NFL Coaching Carousel: Where Will Hot Seat Coaches Land in 2013?
When it comes to the profession of head coaches in the National Football League, you may liken it to a vicious merry-go-round, with coaches coming and going and being recycled every five to 10 years. The end of the 2012 regular season is right around the corner, and there is plenty of speculation that a number of hot seat head coaches will be relieved of their duties. So, where will these coaches land in 2013?
If you think back to this time one year ago, the overwhelming opinion was that Norv Turner and Andy Reid would be dismissed after their disappointing 2011 seasons. But the Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers players went to management and convinced the front office to give each besieged head coach one more chance.
If you are keeping score at home, the update should read: "Front Office 2 - Players 0," as neither Reid or Turner were able to deliver with their second chance.
How many coaches will be fired at the end of this year? It could be as few as four or five, or as many as eight or nine. Safe to say that there are more coaches on the hot seat than there will be actual firings, but that also depends on what happens over the final two weeks of the season.
Trying to predict where these coaches will land isn't necessarily easy. So, we will look at their previous coaching experience and combine that with specific teams with needs to see if a potential landing spot can be determined. In some cases, maybe it is best to retreat from the NFL or give coaching a break for a while to rest up and recharge the batteries.
Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt
For the first eight years of Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt's coaching career, he split his time between coaching special teams and tight ends. He coached at both the college and NFL levels.
Eventually, Whisenhunt made his mark as an offensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2004 to 2006. That led him to getting hired as the Cardinals head coach in 2007. Leading his team to Super Bowl XLIII made him a rising star in the NFL, but things have quickly gone downhill since Kurt Warner retired.
A fast start in 2012 put Arizona and Whisenhunt back on the map, only to see their offensive line and poor quarterback play lead the team to a nine-game losing streak. The 58-0 shutout by Seattle might have been the last straw for senior management, and questions how good of a leader Whisenhunt still is.
If Arizona decides to terminate him at the end of the season, the prediction here would be one of two choices. Whisenhunt continues being a head coach, but it would be at the collegiate level. If he prefers to stay in the NFL, then the projection would be as an offensive coordinator.
Upon further review, with Arizona's overall offense being ranked No. 32 in the NFL, the college coaching gig might be a safer way to go.
Buffalo Bills Head Coach Chan Gailey
The Buffalo Bills hired Chan Gailey in 2010 to turn around their long streak of failing to reach the playoffs. Gailey has failed miserably in trying to meet his top priority, and now the streak has reached 13 years, the longest current streak in the league.
The 2012 season promised much hope and aspirations for the playoffs after the signing of free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. If anything, the Bills have regressed in the third year under Gailey. The team appear clueless in the red zone at times, and their clock management skills at the end of either half is poor at best.
Buffalo lacks a killer instinct, and instead of learning how to win in the fourth quarter, they find new ways to lose. That flaw falls on Gailey. The team usually competes and plays hard for Gailey, but that isn't enough, as evidenced by his overall record in Buffalo of 15-30, which is a .333 winning percentage. That just doesn't cut it in any NFL city, much less in Buffalo. The Bills have a very loyal fanbase. They continue to wait for a head coach that can step in and take charge and make things happen.
At 60 years old, Gailey seems best suited for an offensive coordinator job. He doesn't want to be bothered with defense or special teams questions or problems, preferring to turn those issues over to the coaches that he hired. That is the mentality of a coordinator, not a head coach.
Gailey has improved the Buffalo offense during his tenure with the team. But the mysterious way that he has put C.J. Spiller on ice during the year and his unyielding faith in Ryan Fitzpatrick makes one question his offensive talent evaluation abilities.
The final recommendation here is for Gailey to go back to an offensive coordinator role in the NFL. If Gailey wants to take on a project, how about fixing the Arizona Cardinals offensive woes?
Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera currently has the team on a modest two-game winning streak. That has raised the Panthers record to 5-9, which isn't great, but they are starting to look like a better team.
Rivera is in an awkward situation, because the guy that hired him, GM Marty Hurney, was fired earlier this year. The Panthers haven't hired his replacement yet, and it is very likely that the new GM will want to bring in his own head coach.
With that being the case, Rivera can only try to keep leading the team to wins, and hope that a four-game winning streak to close out the season would be sufficient to convince the new GM that Rivera is on to something good.
If not, he will likely be scooped up by some team in need of defensive help. Rivera has been either a defensive coordinator, or linebackers coach throughout his coaching career. In his first year at Carolina, the overall Panthers defense was an anemic No. 28 in the league. This year, Rivera has boosted up the performance on defense to the point that they are now No. 10. That is marked improvement in just one year.
There are a number of bad NFL teams that could use help from a defensive-minded head coach. Some teams that come to mind are Jacksonville, New Orleans (if Jerry Jones hires away Sean Payton before the Saints can sign him to a new deal), Buffalo, Tennessee and Cleveland. The worst-case scenario is that he would be hired to become a defensive coordinator again.
Chicago Bears Head Coach Lovie Smith
A hot 7-1 start, quickly followed by an equally cold 1-5 stretch has placed the Chicago Bears and head coach Lovie Smith in limbo land. The Bears could finish anywhere from 10-6 to 8-8, but the sad part is that the 10-6 may not be sufficient to get the team into the NFC playoffs.
If Chicago fails to qualify for the postseason, that would mean that Smith has been able to reach the postseason just one time in the last six years. In most NFL cities, that is an unacceptable rate of return, and the city of Chicago won't sit back and accept mediocrity.
Of course injuries have played a key role in the demise of the Bears in the past two years. But all teams have to cope with injuries. Some are better at plugging guys in to stop the damage, while other teams immediately go into a tailspin. The biggest issue with Chicago is the lack of urgency at improving its porous offensive line in support of Jay Cutler. That is a huge omission to make.
As for Smith, he is now in his ninth season in Chicago as head coach. Prior to that he was a defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and defensive backs coach. With his area of specialization being the defensive side of the ball, he could be a viable head coach candidate for any of the teams we cited earlier for Ron Rivera (Jacksonville, New Orleans, Buffalo, Tennessee and Cleveland).
Smith never played in the NFL, but he has been involved in coaching ever since he graduated from Tulsa University. During his tenure, Smith guided the Bears to Super Bowl XLI and an appearance in the 2010 NFC Championship Game.
Cleveland Browns Head Coach Pat Shurmur
The Cleveland Browns have been playing a better brand of football in the second half of 2012, as they were able to string together a three-game winning streak. But for head coach Pat Shurmur, it will probably not be deemed as good enough to save his job.
The Browns franchise, of course, has been sold this year to Jimmy Haslam, and with Joe Banner coming in as the CEO, it is expected that Banner will want to hire his own coach.
Cleveland began the year 0-5, which didn't help Shurmur's grip on the job. Yes, the Browns have turned over their offense to a higher percentage of rookies than is normal, but that strategy should reward the Browns down the road when these players have all matured and are ready to turn the corner together.
In his coaching career, Shurmur has been dedicated to the offensive side of the ball. He has extensive coaching history with tight ends and quarterbacks, coached offensive line and served as an offensive coordinator.
In his two years in Cleveland, the offense has been No. 29 overall (2011) and then a slight improvement this year to No. 26 overall. While Cleveland clearly needed to add some talent on offense, the mixed results cloud the future for what is Shurmur's best job going forward. He may need to go to the college level, enjoy some success there and then return to the NFL later.
Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett
Should the Dallas Cowboys somehow pull out the 2012 NFC East division title, that might very well be sufficient for head coach Jason Garrett to save his job for 2013. If, however, the Cowboys wind up out of the postseason again, it would not be a surprise to see Jerry Jones lower the axe on Garrett.
With the Cowboys' Week 16 game coming up against the New Orleans Saints, how ironic would it be if the Saints pull off the upset to knock Dallas out of the playoffs. Then, Jerry Jones would swoop in and throw together a huge contract to convince free agent head coach Sean Payton to come over to Dallas. That would be highly ironic, but it is a scenario that could happen.
The jury was still out on Garrett after the 2011 season, but when Jerry Jones came out with "the window is closing" mantra before the 2012 season even began, that placed even more pressure on Garrett to succeed now or else.
While the Cowboys are a streaky team, and as inconsistent in performance from one week to the next as you can imagine, they are still in the hunt at 8-6. If they can win their final two games, there is an excellent chance that they can either win the NFC East or grab the last wild-card slot.
If Garrett gets the team to the playoffs, it would seem that his job is safe. But with Jerry Jones around, you never know for sure.
Should Garrett get fired at the end of the year, his forte is offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. With all of the young starting quarterbacks in the league, Garrett would be in demand to either serve as offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach around the league.
As for remaining a head coach in the league, Jones has called too many of Garrett's decisions into question this year. That will probably influence the league to view Garrett in a different capacity going forward.
Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey
With a 2-12 record, new head coach Mike Mularkey is certainly sitting on a hot seat in Jacksonville. Considering all of the problems that Mularkey inherited with the team, the odds suggest that he will be allowed to have one more year to prove that he can turn the team around. If that happens and he winds up with a 3-13 or 4-12 record in 2013, then he will be one of the first coaches to be fired.
Mularkey's mess started with the Maurice Jones-Drew holdout, continued with the Justin Blackmon DUI and was heightened when it was clear that starting QB Blaine Gabbert still wasn't very good.
The Jaguars are trying to figure out what to do with Jones-Drew in 2013, as his 2012 season has been such a waste for all parties concerned. The Jaguars have holes on both sides of the ball, so it is hard to hold Mularkey accountable for things that were out of his control.
If owner Shad Khan has lost all confidence in Mularkey, then it is possible he gives him the boot after this year is done. Mularkey has primarily served as a offensive coordinator in his past, so if Pittsburgh fails to make the playoff, Mularkey could return to the Steelers in place of Todd Haley.
Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Romeo Crennel
The Kansas City Chiefs are tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the worst record in the NFL at 2-12 right now. During the 2012 season, head coach Romeo Crennel has stepped down as the defensive coordinator, and then did his best to keep the team together after LB Jovan Belcher committed suicide at the Chiefs complex.
Crennel had to witness all of the unhappy fans at the home games, as they would pass around the shopping bags to put over their heads. The team has become a laughing stock in Kansas City, and Crennel will no doubt be gone after the season is over.
The question is where is he best suited going forward? His strengths are as a defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. Of the various teams that are in need of help on defense, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Oakland Raiders are the two needs that need the most help in learning how to pick up sacks.
Jacksonville is dead last with only 15 on the year, while the Raiders are ranked No. 31 with only 21 sacks on the year. Crennel could be a nice fit for defensive line coach/assistant head coach or defensive coordinator with either team.
New York Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan
How hot is the seat that New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan sits on now? After refusing to bench Mark Sanchez after throwing four interceptions against the Tennessee Titans in Monday Night Football, Sanchez rewards his faith by fumbling away the final chance at stealing a win.
Ryan has the type of personality that the New York media enjoys working with. The Jets fans love Ryan, but they can be very fickle as well. They obviously want results, and it has been far too long since Joe Namath delivered on his promise.
Speaking of promises, Ryan has toned down his forecasting skills this year, which is probably for the best. His predictions had a way of falling short of the mark.
The latest firestorm for Ryan comes from his decision to bypass Tim Tebow and start Greg McElroy in the Week 16 game against San Diego. Tebow will no doubt be requesting a trade when the season is over, as whatever he was promised when he arrived in New York has been ignored and forgotten.
If the Jets decide it is best to part ways with Ryan at the end of the year, where would he surface? If you were thinking about Ryan making appearances in the next two Adam Sandler movies, you read my mind. Seriously, Ryan would be an attractive hire for a team that has lacked a strong leader at the helm for many years. The initial idea was Buffalo or Cleveland, where he would be a breath of fresh air. But Ryan seems to like playing up to the media in big markets.
Other options could include Philadelphia, Chicago or even Dallas. Can you imagine the Ryan brothers working together in Dallas? That would sell tickets and produce an interesting team.
Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid
With everything that has gone wrong with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012, is there any possible way that owner Jeffrey Lurie can save face and bring Andy Reid back for another year? Right now the answer appears to be murky, as someone besides Reid has been calling the shots lately.
Since the Eagles fired Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn, people wondered if Reid was actually calling these shots or somebody else in the team was behind these decisions. If Reid is doing what the team wants, perhaps they will relent and bring him back in 2013 after all. Stranger things have happened.
But where things get interesting is to think about the prospects for Reid if his services are terminated in Philadelphia. Of the various teams that could be looking to hire a new coach, San Diego and Dallas would be two distinct possibilities. Reid has ties to the San Diego area, and Jerry Jones is a fan of Reid.
Let's take it a step further. Before the NFL intervened and convinced Michael Vick to play in Philadelphia, he was rumored to be interested to play for Buffalo, who was mutually interested in him. What if Reid and Vick were to come to Buffalo in a package deal? The duo would be far more exciting than Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey, and would certainly sell more seats.
If Buffalo were to fire Buddy Nix and Gailey in one foul swoop at the end of the year, the Reid and Vick package could make tremendous sense.
San Diego Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner
Norv Turner was granted a reprieve to come back in 2012 and see if he could lead the San Diego Chargers back to the playoffs. With two games left to go and a 5-9 record, Turner has proved to all doubters that he doesn't have what it takes to get this team back into the postseason.
Turner has been an offensive coordinator and head coach throughout his NFL coaching career. The owner of a 111-121-1 career mark (winning percentage of .478), Turner seems to have exhausted his head coaching tenure after the latest rounds of disappointments in San Diego.
Going back to the offensive coordinator role seems to make the most sense, unless he wants to go back to coaching with a major college program.
The bottom five overall offenses in 2012 are Arizona, Jacksonville, New York Jets, Chicago and sorry to admit it, San Diego. Seeing San Diego in the bottom five suggests that maybe it is time for Turner to take a break for a year, recharge his batteries and come back with a fresh outlook.
Tennessee Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak
It seemed like the Tennessee Titans were bending over backward to let the New York Jets steal the game from them in Week 15 on Monday Night Football. But somehow the Titans found a way to escape with a win, thanks to an epic fail by Mark Sanchez.
The Titans have not had a banner season with a 5-9 record, and owner Bud Adams has been vocal this year about his level of disenchantment. When the owner says that everybody is on notice, you have to take a threat like that seriously.
Since Adams blasted the team after the Week 9 loss to Chicago, the Titans have gone 2-3. Mike Munchak would probably be viewed as the fall guy for an uninspired season, and have to take the fall for the team.
Since Munchak has devoted his career to the franchise, you would like to think that he would be given more rope to work with. Adams is capable of getting upset quickly, so if he doesn't like what he sees over the final two weeks, that might be it for Munchak.
Since Munchak is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, there are a number of teams that need help with building a better offensive line. Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams are three teams that quickly leap to mind that are in need of coaching help that Munchak can bring. Teams could create the title of assistant head coach/offensive line coach and pay him whatever he requires.