As folks arrived in Dana Point, Calif., Sunday for the NFL owners' meetings, Peter King of Sports Illustrated observed:
"I think it's a strange sight, and definitely a changing-of-the-guard sight, to come to a league meeting and not see Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Herman Edwards...Changing-of-the-guard time, folks."
Oh, but for how long, Peter? All of those guys, plus Bill Cowher, are expected to be in play for NFL jobs again in 2010; and with such a bunch of power brokers expected to be available, many franchises figure to put their current coaches on short leashes in 2009.
As the owners' meetings continue, it's a perfect time to take a look at some of the coaches who might not be there next year, the guys who are sitting in the hot seats.
1. Tom Cable, Oakland
Raider coaches are always No. 1 on the hot seat. How could they not be? There have been five of them since 2002.
Al Davis is a black-and-silver-hair-trigger pistol who fires coaches at first twitch. He has no tolerance for losing, yet that's all his team has done since it lost to Gruden's Tampa Bay Bucs in the Super Bowl after the 2002 season.
If Cable can get the Raiders to 8-8, he might buy himself another season. Otherwise, it's better than 50-50 that Davis finds someone else to yell at.
One of Davis' problems is he still thinks he knows football, so he hires coaches he can bully and control.
The irony is: If he hired a strong, veteran coach like one of the giants mentioned above, the Raiders would win again. Of course, there's no chance any of those guys—especially former Raiders Shanahan and Gruden—would coach for Davis when they will get much better offers elsewhere.
2. Wade Phillips, Dallas
If the Cowboys miss the playoffs again, Phillips is gone. Owner Jerry Jones has not said it, but he doesn't need to. Like a lot of people, Jones thinks Dallas has too much talent to not make the playoffs.
But would Jones go after one of the big shots? And would they want to work for such a hands-on (some say "meddling") owner?
Gruden or Edwards might, but the Big Three—Holmgren, Cowher, and Shanahan—would not. Holmgren and Shanahan want to run their own operations again, and Cowher reportedly wants his own people (i.e., Kevin Colbert, general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers) running the show with him.
3. Jim Zorn, Washington
The surprise pick to coach the Redskins in 2008, Zorn needs to up his coaching game big time or he'll probably get big-timed.
Owner Daniel Snyder loves coaching legends, as his short-lived affairs with Steve Spurrier and Joe Gibbs illustrated. Snyder broke form by hiring a little-known coach who wasn't really ready, and he might be itching to go big again next year if Zorn fails again.
If he's willing to demote or fire de facto GM Vinny Cerrato, Snyder might be able to get Shanahan or Holmgren. Imagine a Shanahan-Clinton Portis reunion.
If Zorn doesn't get Washington to the playoffs this year, it could happen.
4. Dick Jauron, Buffalo
What a helpless feeling to know your fate is in the hands of Terrell Owens. That's where Jauron finds himself as the Bills splurged on a one-year gamble with the 35-year-old wide receiver, hoping Owens is the fulcrum the Bills can use to help pry themselves out of a three-year, 7-9 rut.
Jauron is lucky to be back for 2009 after his team faded from a 5-1 start in 2008 to a third straight 7-9 finish. Anything short of the playoffs will probably not be good enough this time.
But the Bills have cash-flow issues and probably couldn't afford to hire one of the Fab Five Free Agents of Coaching even if owner Ralph Wilson wanted to.
5. Brad Childress, Minnesota
Childress finally got the Vikings to the playoffs in 2008, and he will be expected to win in 2009, especially after the Vikings traded for quarterback Sage Rosenfels.
For the past couple of years, the Vikings have been the IT team in the NFL. With a great defense and running game, all they have lacked is a quarterback to put them over the top.
It still doesn't look like they have one, and if that's true and they can't win some playoff games, owner Zygi Wilf might let Childress go and try to grab a coach who has proven he knows how to get to the Super Bowl (Holmgren, Cowher, Shanahan and Gruden all have won it).
Lovie Smith, Chicago
The heat might be on Smith after two non-playoff seasons. He still doesn't have much of a quarterback, and his defense can't seem to stay healthy. If the Bears go into early hibernation again in 2009, GM Jerry Angelo just might make a change. But he wouldn't replace Smith with an expensive coach who might threaten Angelo's power base.
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati
Lewis has two years left on his contract, and if he can't get the Bengals back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005, he might not see that final year. Mike Brown is one of the cheapest owners in the league and has a history of sticking with losing coaches, but four bad years in a row has usually been his limit. Of course, even if he let Lewis go, it's highly doubtful Brown would want to pay one of the Fab Five.
Gary Kubiak, Houston
After consecutive 8-8 seasons, Kubiak's Texans are poised to get over the hump in 2009. If they don't, owner Bob McNair might choose to go straight to the source and try to hire Kubiak's former boss in Denver, Shanahan. The pressure is building in Houston.
Chris Cluff's Football.com column, "From the Top," is a weekly look at issues involving coaching, management and ownership of the NFL's 32 franchises. See more at http://www.football.com/nfl.php.
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