a number of NFL experts to win the AFC West division title in 2012. With their injured stars coming back to health, the team was expected to take off under head coach Romeo Crennel, who did such a good job with the job on an interim basis at the end of 2011.

    Things haven't exactly worked out according to plan for Crennel, as the Chiefs are staring at a 2-11 record, which is tied for the worst NFL record with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    Kansas City has a proud and strong fanbase, as over 69,000 people turn out for home games. But as the season progressed, a number of those fans started wearing paper bags over their heads to show their disgust with the team. Signs of "fire Crennel" were popping up all over the stadium.

    Things were looking pretty dire for Crennel to return in 2013, until the Chiefs season got turned upside down with the events of Dec. 2nd. That was the date that LB Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and then went to the Chiefs facility to thank Crennel and GM Scott Pioli for the chance they gave him to play in the NFL. Belcher proceeded to commit suicide in front of them.

    Crennel kept the team together and handled himself with dignity and class in the wake of a horrific event. The way that he was able to rally the team and keep it together showed great heart. It is difficult to speculate based on where things are emotionally and psychologically with the Chiefs organization to know how they view Crennel to possibly return in 2013.

    If the relationship ends after this season, it no doubt was due to the record and how poorly the team played during the season. Crennel also stepped down as the defensive coordinator midseason, so that might be something that leads to a dismissal. We will see how things shake out during the offseason.

New York Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan

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    Love them or hate them, the New York Jets continue to find ways to stay in the headlines. Head coach Rex Ryan is usually good for a great quote or two to share with the media. The three-ring circus the team created with the trade for Tim Tebow dominated the offseason media blitz, right along with Denver signing Peyton Manning. Now we realize one of those stories was all smoke, while the other was all fire.

    When you think of a head coach that relies on preaching and making bold predictions, it can backfire if it looks like you are spewing hot air. Ryan's hold on the team started to wane in 2011 when he admitted that he wasn't aware of the fractures in the locker room. A good coach is on top of those things, and has some key veterans that will keep him in tune with the pulse of the team.

    The issues with the offense continued in 2012 when quarterback Mark Sanchez struggled. New offensive coordinator Tony Sparano wanted to turn to a more physical offense, which on the surface made sense. Due to injuries and limited depth in the wide receiver corp, the Jets passing attack didn't strike much feat into anybody. Averaging just 187 passing yards a game, the Jets are No. 30 in the passing game.

    Despite the struggles from Sanchez and the losses continuing to pile up, Ryan remained steadfast in his support of Sanchez. Ryan had promised through earlier press conferences that a package of plays would be worked up for Tebow, but those plays seemed to be an afterthought as the season wore on.

    Then there was the game against Arizona in Week 13 when Ryan finally pulled Sanchez in favor of Greg McElroy, who led the Jets to a 7-6 victory in the fourth quarter. Ryan went right back to Sanchez again the following week, despite his horrific performance.

    Ryan has pulled some questionable stunts this year, like dressing Tebow as his backup QB, even though he was suffering from cracked or broken ribs at the time.

    Between the guarantees, the stunts and the flare ups in the locker room, one has to wonder if the message that Ryan tries to impart on his team has finally grown too stale to be effective any longer. If the Jets are somehow able to rally and qualify for the playoffs, that might be enough to save Ryan's job for 2013. But when it comes to the Jets, how much is noise and how much is substance?

Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid

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    It's not like Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie hasn't provided head coach Andy Reid with every chance to succeed. With 14 years on the job, nobody has currently been coaching a team longer in the NFL right now than Reid.

    But instead of getting closer to reaching the Super Bowl, Reid's teams have wound up with two losing seasons in a row. Lurie had announced some firm ultimatums at the start of the season, so if Reid didn't win, he would be gone.

    Since Reid wasn't able to produce, it would make Lurie look wishy-washy if he didn't follow through on the stance he took. Every proclamation after that would be treated like more hot air. Where have we just heard about that?

    Anyway, things have been unraveling for Philadelphia most of the year. Reid was fully on board with Michael Vick, and that might very well have hurt him in the long run. Vick made vows about how he would become a different and better player in 2012, but he kept turning the ball over left and right.

    Vick eventually came down with a serious concussion, as did RB LeSean McCoy. WR DeSean Jackson went on injured reserve, as did All-Pro T Jason Peters. If you strip away the best players from your offense, it will take you time to regroup.

    That is the one thing that Reid no longer has the benefit of: time.

    As the season has moved along, the coaching staff has to be extremely nervous about its job security. First, it was defensive coordinator Juan Castillo that got the axe, and then it was defensive line coach Jim Washburn that was relieved of his job. Nobody is safe, and it wouldn't be a surprise at all if Reid is asked to leave after the season concludes.

San Diego Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner

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    Back in 2011, San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner was in a similar boat with Eagles coach Andy Reid. There was plenty of speculation that each coach would be fired, but the players approached management and asked for another chance to prove that they could win for their head coach.

    So much for that experiment. Both teams failed miserably in their attempt to save their head coach's job, as each team has a losing record.

    For Turner, it doesn't appear that he will be alone, as San Diego GM A.J. Smith could be fired along with Turner. The difference between Reid and Turner is that other teams would be lining up to interview Reid to be there next head coach, while it is doubtful that Turner's phone will be ringing anytime soon for him to take over another NFL team as head coach.

    Turner worked his way onto the hot seat due to taking a very talented team, and coming up short with them year after year. The Chargers have been blessed with a number of star players over the years, yet somehow Turner couldn't get them to play at a consistent level all season.

    One year they would start out cold and finish strong. The next year they would start out hot, and finish with a bad losing streak. That is something that a good head coach knows how to prevent. He keeps his team on a steady pace, and he doesn't get too high or low at any juncture.

    For Norv Turner, it appears highly probable that he will be missing the postseason for the third straight season and that will serve as his final hurrah.


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