Josh McDaniels is head coach of the Denver Broncos no more, after the team fired him Monday night. McDaniels was not even two full years into a four-year contract as the head coach, but the turbulence of this season proved to be more than owner Pat Bowlen had the patience to endure.
McDaniels will be remembered for his miserable personnel choices, bad sportsmanship that put him on the wrong side of numerous coaching counterparts, and an utterly unnecessary scandal over taping a San Francisco 49ers practice in London in October.
He finished with an 11-17 record at the helm of the Broncos, which is perhaps as good a reason as any for his dismissal: The team is currently floundering its way to the bottom of the AFC West at 3-9.
No reason compels us to dwell on the past, so let us forget about McDaniels (who will be replaced for the remainder of the season by erstwhile running backs coach Eric Studesville) and set about the task of examining all of the NFL's remaining masterminds. Read on for a power ranking of all 32 current NFL head coaches.
Once the offensive genius behind the Steelers' Super Bowl run, Whisenhunt has proven unable to consistently run a franchise on his own since taking over in Arizona.
He has managed two NFC West titles and a trip to the Super Bowl, but he had superior veteran talent to work with. In 2010, with a motley cast that could have been a contender in the brutalized West, Whisenhunt has failed to keep the team either disciplined or focused.
A team that somehow won three of its first five games has now dropped seven straight contests, and they have looked really awful in the process.
If Whisenhunt hangs onto his job into 2011, it can only mean that the organization is confident the players can lead themselves: Whisenhunt is a great offensive mind, but clearly lacks any sense of how to lead.
As a general rule, coaches are grossly overrated, and nothing is worse for a team (or the viewing public) than a coach who thinks more of himself than he ought to.
Shanahan is perhaps the most irritating and blatant exemplar of that syndrome: No sooner had he shown up in Washington than he picked fights with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and quarterback Donovan McNabb.
He has failed to get the most out of either of those men, and Shanahan himself already looks like yet another sunk cost the Redskins can add to their impressive running tally in that department.
Only the Bengals are currently on a worse streak than Whisenhunt's Cardinals, and whatever legitimate complaints might be made about the porous defense, the biggest reason for the nine-game Cincinnati skid is painfully clear: This team has entirely quit on Marvin Lewis.
Lewis was once known as an elite defensive schemer, but his calling card used to be the sheer ferocity with which his teams played. Despite off-field discipline issues, the Bengals learned to excel in an environment of controlled chaos during Lewis's early years.
In 2010, though, Lewis has seemed reserved and often morose, and the team has sagged badly as the year has worn on.
Yet another season's premature playoff hopes have slipped away from Kubiak and the Texans, who suffered a critical loss to Michael Vick and the Eagles on Thursday night.
Kubiak brings energy to the franchise, but there does not seem to be much in the way of intense focus surrounding this squad: They lack discipline, especially on defense, and Kubiak's infectious enthusiasm is not being directed singularly enough to football.
Kubiak has overseen the rise from doormat to respectable franchise in Houston, but he needs to deliver a legitimate playoff run soon in order to oversee any further advancement.
Look, it is not easy to overcome injuries to key contributors and some miserably myopic personnel choices (letting Julius Peppers get away, trading Jake Delhomme for nothing worth much of anything). The Panthers are 1-11, but that is likely what they ought to have expected given their offseason derailment.
Fox has held together the defense well enough to keep the team at least in most games.
Still, the losses continue to accumulate, and Fox seems not to be getting through to his players the same way he once did. His seat may be the hottest one left in the league after the recent shuffling that has so reconfigured the coaching picture.
Studesville seems like a high-octane guy, which the Broncos will likely find an easy transition from McDaniels to the future. He carries himself well, or has for the past decade as a running backs coach in Buffalo, New York and Denver, which sets him somewhat apart from his predecessor.
It also cannot hurt for the worst running team in football to put the running backs' tutor in charge.
Still, he comes with little in the way of credentials, and (the flip-side to that last positive point) he has not exactly been conducting a running-back revival at the high altitudes so far this year. Studesville gets his first chance to prove himself in Arizona on Sunday, a game his new charges should be able to win.
For all the talk, both good and bad, that seems to swell up at the sound of Mangini's name, he keeps a pretty low profile these days, and his Browns have found a way to beat obviously superior New England and New Orleans this season.
Those wins lend themselves to the notion of Mangini as "Mangenious," his alter-ego and a much less desirable leader. When he avoids the pitfalls that come with thinking highly of his own football acumen, Mangini is a solid coach.
If San Francisco had not managed a strong 24-16 win over Denver in London in October, Singletary likely would have been the first fired head coach of the season in the NFL. As it is, he remains at the helm of a team that (until the Packers gave them a cold, hard reality check Sunday) climbed back into the lead in the moribund NFC West.
Singletary's almost robotic focus on the task at hand helped the team maintain confidence during its early-season struggles, and makes his team a highly motivated bunch each Sunday.
The 49ers are cerebral and intense, but they do not always do the little things well. That falls on Singletary, who places a bit too much emphasis on athleticism over fundamentals at times.
A haunting inability to win playoff games has haunted Turner for years anyway, but this team may be the greatest example of what is wrong with him: He simply does not know how to manage talented players.
The Chargers have one of the best offenses and defenses in football, by the numbers. Philip Rivers may yet break the single-season record for passing yardage, though it is now a long shot, and the team has playmakers on each side of the ball.
Yet, this team not only seems far from Super Bowl contention, it may well miss the playoffs altogether. Turner has to feel the heat for some of that letdown. This week's loss to Oakland was devastating on every level.
The Jags have a full one-game lead and (so far) the tie-breaker over the Colts for the prospective AFC South title, but they remain the NFL's biggest frauds.
Del Rio deserves a modicum of credit for leading the team to victories that could easily have been losses, but then, he also deserves some blame for the ill-prepared and often ill-positioned team that takes the field every week.
Jacksonville's success this season has been all smoke and mirrors, and they might have been more legitimate champions if they didn't so consistently make things hard on themselves. As it is, Del Rio's team is a good bet to get its comeuppance come round one of the playoffs, where error-prone teams vulnerable to big plays in the passing game go to die.
No one can deny that the Vikings have made progress since Frazier took over, as they have won each of their two games while allowing only 27 combined points. Frazier took over a dysfunctional mess and built a team that, while likely out of NFC playoff consideration, can finish a respectable 8-8 or so with a strong finish.
Like Studesville, Frazier's lack of a body of work works against him, but he does have a sturdy reputation after overseeing the construction of a highly respected Vikings defense in recent seasons. He also seems to get along much better with the key members of the Minnesota locker room than did Brad Childress.
Though the results have been spotty at best and the team remains several key pieces from contention, Gailey gets points for his earnest effort to mentor the Bills in as hands-on a manner as he can.
He has helped quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick become a solid starter in this league, and he seems to be getting through to the other key playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. He does not have much to work with, but Gailey is getting there.
McCarthy is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Gailey: His team has a world of talent, but he seems rather distant from day-to-day football tutorials. McCarthy wants to be the genius whose game plan wins the Packers games, but he simply is not good enough to be that guy and the result is often an unnecessarily stalled offense.
McCarthy's ego also gets in the way from time to time, as star players on both sides of the ball have felt the sting of his rather under-handed efforts to maintain absolute control in recent seasons.
Schwartz makes waves, but then, it is about time someone in Detroit started kicking and screaming and refusing to accept the miserable fate of being synonymous with ineptitude. Schwartz is changing the culture of losing in the city simply by raging against it.
The Lions have lost 10 games this season, all but three of which easily could have been wins. Two, in fact, downright ought to have been wins, and the Lions cannot help the stupid rules that cost them those contests.
Schwartz is not at fault for the others, either: The team simply is not ready to win games like those yet. Schwartz may yet get them there.
He is a big, hideous bulldog of a man who loves the running game and (sometimes much too literally) smash-mouth football. Who could better fit the Raiders way of life than Cable?
No, Oakland is not yet ready to take down the mighty Chiefs for AFC West supremacy, but their season sweep over San Diego demonstrated (both in essence and in actual detail) their superior preparation and intense conditioning.
One imagines Cable as a tough drill sergeant in practice, and the Raiders play like a team that has been whipped forcibly into shape.
Building from scratch, really starting afresh, is one of the toughest and rarest tasks to which an NFL coach can be set. Spagnuolo walked right into just such a situation when he agreed to take the helm in St. Louis, and almost two years into the process, the team is still a long way from a finished product.
Under Spagnuolo's constantly upbeat guidance, though, the Rams have a future they can actually look forward to for the first time since Kurt Warner left town.
The Cowboys, like the Vikings, had run out of playoff opportunities before they fired their initial 2010 head coach. That meant that, other than the possibility of auditioning for the full-time gig, Garrett had little reason to concern himself with results over the final stretch of the season.
Nonetheless, the Cowboys now stand at 3-1 under his command, and he has built himself a strong contingency as a candidate to stay on into 2011 and beyond.
Garrett is a spectacular motivator and a sharp offensive mind, which has helped him shepherd the Cowboys to 133 points in four games at the helm.
He makes great sense to be the long-term head of Jerry Jones' proverbial household, as long as Tony Romo approves: Romo has been out for weeks with a shoulder injury but remains the team's unquestioned leader.
Garrett is among the greenest coaches in the league: Fisher may be its grayest.
Seventeen years into his time at the helm of the Oilers and Titans, Fisher remains intelligent, decisive, disciplinary and (on occasion: ask Vince Young) stubborn. He will not budge on certain matters, but he does a good job of making the most of teams that rarely have elite talent.
Six playoff berths in 17 years may not seem great, but Fisher has stored up good will by being a steady influence and a sharp handler of his teams, not necessarily by winning at all costs.
Haley was nearly fired, according to multiple reports, after a 4-12 debut season in which his players nearly revolted. This season, Haley remains prickly and rarely gets good publicity for firing up the team, but he has made a winner out of the Chiefs.
Of course, having the smarts and the athletic goods of Thomas Jones, Jamaal Charles and Matt Cassel never hurt anyone, but Haley has managed that group exceptionally well and should get some credit for making the pieces coalesce as nicely as they have this season.
No coach in pro football has been better over the last decade at getting to his players where they live.
Carroll likely should have waited for an NFL job rather than turning his USC athletes pro on his own, but his tenacious search for ever more ways to make his players perform at the highest possible level (from the usual clowning and elbow-rubbing to several doses of tough love) continues to have great results.
The Seahawks have a home game against the Rams in Week 17 that should give them the inside track to a division crown and an automatic, unexpected playoff berth.
Coaching in the AFC lately is a lot like managing in the AL East: If you aren't from Boston or New York, good luck.
Yet Sparano has kept the Dolphins hanging on the edge of the AFC playoff picture, along with a bunch of other 6-6 teams, despite a team riddled with injuries and in a decided rebuilding mode.
Miami fans know the postseason is not a realistic goal this year, but they will measure the success or failure of the season by the team's performance in its remaining games against the Patriots and Jets—so Sparano would do well to prepare his team for war in those contests.
Smith's once-gregarious personality has waned a bit, leaving the Chicago media (especially the talk-radio pundits) disenfranchised. That has led to calls for his job, and to a general sense of unease throughout Chicago even as the Bears charge toward a seemingly secure playoff berth.
Smith has engineered yet another impressive team centered upon a better-than-good defense, and his Tampa Two defensive system continues to work as Smith and his staff make steak from hamburger in the Chicago secondary.
Not only does Smith deserve a break or two from his hometown critics, he may well deserve serious Coach of the Year considerations.
Perhaps it is unfair even to try and evaluate Caldwell in light of the devastating injuries his Colts have had to work around this season. Yet, if it were not for injuries, what coach would not look like a genius?
The late-season rally to save the season has not materialized yet for the Colts, and Caldwell seems powerless to reel in Peyton Manning's hubris (which has led to 11 interceptions in the last three games).
The team needs a leader to step forward and really change the direction of the 2010 campaign, but with Caldwell and Manning stuck in the mud, that task might fall all the way to Dwight Freeney.
Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good. Reid traded Donovan McNabb during the offseason in a misguided decision to install Kevin Kolb as starting quarterback, but the emergence of Michael Vick, superstar, has saved Reid from public humiliation.
Reid is no brilliant manager of people or plays, but he does everything well enough to succeed on a fairly large scale. You don't often hear about skill sets and being well-rounded when it comes to NFL coaches, but Reid is just that.
Smith is far from the toughest guy in town, but his soft touch has been the right one for the Falcons. Consider that, in just his third year at the helm, he stands a fine chance of winning his second Coach of the Year Award.
That is especially true if, and it seems all but certain at this point, the Falcons hang onto home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by winning at least three of their final four regular-season matchups.
Their win over Tampa Bay this week, while ugly, may be the signature victory of the season, and puts the team a true cut above the rest of the NFC.
It seems like every time the Giants get off to a rough start, Coughlin's job is rumored to be in jeopardy. Maybe that is why every year, when the team rounds into form and makes a run at the postseason, Coughlin looks like a reborn genius.
This year's squad stands suddenly at 8-4, neck-and-neck with the Eagles in the East and in good position for a Wild Card spot. Coughlin bounces up off the mat again.
The Patriots absolutely flogged the Jets on Monday night, toppling them 45-3. It's hard to put a dent in Ryan's confidence, though, and you can hardly blame him for being satisfied with a 9-3 record so far.
Ryan's boisterous antics aside, the man knows how to work the team he has helped assemble perfectly: He, an arrogant man, says arrogant things that his equally arrogant players then feel compelled to go out and back up powerfully.
If a bit of that arrogance combusted in the team's faces on Monday night, no matter: There is plenty of football yet in front of them, and they have the talent to walk in step with their coach's talk.
Morris' Bucs have to feel wounded by their loss to the Falcons on Sunday, especially in light of the golden chance they had to win in the final two minutes. Still, this team has grown up before the eyes of—well, relatively few football fans, really, since no one seems to believe they are for real.
The Bucs remain a young team, athletic and aggressive, but they have inherited the edge of a veteran club from their youthful but very intense leader. Morris is vocal, active and brilliant, one of the rising stars of the coaching profession.
The Steelers won what became a predictably ugly slugfest on Sunday night, but the Ravens remain fairly secure in an eventual playoff berth and will get another crack at Pittsburgh. Harbaugh brings such passion and precision to the game that the Ravens—who have in reality lost many of the men who once defined them to age or injury—look every bit like the dominant team that won Super Bowl XXXV.
His almost tender approach to player evaluation—where players are not compared against others, but objectively measured according to the organization's needs for that position—adds an element of security that allows Harbaugh to get the most even out of very young players.
Empowerment is his ace in the hole.
Forget the Saints' five-game win streak.
Forget the remarkable way in which Payton salvaged the season for New Orleans by embracing the risk of reinventing the team mid-season.
Forget Drew Brees' remarkable revival as Payton's protege.
Payton gets the most points for his gutty call in last year's Super Bowl win, when he called for the fateful surprise onside kick that sparked the eventual Saints comeback.
Another year, another Belichick masterpiece. The Patriots are suddenly head-and-shoulders clear of the field in the AFC and look ready to roll toward the Super Bowl.
Belichick's faith, so often and earnestly rewarded, has brought mini-miracle Danny Woodhead into the picture this year, and has balanced out the Pats attack wonderfully.
In all aspects of the game save fashion, Belichick simply cannot miss.
The stoic, vaguely furious expression Tomlin seems to wear at all times keeps his team focused and intent.
He weathered the absence of Ben Roethlisberger and the loss of Santonio Holmes, and Sunday night's win in Baltimore announced the Steelers as surefire returnees to the playoffs—and as potential AFC favorites.
As much as Tomlin and his charges have overcome, it's hard to imagine what he cannot do.