NFL Rumors: These 10 Coaches Will Be on the Hot Seat in 2011
By this time, the hot seats under NFL coaches have all pretty well cooled, or else burned their occupants: Jim Harbaugh is already in place as the replacement for Mike Singletary with the San Francisco 49ers, while Josh McDaniels, Eric Mangini, John Fox and Tom Cable have all also been fired.
For several coaches, though, the seat may have cooled only very temporarily. Several guys narrowly survived the latest round of axe drops, and they need good showings from their teams in 2011 to solidify their places. Ten of them are in real danger without a playoff berth next season.
1. Tony Sparano
Sparano was perhaps the most surprising survivor of this season, after the Dolphins stumbled to another frustrating 7-9 finish in the tough AFC East. Sparano looked like the perfect mad scientist after leading Miami to an 11-5 mark in his first season as coach, but two straight seasons of ending on a three-game skid to go 7-9 have him in hot water. This year's team scored the third-fewest points in the league, a serious stain on the record of a coach famed for his offensive ingenuity.
2. Marvin Lewis
The Bengals probably made the right choice in bringing back Lewis, who signed a contract extension Jan. 4 despite a 4-12 season in 2010. The team clearly quit on him, and while that could be construed as a failure of motivation, these guys had prior reputations as quitters.
Lewis won the 2009 Coach of the Year Award after the Bengals won their second AFC North title under his leadership, but he still needs a decent season in 2011 to avoid the guillotine. Not many coaches survive 4-12 campaigns anymore.
3. Gary Kubiak
There was literally a fan revolt against the notion of bringing back Kubiak at the end of this season, but Houston higher-ups wisely chose not to allow public opinion to cloud their better judgment.
Kubiak has led the Texans forward after four miserable seasons under Dom Capers, and he continues to assemble a team capable of competing seriously. The pieces are in place now, though, or will be by the time next season kicks off, so if Kubiak does not address the team's stagnation soon, he will be gone before the season even ends.
4. Tom Coughlin
No New York coach is ever really safe, but Coughlin is really pushing his limits with two straight late-season collapses that have cost the Giants playoff appearances. He did lead them to the great Super Bowl upset victory in 2007, but the horrific end to this season, especially--with a pair of agonizing losses to Philadelphia and Green Bay that left them with only a faint glimmer of playoff hope--puts him on thin ice.
5. Jack Del Rio
My theory is that the Jaguars actually tried to fire Del Rio after a December swoon in which Jacksonville lost three straight to tumble out of the playoffs at 8-8, but that he intimidated them into keeping him on with some close facsimile of the lunatic expression in this photo.
Del Rio is 65-63 as coach of the Jaguars but will need to do better than keeping his head above the water of .500 in 2011 in order to keep his job beyond that. He has not directed the team to the playoffs since 2007.
6. Chan Gailey
It might seem crazy to suggest that Gailey, or any coach for that matter, could get the boot just two seasons into a tenure as a rebuilding coach--but then, the Bills canned Mike Mularkey after just two seasons despite a 14-18 record. For perspective, Gailey's Bills would need to go 10-6 next season to match that mark.
Gailey probably will not be fired, but he does need to get more out of the Bills in big games in order to earn a third year: This season's squad won four games, all over bad teams, and looked utterly over-matched against the better teams they faced, especially late in the season.
7. Jeff Fisher
Fisher's job has perhaps never been more seriously in jeopardy than it was just after the season, and considering that he has been at the helm since the Titans were the Oilers and Monica Lewinsky was an anonymous (if ambitious) intern, that means something. Owner Bud Adams chose Fisher over quarterback Vince Young, whose days in a Titans uniform are over, which is a solid vote of confidence.
Yet, it also carries a burden of expectation. Adams will not appreciate it if Fisher makes him look bad for this decision, and if the Titans do not improve on their 6-10 showing in 2010, Adams will look bad.
8. Lovie Smith
Unlike the other coaches listed here so far, Smith led his team to the playoffs this season. That marks the third playoff appearance for the Bears in seven years under Smith, and they did reach the Super Bowl in 2006.
I live in Chicago, though, so I can tell you this with a great deal of confidence: Smith is among the least popular head coaches in the league. The media, some of whom perceive him as smug and withholding, consistently paint him into a corner whenever he makes a mistake. Meanwhile, there was a sizable contingent of Bears fans at the outset of this season who rooted for the team to struggle enough early on for Smith to get fired. He does not deserve any of this, and if the Bears play well in the playoffs, his seat will cool substantially. If not, though, he likely needs to bring them back to the playoffs in 2011 and succeed there in order to keep his gig.
9. Jim Schwarz
In a totally fair world where, as we ought to when voting for MVP as well, we isolated the job and skills et of a great coach and made them the sole criteria, Jim Schwartz might be the 2010 NFL Coach of the Year. He steered the Lions to a 6-10 record, and encouraged them sufficiently to play several very good teams very close, all while missing his starting quarterback for the enormous majority of the season.
Unfortunately, the NFL is rather blindly and harshly results-oriented, and the window for coaches to achieve meaningful turnaround these days in three years. Next season will be Schwartz's third with the Lions, so unless the team worms its way to at least .500, he may be in trouble.
10. Mike Shanahan
Shanahan is exceptionally unlikely to be dismissed any time soon, but he deserves to be: What a mess he has made from what was already a mess in Washington.
With no personnel that suggested the Redskins would benefit from installing a 3-4 defensive schemes, Shanahan did anyway; then he butted heads with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth all season over it and ran Haynesworth out of town. He traded for Donovan McNabb, then began the process of systematically undermining him. Apparently, he was mortified to find that McNabb was not, as Shanahan had been led to believe, literally John Elway.
The Redskins will probably stick with Shanahan at the expense of all involved, and go 6-10 again in 2011. So it goes under Dan Snyder.