Which NFL Head Coaches Should Be on the Hot Seat?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistOctober 19, 2017

Which NFL Head Coaches Should Be on the Hot Seat?

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    In each of the last four years, at least one NFL head coach has been fired in the middle of the season. 

    Jeff Fisher and Gus Bradley were let go last December. Joe Philbin, Ken Whisenhunt and Chip Kelly were fired in October, November and December of 2015, respectively. The Oakland Raiders cut ties with Dennis Allen in September 2014. And the Houston Texans canned Gary Kubiak in December 2013.

    Altogether, excluding those in interim roles, 21 head coaches have been fired in that span. 

    That indicates at least a handful will likely be handed pink slips between now and Black Monday, which falls on Jan. 1 this season.

    That means several should already be on the hot seat, which the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines as "a position of uneasiness, embarrassment or anxiety."

    Let's take a look at head coaches whose posteriors should be heating up. 

Seats That Are at Least Warmer Than Room Temperature

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    Mike Mularkey's Titans are 3-3. They had better deliver.
    Mike Mularkey's Titans are 3-3. They had better deliver.Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    As for head coaches who are probably safe this season but could still find themselves unemployed if things go terribly wrong in the coming weeks and months...

    Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars: They're off to a good start, but Marrone's Jags will have to finish strong as well. Another season with five or fewer wins could pave the way for yet another coaching change in Jacksonville.              

    Mike Mularkey, Tennessee Titans: His contract expires after the 2018 season, so if the inconsistent Titans fail to miss the playoffs (they're 3-3 right now), he could be let go. Mularkey has a 14-17 record in two-and-a-half seasons in Tennessee. 

    Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins: Yes, they signed him to a two-year extension in March. But if the Redskins fail to win a playoff game for the fourth consecutive year under Gruden and decide to pursue a fresh start with quarterback Kirk Cousins' future up in the air, they could cut bait and bring in a new head coach. It's unlikely considering he's under contract through 2020, but it's a possibility with owner Dan Snyder in charge. 

    John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens, who haven't made the playoffs since 2014, have lost three of four after a 2-0 start. Baltimore wouldn't can Harbaugh while still in contention in the jumbled AFC, but a shake-up could be in order if the team fails to earn a postseason berth for the third straight year.

    Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Expectations were high in Tampa headed into the 2017 season, but the Bucs are off to a rough start on both sides of the ball. They've lost three of five, with their last win coming by a mere two points against the 1-5 Giants. 

    Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers: The Niners are probably the best 0-6 team in NFL history, having lost a record five consecutive games by three or fewer points. That said, they're still without a victory, and if they lose their next 10, Shanahan could be a one-and-done head coach in San Francisco. 

    Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers: The Bolts are likely to give Lynn more than a year to get the franchise on track. But he has a talented team that continues to find ways to lose, and the front office probably doesn't have much patience considering the state of that nomadic franchise.

Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns

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    Hue Jackson has lost 21 of 22 games as head coach of the Browns.
    Hue Jackson has lost 21 of 22 games as head coach of the Browns.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Coming off a 1-15 campaign and rolling the dice on raw rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, the Cleveland Browns probably weren't under the illusion they'd contend in 2017. But an 0-6 start has to be tough to swallow.

    Cleveland has been the worst team in the NFL by a wide margin this season, and Kizer is the lowest-rated qualified passer in the league at 49.5. He was so bad during the first five weeks of the season that head coach Hue Jackson—a so-called quarterback guru—was forced to bench him against the New York Jets in Week 5 and for the team's Week 6 matchup with the Houston Texans. 

    With Kevin Hogan under center, the Browns lost 33-17, marking the third time they've lost by a double-digit margin this season.

    In fact, not only has Jackson lost 21 of his 22 games as Cleveland's head coach, but 13 of those losses have come by 10-plus points. 

    So could an organization that has traditionally possessed the patience of a squirrel suddenly decide that enough is enough? There are already clues that a shake-up could be in the works, with Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reporting that the team is "targeting football executives."

    Jackson might be safe for the remainder of this season, but another one- or zero-win campaign might cause owner Jimmy Haslam to once again rearrange the front office. And if that happens, Jackson's job could be in peril much earlier than the team imagined when it hired him in the 2016 offseason. 

Ben McAdoo, New York Giants

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    Ben McAdoo's Giants have been a tremendous disappointment this season.
    Ben McAdoo's Giants have been a tremendous disappointment this season.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The New York Giants made the playoffs in Ben McAdoo's first season as head coach, but there was still reason to be discouraged entering Year 2 of the McAdoo era. The former Giants offensive coordinator and longtime Green Bay Packers assistant is getting big bucks to run that offense, but New York ranked in the bottom 10 in terms of both yards and points per game in 2016. 

    McAdoo's expensive defense saved him last year. In 2017, that unit hasn't been as effective, and the offense was just as unproductive before losing superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. along with several other key players in a Week 5 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

    The Giants started 0-5 before redeeming themselves ever so slightly with a shocking 23-10 Week 6 victory over the Denver Broncos on the road at Mile High. That might buy McAdoo some time, but the fact he relinquished play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan ahead of that breakout performance doesn't reflect well on him. 

    McAdoo's offense is less his now than a week ago, and it has still averaged a tied-for-NFC-low 17.5 points per game. With Beckham on injured reserve and the offense lacking depth, the Giants will likely continue to flounder on that side of the ball.

    The window is closing on aging franchise quarterback Eli Manning's career, and Beckham's future is up in the air with his rookie contract slated to expire after next season. That high-priced D isn't getting any younger, and the Giants haven't won a playoff game since 2011. If they keep losing, general manager Jerry Reese might need a scapegoat, and it just might be McAdoo. 

Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Can Marvin Lewis afford another non-playoff season?
    Can Marvin Lewis afford another non-playoff season?Frank Victores/Associated Press

    Marvin Lewis is operating in the final year of his contract. That's rare in coaching circles and arguably an indication that Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown might finally be ready to part ways with the NFL's second-longest-tenured head coach.

    It shouldn't surprise anybody if the Bengals retain Lewis regardless of how many games they win in 2017, though, because it's amazing he's still serving in that role despite never having won a playoff game in 14 seasons. Lewis is coming off a 6-9-1 campaign, and he had a say as the Bengals inexplicably slept through free agency and let key offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler walk in the offseason. Now his squad is lucky to be 2-3. 

    The Bengals, who are averaging just 16.8 points per game, were fortunate enough to run into a CFL-caliber Browns team following an 0-3 start, and one week later, they needed several breaks to beat a so-so Buffalo Bills team at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

    The schedule becomes a lot tougher following their Week 6 bye, though. Don't expect them to be the favorite in upcoming road games against Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Tennessee and Denver, which means there's a good chance they'll be no better than 3-7 before getting a break against the Browns in Week 12 to wrap up November. 

    At that point, it might be too late to salvage this season, and Lewis could be headed toward a second consecutive losing campaign. That hasn't happened since 2007/2008, and his lack of playoff success since then—he's gone 0-6 in Wild Card Games, three of which took place at home—might give him less rope this time around. 

Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts

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    Chuck Pagano's Colts haven't been to the playoffs since 2014.
    Chuck Pagano's Colts haven't been to the playoffs since 2014.AJ Mast/Associated Press

    It's also hard to believe Chuck Pagano has rope left in Indianapolis, but the Colts head coach remains on board despite the fact rumors have swirled regarding his job security (or lack thereof) for several years. 

    Pagano may only be in Year 2 of a four-year contract, and quarterback Andrew Luck's injuries arguably serve as an excuse for the team's recent struggles. With new general manager Chris Ballard in town, however, it's hard to imagine Pagano will survive another non-winning season in Indy. 

    After all, the Colts brought him to fix the defense. But Indy ranked below the league median in both points and yards allowed per game in four of Pagano's first five seasons as head coach, and that unit appears to be getting worse. It ranked 30th in total defense last season, and despite an offseason makeover, it's surrendered a league-high (by a freakin' mile) 32.5 points per game this year.

    The Colts are also alone in last place in the now-respectable AFC South following a 2-4 start. Luck doesn't appear as though he'll rescue them anytime soon, and the schedule doesn't get any easier for a team that hasn't won in consecutive weeks since Weeks 16 and 17 in 2015. 

    If Indianapolis continues down this path and misses the playoffs for a third straight year, it won't be hard for Ballard to convince owner Jim Irsay that he needs a coaching change.

John Fox, Chicago Bears

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    The Bears have to show signs of progress, or John Fox could be out.
    The Bears have to show signs of progress, or John Fox could be out.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The Chicago Bears are on pace to win five games after a half-decent 2-4 start, which could be enough to buy John Fox one more year as head coach. But it's also possible general manager Ryan Pace—or his replacement if somebody higher on the food chain loses patience with him—will grow tired of losing. After all, Fox's Bears won just nine games during the 62-year-old's first two seasons at the helm in Chicago.

    Yes, Pace and Fox are working with a brand-new supposed franchise quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky who is undoubtedly allowed to experience growing pains. However, Fox is a defensive guru whose teams ranked 20th and 24th in points allowed per game in those first two years.

    The Bears have done their best to rebuild that unit via the draft and free agency in recent offseasons, but they still rank 25th in scoring defense after six weeks of the 2017 season. 

    If Fox's defense can't show major signs of improvement over the course of the next 10 or so weeks, the front office would be smart to strongly consider replacing him prior to the final year of his four-year contract. 

Bruce Arians, Arizona Cardinals

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    Bruce Arians and the Cardinals will have to fight to avoid missing the playoffs again.
    Bruce Arians and the Cardinals will have to fight to avoid missing the playoffs again.Norm Hall/Getty Images

    This one will probably be harder for some people to buy, since the venerable Bruce Arians was named the AP NFL Coach of the Year twice in a three-year span (2012, 2014). But the Arizona Cardinals head coach failed to experience playoff success with teams that won a combined 24 games in 2014 and 2015, and he hasn't experienced regular-season success since. 

    The Cardinals followed a 13-3 season in 2015 with a 7-8 campaign and are off to a rocky start in 2017. They're 3-3 after needing overtime to beat the Colts and 49ers. They were blown out 34-7 by the Eagles, and the Lions and Cowboys defeated them handily.

    They did light up the scoreboard in a home victory over the short-handed Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6, but even that 38-point offensive performance was marred by the fact they nearly blew a 31-0 second-half lead to a team that was using backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. 

    Arians' squad has already dug itself a hole behind the surging Los Angeles Rams and experienced Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West. Four of Arizona's final 10 games come against the Rams and Seahawks, which gives Arians a chance to get his team out of said hole. If he fails to do so and the Cardinals fall short of the playoffs again, the organization might want to consider making a change before the final year of Arians' contract in 2018.