In the meantime, a favorite summer rite of passage is our annual look at NFL head coaches who are on the hottest seats around the league. As shown by 11 new head coaches for the upcoming 2009 NFL season, it is never too early to start speculating on who will be looking for work come this January’s Black Monday.
Top Head Coaches on the Hot Seat in 2009
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have been horrible since winning the AFC North title back in 2005—Lewis’s only winning season. A locker room filled with malcontents and problem players, plus the unneeded distraction of HBO Hard Knocks cameras, surely will not increase Lewis’s job security.
Even though we know coaches are not banging down the door to coach in Cincy, and owner Mike Brown has always been in Lewis’ corner, it is now or never for the head coach who was once the NFL’s hottest defensive coordinator.
The Bengals are coming off a putrid 4-11-1 record in 2008, where Lewis’ defense allowed 364 points and his offense allowed 50-plus sacks. A season-ending three-game winning streak probably saved Lewis last year, but he may not be as lucky if his team is awful again in 2009.
Lewis’ record currently stands at 46-49-1 in the regular season and 0-1 in his lone playoff game.
Wade Phillips, Dallas Cowboys
Expectations are off the charts for the 2009 Dallas Cowboys. Owner Jerry Jones has spent a fortune to open his new billion-dollar Cowboys Stadium, and the camera-seeking man in charge wants a winner on the field.
Amidst whispers that Phillips could not control the Cowboys in 2008, the team badly underachieved, including being embarrassed with the playoffs on the line in Philly. They lost to the Eagles 44-6, and allegedly there were a couple of players fighting on the flight back to Dallas.
After a 12-year playoff winning drought, it is now or never for the Phillips-led Cowboys, or changes are definitely coming. Jones removed locker room problem players Tank Johnson, Terrell Owens, and Adam "Pacman" Jones, so there are no more excuses, and the bull’s-eye is firmly on the backs of Phillips and quarterback Tony Romo.
The duo on the hot seat better get off to a quick start in 2009 (at TB, NYG, Carolina, at Denver, and at KC), or Jones could quickly make a move by Dallas’ Week Six bye. Everyone around the NFL likes old Wade, but he might be a better coordinator than head coach.
Cowboys' record under Phillips: 27-10 in regular season and 0-1 in playoffs.
Brad Childress, Minnesota Vikings
Entering his fourth season as a head coach in the NFL, much like a high draft pick, it is time for Childress to deliver or be cut in 2009. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is looking for a new stadium deal, and he needs his team to produce to sway local politicians and fans.
Childress came to the Vikings from the Andy Reid coaching tree, but he has failed to live up to his mentor’s winning ways, producing a middle of the road 24-24 record in the regular season.
It is not like Childress does not have any weapons on his team, with All-World running back Adrian Peterson and the NFL’s best run defense, led by the Williams Wall. But some would say it has been Childress’ loyalty to developing quarterback Tarvaris Jackson that has been his downfall.
Jackson can make plays, but like any young passer, he makes some poor decisions at times.
Even though Vikings GM Rick Spielman made the move to bring in quarterback Sage Rosenfels from the Texans this offseason to compete with Jackson, Childress, on the suggestion of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel, will apparently somewhere around training camp hitch his future to former Packers great Brett Favre.
For Childress’ sake, he better hope Favre plays more like he did in ’07 while leading the Packers to the NFC Championship Game than in ’08, as he looked every bit his age (almost 40) in quarterbacking the Jets to a 1-4 non-playoff finish and throwing an NFL-high 22 INTs.
Childress may also need to watch out for young up-and-coming defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who is waiting in the coaches’ booth.
John Fox, Carolina Panthers
You might be saying, “How can a coach whose team finished with a record of 12-4 last year be on a hot seat?” The answer is simple: Expectations are very high for Fox, and he must produce some wins in the playoffs to stay.
Sure, the Panthers won the NFC South in 2008, but they were embarrassed at home in the playoffs by the Cardinals, losing 33-13.
A lot of people that I have talked to in NFL circles have said Fox’s locker room message may have worn off on the Panthers after seven seasons. It will be on Fox to produce Carolina’s first back-to-back winning seasons ever—in their 14-year history, the Panthers have never produced two winning seasons in a row.
Though his career record is a respectable 63-49 with a 5-3 playoff mark, and he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003, Fox’s team better have a good season, or owner Wally Richardson maybe looking to make a change. Did I also mention that former Steelers Super Bowl-winning head coach Bill Cowher relocated his home to the Carolinas?
Jim Zorn, Washington Redskins
And you thought Wade Phillips had it bad in Dallas. Redskins owner Dan Snyder wants to win, and like any petulant child, he wants it now. Snyder was not thrilled last year with Zorn after an 8-8 debut season where the ‘Skins limped home after a 7-4 start.
This offseason the pressure on the former Seahawks assistant coach definitely increased even more after Snyder spent a ton of money in signing free agents DT Albert Haynesworth, CB DeAngelo Hall, OG Derrick Dockery, and DE Renaldo Wynn, plus drafting Texas pass rusher Brian Orakpo.
With the phone numbers of former Super Bowl-winning head coaches Mike Shanahan, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, Mike Holmgren, and Bill Cowher on Snyder’s speed dial, expect Zorn to answer the bell or get out of the way.
If Zorn is to succeed in 2009, he will need to repair his relationship with running back Clinton Portis (mockingly called Zorn a “genius”) and soothe the ego of efficient quarterback Jason Campbell (Redskins almost brought in Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez).
Dick Jauron, Buffalo Bills
At age 90, Buffalo Bills owner and 2009 Hall of Famer Ralph Wilson wants a winner now. Over the last three NFL seasons, Wilson has been very patient with Jauron. But three consecutive 7-9 seasons and no playoff appearances have turned up the heat in Buffalo like a plate of hot wings.
You can tell that Wilson has gone all-in for the 2009 season by signing NFL bad boy receiver Terrell Owens and giving defensive tackle Marcus Stroud a healthy extension.
The Bills even had a pretty good draft, bringing in Penn State DE Aaron Maybin and Louisville C/G Eric Wood, but Jauron needs to get his team all on the right page since the AFC East is loaded from top to bottom.
For the sake of quarterback Trent Edwards and Jauron, hopefully good T.O. will be shuffling his way to Buffalo, or it will be over Niagara Falls in a barrel for the beleaguered head coach.
Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars
Even though Del Rio has had only two losing seasons during his six-year tenure with the Jags, owner Wayne Weaver may be losing patience.
Weaver cleaned house after the team posted a 5-11 record in 2008 season, removing player personnel head James Harris and several players that he brought in (WR Reggie Williams, LB Mike Peterson, WR Jerry Porter, DB Drayton Florence, and others), thus leaving Del Rio to pick up the pieces.
With all eyes on the head coach, it is now or never for a team looking for a new stadium deal in the near future. The Jags had a nice run in 2007, winning a playoff game in Pittsburgh, but it is what-have-you done-for-me-lately time for quarterback David Garrard and Del Rio.
Hopefully the Jags will have good health in 2009, as last year they lost six O-linemen to injury for the season. Del Rio will also need to show that he doesn’t panic or melt down in big games as some people around the NFL have accused him of doing.
In a very tough division, the Jags will need to show that they are either retooling while looking to win the division or rebuilding for the future.
Del Rio’s record stands at 50-46 in the regular season and 1-2 in the playoffs.
Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis Colts
You hate to pile on a first year head coach before he even hits the field, but new Colts head coach Jim Caldwell is already on the hot seat.
The 54-year-old veteran coach formerly was the head man at Wake Forest from 1993 to 2000—record of 26-63 over eight seasons—and he has served under legendary coaches Joe Paterno (Penn State) and Tony Dungy.
But Caldwell now will be calling the shots for a team that has won 12 games or more for an NFL-record six consecutive seasons. To put even more pressure on Dungy’s handpicked successor, he may or may not have the services of Colts coaching veterans Tom Moore and Howard Mudd to assist him.
In a very tough AFC South division, look for Caldwell to run the ball with his new two-headed backfield of Joseph Addai and rookie Donald Brown, plus lean on quarterback Peyton Manning and safety Bob Sanders to lead their respective units.
Other Head Coaches Feeling the Heat
Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
An 8-8 record will not cut it this year, as expectations are high for this former expansion team.
Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
Time for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the man who had faith in him to produce more than a 6-10 season.
Josh McDaniels, Denver Broncos
A rookie head coach trying to replace a two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shanahan, and you have to wonder is he another of Bill Belichick’s fraud disciples.
Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
A lot of talent on his roster, and remember, the Chargers once fired a coach that went 14-2.
Tom Cable, Oakland Raiders
He works for Al Davis...enough said.
Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears
Has his quarterback, so expectations are high, and his Super Bowl appearance in 2006 is long gone.
Todd Haley, Kansas City Chiefs
Young, inexperienced, and was not his team’s first choice, plus he could not control Anquan Boldin in Arizona or T.O. in San Francisco.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).