Which AFC Coaches Are on the Hot Seat?
We're nearing the end of the regular season and as we come closer to this season's Super Bowl in Dallas, there have been and probably will be some more coaching changes.
Who is in danger of getting a pink slip and who is safely in the clear? We take a look at all 32 NFL coaches (even the interim coaches) and measure the temperature of their seats.
Will your coach's seat be warming up or cooling down? Let's find out, starting with the AFC...
Bill Belichick: Ice Cold
The Patriots are on a roll this season; some say they even look better than the 2007 17-1 team. Unless they completely implode these last three weeks, they'll also have yet another top seed and yet another first-round bye.
Even when they really didn't need improvement, Belichick somehow managed to make the team better even though they've been accused of cheating. They've been able to keep pace in the ultra-competitive AFC East, even though most of the division has improved significantly.
There is absolutely no reason to get rid of Belichick; he'll probably retire before owner Robert Kraft even thinks about letting him go.
Tony Sparano: Getting Cooler
After an off year last year and a 2-2 start to the season, the Dolphins are primed for a playoff spot. They do need some help, but they’re still in the thick of things.
In the three years he’s been there, Tony Sparano has improved the team quite a bit, solidifying their quarterback position. He hasn't really been spectacular by only making the playoffs once in his tenure, but he has improved the team, especially with his acquisition of more receiving firepower in the form of Brandon Marshall.
He also had to deal with the loss of Jason Taylor, but through the draft and a few free agents, he was able to shore up that hole as well. He's brought the Dolphins out of the one-win nightmare of 2007 to semi-respectability in three years. Expect a contract extension in Miami if the ‘Phins make the playoffs. Even if they don’t, expect to see Sparano patrolling the sidelines next season.
Rex Ryan: Getting Hotter
Loud and boisterous doesn’t get the job done. Two weeks ago, the Jets were flying high and looking ahead to the playoffs. That was before they ran into the meat of their schedule, dropping two critical games and looking terrible doing it.
With two of their last three games against division leaders, Rex Ryan must be a little more quiet and get to work, or else this season will be all for naught, when most fans in the Meadowlands were looking for a Super Bowl trophy.
The swagger is gone; now the Jets must get to work or Ryan may be feeling the heat at the end of the season.
Chan Gailey: Getting Hotter
This was not the season the Bills were hoping for: 3-10, and looking at a high draft choice. They still could conceivably play spoiler in the AFC East race, but fans in Buffalo were hoping for so much more. They did improve their team, but unfortunately they can't improve their record.
They also still have some problems to iron out at key positions. They should be able to improve significantly as the years go on. Unfortunately, they need to improve much, much more if they want to compete in the AFC East.
Give Gailey a pass this season, as it is his first season on the banks of Lake Erie and he has had to deal with a brutal division. However if the Bills don’t compete in the division next year, Gailey may find himself out of Buffalo.
Mike Tomlin: Ice Cold
Tomlin handled the Ben Roethlisberger situation with aplomb and did a very good job at keeping the Steelers together without their leader.
The Steelers even went 3-1 without him and looked very good doing it, beating two playoff-bound teams and very nearly knocking off a third in the Ravens. Tomlin has also been able to keep the team at a Super Bowl caliber even in this parity-happy NFL. With the way they have been building during drafts and free agency, Tomlin has definitely made them a playoff contender for a few years to come.
This year the playoffs are all but assured for Pittsburgh, so Tomlin should be looking good for a few seasons.
John Harbaugh: Getting Cooler
Harbaugh has been very good since coming on in 2008, bouncing back from a 6-10 season in 2007 to be a contender in an AFC North where the Steelers have dominated for so long.
He picked up one of the biggest steals in his first draft, getting Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco, who has elevated himself to just below Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as one of the best quarterbacks in the conference.
The Ravens can't be considered among one of the best but with Harbaugh at the helm, they do seem to compete every single year in a very tough AFC. If I were Steve Bisciotti, majority owner of the Ravens, I might be tempted to give Harbaugh a long contract extension. Given a few years, they might repeat the actions of 2000 and clinch their first Lombardi Trophy.
Eric Mangini: Getting Hotter
The Browns did get better this season, finally digging themselves out of the AFC North cellar. However, an at-best 8-8 record will not be enough to make the playoffs, which the Browns haven’t made since 2002. For Cleveland fans, who have had to sit through quite a few years of missed playoffs and long for a championship, eight years is way too long to wait for a playoff spot.
Peyton Hillis has suddenly come on for the Browns, which is a good sign. However, they still have some issues, particularly at the quarterback position. Colt McCoy is the heir apparent for now, but they need someone to back him up, as Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace aren't exactly reliable. Mangini should take his mid-round draft picks (if he wins out, at best) and try to get some improvements in not only those positions, but to build up his defense.
Mangini must bring the team to the postseason and contend in the AFC North next year, or his job looks a little less secure.
Marvin Lewis: Red Hot
The same problem that’s in New York looks a little worse in Cincinnati: overconfidence and a swagger that’s really bringing them down.
Unlike New York, however, it's a shame, because the Bengals certainly had the talent to compete this year. They even brought in Terrell Owens, the proverbial yin to Chad Ochocinco's yang. However, they haven't really been able to utilize either of them. Owens leads the team in touchdowns with nine.
Nine touchdowns. No wonder the Bengals are mired in the middle of a 2-11 season, a 10-game losing streak and a battle with Carolina and Detroit for the top draft pick.
Lewis has had enough chances; if he doesn't get fired, his seat will be very, very hot next season. Another losing season, and he'll be out of Cincinnati.
Jim Caldwell: Lukewarm
You really can’t warm up Caldwell’s seat too much; injuries were a big part of the story for the Colts, who now look to be in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since Peyton Manning’s rookie season. Manning can’t carry the team by himself, but with injuries to key receivers, running backs and the secondary, the postseason looks to be very much in doubt.
Don't fault Caldwell too much, however; he can chalk up this season to just bad luck. Luckily, Manning has remained healthy, so he should be ready to go. However, this season will unfortunately go down as a failure, if not for the simple fact that the Colts, while competitive, just fell victim to the Super Bowl hangover.
Give Caldwell a pass this year but if he can’t deliver next season, expect him to be looking over his shoulder, looking for a pink slip.
Jack Del Rio: Getting Cooler
The Jaguars improved very well from last season, finally being able to contend with the Colts after struggling to a 5-11 season last year.
Even though they have a laundry list of players on injured reserve, Del Rio has been able to cobble together a respectable team, letting Maurice Jones-Drew and David Garrard run wild en route to what might be their first-ever AFC South championship (they have won two division titles, but that was before the realignment). They've been extremely competitive despite the injuries and they've been able to compete with the Colts, even though Indianapolis has had the same problems.
With the Jaguars only having one game that could be considered tough (the Colts in Week 15), it's probably safe to say that they will be in the postseason, barring a gargantuan collapse.
Del Rio's job is safe for now but he had better continue these winning ways, or the Florida sun might make his seat a little too hot.
Jeff Fisher: Getting Hotter
This was supposed to be the season where the Titans would finally break through and win the Super Bowl that they came only a couple of yards short of in their last appearance.
However, that hasn't been the case.
Chris Johnson, heralded by most to be one of the best running backs in the NFL, has really plateaued, just barely going above 1,000 yards so far this year. They've had quarterback problem after quarterback problem, starting with Vince Young's problems and then Kerry Collins' injuries. They even had to resort to Florida Atlantic rookie Rusty Smith for two weeks and he didn't fare very well, only racking up QB ratings of 19 and 26.7 in his two games.
Fisher must drastically improve the Titans in the offseason, or the longest current coaching tenure in the NFL will end with a considerable thud.
Gary Kubiak: Getting Hotter
Like the Titans, the Texans were supposed to be playoff contenders for the first time ever.
Unfortunately, they have had a brutal schedule and injuries to key players (Andre Johnson is ailing with ankle injuries, and Mario Williams is on injured reserve with a sports hernia). They've lost six of their last seven, and Kubiak can safely say that this season is definitely lost.
Houston hasn't had a playoff team since the Oilers were in town, and it's pretty safe to say that the fans are probably getting restless. One more season like this, and the fans will be clamoring for Kubiak's job.
Todd Haley: Getting Cooler
To say Todd Haley has bounced back from his 4-12 2009 season is quite an understatement. The Chiefs have suddenly catapulted themselves into the AFC West lead. Although they had a shockingly bad game against San Diego in Week 14, they've still had a pretty good season.
Matt Cassel can still make the Patriots kick themselves for getting rid of a perfectly good backup, racking up over 2,500 yards passing. Meanwhile, Jamaal Charles has showed up for the Chiefs, speeding past defensive lines as if they're standing still and putting up his best numbers in his three seasons. Put those together, and it adds up to a pretty good team.
Not a great team, just a good team at the moment. Given enough time, however, I do believe that Haley will be able to improve the team to challenge the top teams in the AFC. Haley will definitely be there for another few seasons, unless the Chiefs fall back into their 2009 form.
Tom Cable: Getting Cooler
Even though Cable has been through the fire quite a few times, he's turned the Raiders into a contender for the AFC West title. Even though they've lost three of their last four, they've still been able to keep pace with the rest of the division.
He made a relatively good trade, managing to get Jason Campbell to provide some stability to their quarterback position. Along with Darren McFadden, Campbell has been able to band together and compete in the division.
They still have some struggling teams left on their schedule (Indianapolis and Kansas City), but it's still a tough way to end the season. Over the next couple of weeks, the Raiders' results will tell the tale. If they're able to compete in the waning weeks of the season, Cable should be able to muster enough reasons to stay. If they have a swoon now, Cable should be gone.
Norv Turner: Getting Hotter
The Chargers have been able to dominate the AFC West as of late, but that grasp on the crown slipped just a little bit with the resurgence of the Chiefs and Raiders. San Diego has won three of its last four and proved they can still play against playoff contenders. However, that doesn't mean anything if they can't get to the playoffs.
Philip Rivers is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he and Antonio Gates, one of the best receivers, can't carry the team alone. They need to improve a whole lot if they want to keep their divisional crown and the playoff spot that goes with it.
However, with the resurgence of the other teams in the West, they must shore up some more talent if they want to stay competitive. If they can't do that, Turner will be shown the door.
Eric Studesville: Too Hot To Handle
Studesville was brought in as an interim coach two weeks ago, when the Broncos let Josh McDaniels go. Unfortunately, it hasn't gotten much better in Denver, losing a close game to the Chiefs and badly to a mediocre Cardinals team.
To be perfectly fair, it really isn't right to judge a coach after only two weeks, but the Broncos have free-fallen into the AFC West cellar. Studesville will probably be let go after the season, because at this point, he's just a lame-duck coach on a team that isn't going anywhere. I hope he can get on somewhere else, because he could be a really good coach if everything goes well.
For now he should just have fun these next couple of weeks in Denver, because they will probably be his last as the Broncos' head coach.
Next time, we'll take a look at the NFC. With a lot of teams still in the playoff hunt (even all the teams in the NFC West) will any of them be shown the door? Obviously, we've had some handed their pink slip already, but will any more be shown the door?
Join us next time, when we take a look at the NFC coaches and the heat of their seats!