NFL Coach Hot Seat Rankings, Week 12: Meet the Replacements, Avoid the Packers
Evidently, if you want your team's coach fired, just find out when they play the Packers on the schedule.
Twice now the Packers have throttled a team (Dallas two weeks ago and Minnesota on Sunday) and twice that team's coach (Wade Phillips, Brad Childress) has been fired the next day.
We're 11 weeks in now. As we get ready for Week 12, two coaches are gone, several are on thin ice, and it's time to start looking ahead to what might happen after the conclusion of the season.
Here's a look at the replacements, at who's still feeling the heat, and a look at what the offseason might hold for the league's coaches and those who wish to fill one of the 32 hallowed jobs.
Welcome Aboard, Leslie Frazier
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What We Already Know
Frazier's name has been on the short list of fast-rising assistant coaches since he took over the Vikings' defense when Mike Tomlin became head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He has run what was, until this year, one of the league's premier defensive units and is responsible for the extreme success Jared Allen, the Williams boys, and others have had in the system.
We don't know what kind of head coach he'll make, but as assistants go, there are very few with the talent, ability, and potential of Frazier.
What's On His To-Do List
1. Find out who his quarterback is and assert control over that player. If Favre walks away mid-season, which is always possible considering how indecisive he has been, then it's time to look at Tarvaris Jackson and Joe Webb. If he stays, then Frazier must do what Childress never could: reel in the 40-year-old Favre and show him who the boss is going to be.
2. Try to sort out why this team can't compete. Is it the defense? Is it Favre? Does it involve overuse of Percy Harvin? Are injuries to blame? Frazier has to figure out what's wrong, start to fix it, and present himself as the man for the job.
3. Show he's the guy the Vikings want to keep. If Frazier wants to be a head coach, this is his big shot. He doesn't have to make the playoffs. But he has to show he has more control over the locker room than Childress did, that he can win the players' confidence, and that he can make the Vikings competitive. If he wants a blueprint, he should look at what fellow replacement Jason Garrett has done in Dallas so far.
Keep on Working, Jason Garrett
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What We Already Know
Garrett was a serviceable backup who was always considered an extra coach in uniform (he's the way many Pittsburgh fans and players have viewed Charlie Batch). He was with Dallas during the last days of the Aikman regime and has been the offensive coordinator for three years.
He's running a no-nonsense ship and preaching discipline, accountability and all of those buzz words that you hear when someone new takes over a struggling team. The difference? He's made an immediate impact with a wayward team.
He was the it-name for a couple of years before mysteriously disappearing from coaching radars last spring. Now he has the chance to keep the job in Dallas that he was once destined to have. If he keeps up the work he's already done, I'd say that he has no chance of landing anywhere else.
What's on His To-Do List
1. Fix the defense. He's an offensive-minded coach, but fixing the defense is Dallas' biggest to-do item. The Cowboys have never really had a lights-out defense with Wade Phillips in charge and they always seem to give up big plays, but this year was truly special in all the wrong ways.
2. Get this team back to respectability. They were 1-7 under Wade Phillips after being widely thought of as a contender and a Super Bowl-title team. They're 2-0 since Garrett took over and didn't exactly beat a slouch team in New York for the first of those victories.
3. If Tony Romo comes back, can he be an effective quarterback? This is a big question. Romo is a good player, but he may not be the player. In the meantime, I'd be interested in seeing what Stephen McGee can do. We know what we have in Jon Kitna. He's nobody's future.
Feeling the Heat: Who is Headed to the Hot Seat?
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It's time to split up our list a little bit. There are some coaches who are in danger of being fired. They are on the hot seat. There are other coaches who are simply on the "watch" list. They aren't in imminent danger, but they are persons of interest when coaching changes are discussed. Here's a list of those men:
Mike Singletary, San Francisco 49ers
"Samurai Mike" has been on and off this list since the beginning, but he's starting to head back toward trouble. The team's blanking on Sunday by Tampa Bay featured several disturbing statistics (six sacks to a team that only had eight prior to the game), no running game and questionable defense. Singletary is one of the coaches that seems to be in a "playoffs or bust" situation. At this point, he's on the extreme outside looking in.
Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears
He's in the classic "playoffs or bust" scenario, but he's also making significant headway toward locking that spot up. A 16-0 shutout of Miami on national television was nice, but it doesn't solve everything. The Bears still haven't really beaten anyone of significance and the game against Miami featured the Dolphins' third-string quarterback and a serious lack of running plays. He's coaching his way to safety, but I'm still not sold on him as a long term pick.
Tom Cable, Oakland Raiders
I've actually come to respect Cable a great deal as a coach this season. He's turned Oakland back into a respectable team. That's no easy task. But any more beatings like the one the Raiders took from the Steelers is going to seriously dent his candidacy. Al Davis is the league's most incontinent owner. He won't stand for mediocrity or losing. If Cable makes the playoffs, he's safe for another offseason (you never can tell during the year how it'll go). But if he doesn't, Davis may decide he wants someone else.
Eric Mangini, Cleveland Browns
He's come a long way from being at the top of the list. He was even the coach I predicted would be fired first. Now he's likely safe. His big job will be getting playmakers during the offseason. He's not going to get a long-term deal until he shows some more results. If the Browns fall apart, he may still even be let go. For now, he's safe.
Piping Hot: Here Are the Hottest Seats
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Only three names this week. These are your most-troubled guys, although only one is likely to be fired before the end of the year.
3. Tony Sparano
Last week I said that Sparano had to handle the injury situation well or risk everything blowing up in his face. Not only did the Dolphins not put Tyler Thigpen in a situation where he could be successful, they stopped running the ball and barely scratched the surface of the Wildcat formation. What is that all about? They've got a big game at Oakland this week. Think the Raiders will want some redemption after the beating they took in Pittsburgh?
2. Gary Kubiak
Another close, disappointing, last-second loss. Houston simply can't defend. Unless the Texans discover some good defenders hidden on their depth chart, they aren't going to compete in a division that includes Peyton Manning, or a conference that includes Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.
Kubiak isn't doing himself any favors by losing close games. This team was designed to get to the playoffs this year and it isn't doing anything like that in the AFC South cellar. The Texans need to get back on track this week against Tennessee.
1. Marvin Lewis
Not only did the Bengals lose to Buffalo, they blew a 28-7 lead in the process. Good teams with talent don't blow leads like that. The Bengals now are showing that they're far from a good team. It was even-money Monday morning whether or not Childress or Lewis would be the coach fired this week. The road gets rougher now, with a contest in New York against the Jets on Thanksgiving night. Lewis is likely gone. It's just a matter of when. Mike Zimmer will probably take over if-and-when it happens.
The Collective Bargaining Effect on Coaching
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There are a few things to consider when trying to figure out who the permanent replacements will be for coaches let go during or after this season. The collective bargaining agreement and the ongoing labor situation will have the following side effects when it comes to coach replacement:
1. Fewer Firings
Some of the marginal coaches who aren't fully on the hot seat but are in trouble may keep their jobs simply because there's no telling whether or not a new coach will have a team to work with this summer. The best-case scenario for the labor talks seems to be a summer agreement. At worst, there may be no football season next year. That uncertainty may buy some coaches time.
2. Fewer Outside Candidates
Both fired coaches this season have been replaced in-house, which isn't unusual. Those two coaches have a good chance of keeping that job simply because there's no certainty when hiring outside the organization. The traditional names (Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden) will be in play, but they're going to be asking for a lot more money than in-house, young assistants will. If a team isn't sure about the labor situation, it isn't going to be likely to commit big money to a coach who may not work at all in 2011.
3. No Long-Term Contracts
Why commit guaranteed money to people who won't be doing any work? That's the question a lot of owners will ask. There probably won't be many extensions handed out this winter and there probably won't be any new coaches given long-term contracts. A one or two-year pact seems more likely. Most assistants will probably be given part-time contracts as well, meaning that there could be some very interesting names available for the right team and the right price once the labor deal gets done.