Firing Line? A Breakdown of the Impending NFL Coaching Shuffle
So the Atlanta Falcons are the first team to officially begin a coaching search for the 2008 NFL season. The question is: how many other teams will join the Falcons in a quest to once again attempt to find the right man to lead their franchise? Surprisingly, there may not be that many. As those who one would think are prime canidates, most are coaches in their first or second year of tenure, while others are generals who entered the year on the hot seat may have done enough to save their jobs.
Cam Cameron will likely be saved the harshness of being fired after just one year on the job, regardless of whether his Dolphins become infamous for their losing ways. It's still just his first year as the coach of the team, and with the revolving door at the position that the Dolphins have seen since Don Shula stepped down, one would think Miami would try and find some stability. Of course, when your owner ponders selling the team, stability can be thrown out to sea. In the 12 years that have ensued since Shula stepped down five different men have held the title of head coach in Miami. Do they really want to make it six in 13 years?
One thing that does seem to be working against Cameron is that the sentiment held by many of his players, especially the veterans, seems to echo some of the same sentiments the Falcons locker room had towards Bobby Petrino. Considering both men have college backgrounds, this could be an ominous sign—so perhaps Miami should go ahead and cut ties right now. This was a team some thought would contend for a playoff spot in 07', led by their defense, aided by the addition of Joey Porter. Whoops. Joey Porter has added nothing, Zach Thomas has been hurt, and the offense has been worse than anticipated (though injuries, particularly in the backfield, have played a major role in their ineptitude). Cameron didn't exactly endear himself to Miami fans with the drafting of Ted Ginn and John Beck, and thus far in 2007, neither has shown much to make Dolphins fans feel any better about those picks. Ultimately though, if Miami is smart, they'll hold on to Cameron and give him the 2008 season to show some improvement.
Scott Linehan won eight games in his initial season with St. Louis, replacing Mike Martz in 2006. His eight wins weren't enough for a postseason bid, but the season wasn't completely lost. A defense that allowed the second most rushing yards in the league was to blame for the 2006 season, failing to meet fan expectations. The Rams have lost 10 games already this season. They haven't lost more than 10 games since 1998, which by the way, preceeded their Super Bowl season. Additionaly, Dick Vermeil won just nine games in his first two seasons before the magical 1999 season.
This year's Rams team has played better as of late, winning three of their last five with a painstakingly close loss to division leader Seattle thrown in for good measure. The defense has improved, but it's the offense—which for an offensive guru is never a good thing—that has held this team back. Of course when you've had to rely on Gus Frerotte for nearly half the season, what more can you expect? Steven Jackson hasn't been himself all year either. Through the first half of the season, Jackson had only played in four games, and only in one of those contests did he top 60 yards on the ground. In the Rams' last four games he's topped 90 yards each time out. Not coincidentally, the team's overall play—despite have Frerotte on the field—has improved drastically.
Regardless of how the Rams finish the season (though indications are that it will be on an upswing), Linehan deserves to be back, and likely will be. This is one of those teams you can look at and say they only need a couple more pieces, and with drastic turnarounds seemingly common place in the NFL, the Rams, of any team in the league, seem primed for such improvement next year. Odds are good Linehan will be here to see it through.
Mike Martz lost his job in St. Louis basically because fans and management grew tired of his playcalling, and what seemed to be his ignoring of the running game. If not he's not careful, Andy Reid may suffer the same fate in Philadelphia. Of course, it's hard to fire a coach with the track record of Andy Reid—but the Eagles' franchise has become stagnant as of late, and with the likely impending loss of Donovan McNabb, perhaps it's time to start over.
Even if the Eagles do start over though, it's hard to argue that Andy Reid doesn't deserve to be a part of it. There is no denying the success he's had, more than any other NFC coach in the past decade. The knock on Reid, as mentioned, is his playcalling, and his overlooking of Brian Westbrook in the offense far too often. However, when McNabb isn't under center, Reid seems to focus more on Westbrook. Thus perhaps McNabb's departure is just what Reid and the Eagles need. I don't believe Reed and McNabb together will recapture any past Philadelphia success—but apart, Reed is still capable of leading a solid team. With Jim Johnson running the defense, the Eagles will always be competitive because their defense will be stout.
There isn't a worry that the Eagles will sink to the bottom run of the NFL. Even this year's 5-8 record is somewhat misleading, thanks to the fact they are probably three or four plays over the past month away from being 8-5. Such is the way of life in the NFL though, and Andy Reid has been here for quite a while and understands this. The wildcard in this situation is of course the personal situation of Reid with his family. If Reid is not the coach of the Eagles next fall, the reason will be precisely that, and not related to what goes on on the field.
The most likely coach not to be back with his team next season is Mike Nolan of the San Fransisco 49ers. This was supposed to be the year the 49ers took the next step. Frank Gore's injuries and overall decline from a year ago is a major reason the 49ers have struggled mightily this season, but that's not the only problem in San Fransisco. Alex Smith has regressed to the point where many wonder aloud if he's really the answer at quarterback. You wonder now if, following Aaron Rogers' performance against Dallas a couple of weeks ago for Green Bay, 'Niners fans are wishing they'd gone that route as opposed to Smith. Injuries to Gore and Smith have hurt this offense, as they've never really had both on the field at 100% at the same time.
Defensively, the Niners haven't been bad—and they've got a real stalwart to build around in Patrick Willis. On that side of the ball they are good enough to make the postseason. So should Nolan get another crack next season and hope his main cogs in his offense can stay healthy? The team obviously needs a real threat on the outside to help the offense prosper, and Nolan certainly would like the chance to team Smith and Gore with a legit receiver for the first time in their careers. In all reality, Nolan probably deserves one more year, as in many cases the third year is THE year. However, due to the high expectations this season, Nolan may not be afforded that luxury. He should be, and more likely than not, he will be. However, if he's not, it won't be very surprising.
Next to Nolan, the next likeliest coach to be shown the door is Marvin Lewis—though you really haven't heard too much out of Cincinnati in regards to his job being in jeopardy. It should be though...the honey-moon is over. Ever since Carson Palmer went down against Pittsburgh in the playoffs, the Bengals have toiled in mediocrity. Granted, mediocrity is a huge step up for where this franchise once was, but with some of the talent on this roster, you'd expect more.
The offense isn't the problem in Cincinnati—not the big problem at least, though it has struggled at times. It's the defense, or lack thereof. Therein lies the real reason Lewis' job should be in jeopardy. He's regarded as a defensive coach; a defensive mastermind. Yet his defenses routinely stink. You can blame some of that on talent, but Lewis has had enough time to amass some decent players on that side of the ball to at least make them respectable on defense. The loss of former University of Georgia stars and first day draft picks Odell Thurman (discipline) and David Pollack (injury) have been crippling, as big things were expected from both. Even so, the performance of the defenses in Cincinnati are as offensive as some of their uniform combinations. Some have compared these Bengals teams to some of the Colts teams earlier this decade. That comparison is unfair. Those Colts teams won more than they lost, and were routinely in the playoffs. These Bengals teams aren't. You throw in the numerous off the field incidents that this Bengals franchise has endured during Lewis' tenure, and there are plenty of reasons for him to get the pink slip.
Brian Billick was given the dreaded vote of confidence by the higher ups in Baltimore, and all indications are that this vote of confidence is legit and that he will be back on the sidelines in 2008. You have to wonder a little about that. Sure, this will likely only be Billick's second double digit loss season in his nine years in Baltimore. The problem however is that it will be his second in three years.
Much like Lewis with defense in Cincinnati, it's the struggles of Billick's supposed calling card offense that makes you wonder if he's the right man for the job. Yes, he has a Super Bowl ring, and that alone makes it tough to fire him. Of course, Joe Torre got fired, and no coach in the NFL outside of New England has had any kind of success that can be compared to that. Then again, no NFL owner can be compared to The Boss either... Billick's offenses have ranked higher than 12th just once during his tenure. This year's woes can be attributed directly to the quarterback position. Steve McNair showed his age and Kyle Boller was Kyle Boller. The Ravens need to try again and develop a young quarterback, and to that extent, you can see why one would want Billick to undertake that task. Of course, when you look at how the Ravens attempts at developing young quarterbacks over the years have turned out, it's easy to argue that Billick is not the guy you want taking on that task. Chris Redman and Kyle Boller both were the supposed quarterbacks of the future, and neither amounted to much of anything.
Age is catching up with the Baltimore defense as well—it's not championship caliber anymore and guys like Ray Lewis, Chris McCallister, and Samari Rolle aren't getting any younger. It's probably time for a complete house cleaning in Baltimore, and it probably should start up top. As mentioned though, all indications are that Billick will be invited to stick around and do the cleaning himself.
Tom Coughlin and Jack Del Rio each entered this season on the hot seat, and Del Rio's had the heat turned up with his decision to cut Byron Leftwich at the start of the year. Coughlin's Giants look like they are headed back to the playoffs, as they are avoiding their annual second half collapse. However, fans probably expect more than just a first round exit. Would a one and done be enough to cost him his job? That might be one of the more interesting stories to follow this winter. As for Del Rio, not much can be criticized when it comes to his handling of this year's Jaguars. They've established themselves as a real threat in the AFC, and his decision to go with David Garrard seems to be one of pure genius.
It looks like most of the intrigue revolving around coaching changes will be limited to the college game. Most NFL coaches seem to actually be pretty secure in their positions, at least for this season. However, the winter of 2008 and 2009 might turn out to be Doomsday for a lot of coaches around the league, as there are many who will likely get repreives this season but will face do or die situations in 2008.
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