Before the 2009 season even kicks off, and even before the dog days of summer beat down on 32 training camps across the country, talk of the off-season leading up to the 2010 campaign has entered the minds of many football fans.
Rumors of a potential uncapped season on the horizon, mixed with talk of overhauling the salary structure rookies are allowed to garner when selected in the league tend to siphon the most discussion from many of the so-called football experts.
But one major story many people could be overlooking, is that of the coaching carousel that will likely begin after all the playoff tickets have been punched.
A total of five head coaching juggernauts could very well also be free agents entering the 2010 off-season. All of whom have championship credentials on their resume, and four of which will likely have a bronze bust made of them when their coaching career is complete.
What this adds up to for coaches already feeling the pressure of a winning season, is an even bigger need to start the season off well. And if speculation wasn't enough to fuel this fire, the announcement that former Seahawks and Packers coach Mike Holmgren will be back to work in 2010 certainly will get the ball rolling.
This leads some to wonder, what coaches should be seriously concerned that a bad 16-game performance can lead to them being on the unemployment line? I have broken down most likely coaches to feel the most pressure, and the likely candidates that would be linked to those vacancies.
Wade Phillips, Dallas Cowboys
No coach will be under more scrutiny this season than Cowboys coach Wade Phillips.
Rumors flew in the beginning of the off-season on whether or not Phillips would return as head man for the Cowboys, but have since quieted in the aftermath of an exodus of perceived trouble-makers in the locker room. Make no doubt about it though, if Wade Phillips fails to take the Cowboys far into January, Jerry Jones will not hesitate to pull the plug on his coaching tenure—especially given the names in play for the coaching job.
Jones is said to have been long enamored with Mike Holmgren and Mike Shanahan, but do not be surprised if he also tried to talk Tony Dungy out of retirement for another year or two to bring back that illustrious Lombardi trophy to 'Big D'.
Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
Somehow the embattled Turner has survived skating on thin ice the last two seasons, in large part because of three victories in the postseason. However, the Chargers window is gradually closing.
LaDainian Tomlinson is quickly aging. Shawne Merriman's knee injury may have shortened his career and diminished his play making abilities.
Philip Rivers is 27 years old, and will be entering the prime of his career very shortly. In other words, the time for a championship run—is now.
Chargers GM A.J. Smith ran off Marty Schottenheimer after he failed to bring the Chargers a Super Bowl appearance in four years, do not be surprised if Norv Turner's leash is a bit shorter. Especially with the ability to stick it to division rivals Denver and Oakland with the hiring of their former head man, Mike Shanahan.
John Fox, Carolina Panthers
A semi surprising name to surface on a coaching hot seat list for sure, but don't discount the pressure that could be on Fox this season after a horrible showing in the postseason last year by the Panthers. Couple that with the rumor that Bill Cowher has resisted returning to the NFL because of his desire to coach his home town Panthers, and Fox's comfort level will dwindle down if the Panthers are to stumble out of the gate.
Brad Childress, Minnesota Vikings
For the Vikings, much like the Chargers, the time is now. There are reasons the Vikings are entertaining the idea of signing Brett Favre for one season at quarterback.
It's not just to stick a knife in the back of their hated rivals from Green Bay. Owner Zigi Wilf realizes the NFC is ripe for the taking and that their window is also gradually closing.
While young pieces are in play all over the Vikings roster, with the centerpiece obviously being superstar running back Adrian Peterson, the window of opportunity to dominate the NFC is closing quickly. Compound that with the fact the rest of the NFC North has addressed their need at quarterback, Brad Childress will ride or die with Sage Rosenfels or the aforementioned Favre.
All of this cannot be discussed without a possible greater influence at hand with the fact the Vikings may very well find themselves needing a January run to secure a new stadium, and all of this pressure will fall on the head of one Brad Childress.
Could the Vikings entertain the idea of sticking to their hated rivals twice in two years by bringing a certain former Packers coach on-board in 2010?
If Childress falters again with this loaded roster, don't be surprised if that idea is bounced around more than a few times.
Green Bay Packers, Mike McCarthy
Mike Holmgren's desire to return to coaching or as a GM in 2010 could also accelerate the pressure on Packers head man Mike McCarthy. The Packers are coming off of a very disappointing season a year ago, and with a young stable of offensive stars in the making, general manager Ted Thompson may indeed look to his old friend Mike Holmgren to not only turn around the Packers franchise and return them to NFC prominence—but to save his own job as well.
Another slow start in Title-Town USA could spell the beginning of the end for McCarthy, if Thompson believes Holmgren would seriously consider ending his head coaching career where it once began. Remember, McCarthy was considered a possibly coaching causality in the making before Brett Favre drank from the ‘fountain of youth’ and nearly took Green Bay to the Super Bowl just two years ago.
This time around, he may not be as lucky to escape.
Houston Texans, Gary Kubiak
The Texans appear to have all the pieces in place to make a run at not only the playoffs, but a division crown as well. Since taking over for Dom Capers in 2006, Kubiak has quietly built a solid foundation for the Texans, and many believe the 2009 season will be the Texans year to finally assert themselves as a contending squad in the AFC.
However, because of the talent now on the Texans roster, the expectations to go to that next level are greater than ever before for Kubiak. Should Houston come up short again and finish a disappointing 8-8 or worse, Texans owner Bob McNair may look to a Jon Gruden or Mike Shanahan to get his franchise over the hump.
Especially if it could come at the hands of stealing a big name from the hated Dallas Cowboys.
Jacksonville Jaguars, Jack Del Rio
The Jaguars went punch for punch with the unbeaten Patriots two years ago. They appeared to be on the brink of a championship run.
Then it all went south, in a hurry. The Jags finished an ugly 5-11 in 2008 and far underperformed to their expectations. It doesn't help that they find themselves in arguably the toughest division in football, and that they are a possibility for relocation down the road.
Given that, Jack Del Rio will have to show some signs of a turnaround in 2009. Not to the large scale that will be expected in Dallas and Minnesota, but a run at a playoff berth could be needed to save his job.
Should he falter yet again, you should expect Jon Gruden to be one of the candidates that gets a heavy look from owner Wayne Weaver.
Washington Redskins, Jim Zorn
Two years may seem like not enough time to establish the roots of a winning franchise, but to owner Daniel Snyder two years is an eternity. Despite Jim Zorn starting his tenure to great fan fare, the run at a postseason appearance faded away quickly following the Skins bye week which saw Washington limp to a 2-5 finish after starting the season 6-3.
Snyder has seemed to be obsessed with both, outspending his counterpart/hated rivals in Dallas and making the splashy, "eye-popping" move since he took over ownership of the franchise. Departing with Zorn for a Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan or Bill Cowher would definitely qualify as the sexy move, and could pose as a means to swipe a coveted piece from the Cowboys at the same time.
In other words, should Zorn finish 8-8 again, he's likely to be looking for another job in 2010.
Philadelphia Eagles, Andy Reid
Andy Reid will be entering season number ten with the Eagles in 2009, and the end of the era could be approaching with it. Had Reid not instrumented a late season surge that nearly took his Eagles to a Super Bowl appearance in 2008, he very well could have found himself on the chopping block this off-season.
However, the patient Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has stuck by Andy Reid despite Reid falling short of bringing a championship back to Philadelphia in what is almost becoming a bit of NFL tradition.
Lurie's patience may be running out though, especially given the names available at head coach going into 2010. Remember, even Tony Dungy was fired by the Bucs for failing to give the franchise that elusive championship, do not think for a moment that Reid is not bulletproof.
Another disappointing finish could mean the end for Andy Reid.
Denver Broncos, Josh McDaniels
Pat Bowlen exemplified loyalty and a great deal of patience to Mike Shanahan throughout his Bronco tenure.
Then again, Shanahan didn't alienate John Elway and have him traded to Chicago the first year into the job either. Shanahan also didn't trade a future first round draft pick for a 5-9 defensive back either.
McDaniels created his own pressure. Whoever you side with after the Jay Cutler fiasco is irrelevant now, the fact remains the Broncos off-season was the most talked about in all of football, and to a greater extent was almost the most embarrassing.
Pat Bowlen is a proud owner and an even prouder man. Should the Broncos have a horrible season, the Josh McDaniels era may end before it can even begin.
Especially if he has the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and hire a much more liked and respected head coach.
San Francisco 49ers, Mike Singletary
Any other year, Singletary would probably not be under too heavy of a microscope.
This year though could be different.
The 49ers are a proud franchise and have been out of the postseason since 2002. Mike Singletary brings a new sense of discipline and urgency to the team, but could merely be keeping the seat warm for a more prominent guy to take over the reins.
The best way to avoid any question about job security is to show improvement in 2009. The Cardinals were able to make that leap a year ago. The Seahawks were able to make that leap not too long before that. The Niners are very similar to the Texans in that, this season is the time they should be expected to make that leap.
Singletary's discipline and "my way or the highway" coaching logic could also be his detriment should the young Niners falter out of the gate. While Singletary is likely the least likely coach on this list to be replaced, the allure of names available could expedite the process.