NFL Head Coaches Who Are Already on the Hot Seat This Season

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistSeptember 7, 2018

NFL Head Coaches Who Are Already on the Hot Seat This Season

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    There's never been a time in NFL history in which the seats of the league's head coaches have been cold or even lukewarm. So long as there are winners and losers, coaches will be in the line of fire.

    The dawn of a new season brings plenty of optimism to fans of all 32 teams, but that enthusiasm won't prevent several head coaches from feeling immense pressure right out of the gate. Here are half a dozen such cases.

             

Notable Exclusions

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    You might have expected to see these guys on the list. Here's why they weren't included.

           

    Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals

    Why should we ever believe Lewis is on the hot seat? The man has gone 15 years in Cincy without winning a playoff game, but in January he was given a new two-year contract despite the fact he was coming off a second consecutive losing campaign. Lewis should have been axed long ago, but it's starting to look as though he's got this job as long as he wants it.

           

    Todd Bowles, New York Jets

    Bowles won 10 games with Gang Green in his first season. That was back in 2015, and he's won just 10 games since, but few expected the rebuilding (tanking) Jets to even win five games in 2017. Now that he and his staff are working with a rookie starter at quarterback, time might be on Bowles' side.

            

    Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins

    Gruden signed an extension through 2020 last offseason. While the front office certainly hoped for a better showing in 2017, there wasn't a roster in football that was hit harder by injuries than Washington's. At the very least, he should have a full year to work with new quarterback Alex Smith.

Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    There were multiple indications late last season that Vance Joseph would be one-and-done as the Denver Broncos' head coach. General manager John Elway ultimately decided to give Joseph another shot, but the tea leaves indicate Elway won't tolerate another lousy season under Joseph.

    In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if Joseph were fired early on if the Broncos start slow.

    The expectations are rightly a lot higher in Denver this year. The team paid up for new quarterback Case Keenum and drafted two players—first-round pass-rusher Bradley Chubb and third-round running back Royce Freeman—who are expected to make major impacts as rookies.

    And the AFC West appears to be wide open, which would only add to Elway's frustration if his team stumbles out of the gate.

    Joseph's unit ranked 29th in yardage allowed when he was the Miami Dolphins' defensive coordinator in 2016, and in his first year as a head coach, the Broncos ranked in the bottom 10 with 23.9 points per game allowed.

    At this point, the margin for error is razor-thin.

Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Few head coaches can lose 31 of their first 32 games with a team and live to tell about it while still wearing that team's colors, which is why Hue Jackson is such a special case. But the third-year Cleveland Browns head coach knows he has to deliver early and often in 2018 to keep his job beyond the first frost in northeast Ohio.

    Jackson's career winning percentage of .188 is the lowest in modern NFL history among coaches with at least 40 games on their record, and that'd look a lot worse if he didn't go 8-8 with the 2011 Oakland Raiders.

    That'll have to improve dramatically in the first half of the 2018 campaign, because the Browns won't likely tolerate another play-out-the-string second half with Jackson at the helm.

    The team's long, fascinating and sometimes befuddling rebuild is essentially complete now, and the Browns have the talent to compete. If they can't win some games and remain competitive with Tyrod Taylor, Jarvis Landry, Carlos Hyde, Josh Gordon, Nick Chubb, Joel Bitonio, Kevin Zeitler and David Njoku on offense and Myles Garrett, Jamie Collins, Denzel Ward and Jabrill Peppers on defense, they'll soon be looking for a new head coach.

Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    You'd have to think Jason Garrett is running out of rope as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

    After all, expectations are constantly high in Dallas, and the Cowboys have won just one playoff game in Garrett's seven-and-a-half seasons as head coach. Three of their last four seasons under Garrett have been strong, but if the Cowboys don't come through with Dak Prescott at quarterback, a post-suspension Ezekiel Elliott at running back, a still-jacked offensive line and some superb pieces on defense, they might be ready to move in a new coaching direction.

    Asked in a July press conference if this would be a playoffs-or-bust season for Garrett, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones answered "no," before adding, "That's the best answer I can give, and the fairest one."

    But as Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News wrote, that "may be what Jones firmly believes, or it may just be the kind of thing you say when the California air fills you with optimism while the head coach is seated directly to your left."

    Votes of confidence in July don't carry a lot of weight, and it wouldn't be surprising if Jones were to declare in late October that the circumstances had changed and he had reconsidered his stance following a 2-5 start.

Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    A lot of folks were surprised when Dirk Koetter took Lovie Smith's job as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2016 offseason. Just as many were likely surprised when Koetter retained that job this offseason despite winning just five games with a team that wasn't particularly unlucky (the Bucs lost a handful of games by more than a dozen points).

    But there's a logical explanation for why Koetter got that job and why he still holds it: Jameis Winston.

    Koetter was Winston's first NFL offensive coordinator, and ESPN's Adam Schefter reported at the time of his promotion that part of the reason for that change was that the Bucs feared losing Koetter to another team. Two shaky years later, Winston is trying to maintain a grip on the "franchise quarterback" title in Tampa, despite on-field struggles and a looming three-game suspension to start the regular season.

    The fact that Winston remains on the roster indicates the Bucs haven't lost hope, which may also explain—at least partly—why Koetter remains on the payroll. Their destinies are tied, and if one succeeds, the other likely will as well.

    If Winston doesn't reclaim the starting role in successful fashion and the Bucs struggle early, both he and Koetter could be goners. If Winston finally emerges after his suspension and the Bucs contend, the two may have a long future together on the west coast of Florida.

Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    On the opposite coast in the same state, Adam Gase could be entering a make-or-break season as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

    It's never easy when dealing with the Goliath-like New England Patriots in the AFC East, and Gase could also use quarterback Ryan Tannehill's injury or the losses of stars Jarvis Landry and Ndamukong Suh as excuses. But Tannehill is healthy enough now to play in a regular-season game for the first time since December 2016, and AFC wild-card spots should be up for grabs in 2018.

    Few expect the Dolphins to secure one of those spots, but Gase won't likely survive a step backward on paper. Miami went to the playoffs with a 10-6 record in Gase's first season before going 6-10 in 2017. If that win total drops off again this season—or if it becomes apparent that'll be the case in November or December—owner Stephen Ross and/or GM Chris Grier could decide to cut bait.

    For what it's worth, Vegas can see it happening. Per OddsShark, only Jackson has higher odds of being the first coach fired in 2018.

John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Coming off three consecutive non-playoff seasons, distinguished Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh officially landed on the hot seat when team owner Steve Bisciotti admitted he considered firing the 2012 Super Bowl champion early in the offseason.

    "It was certainly a consideration, but not one that I was inclined to make this year," Bisciotti said at the team's annual "State of the Ravens" news conference in February.

    Bisciotti didn't issue a mandate for Harbaugh to get Baltimore back to the playoffs in 2018, but the Ravens have enjoyed such a promising offseason that it's hard to envision the front office will stand pat in the event that the team bombs.

    Quarterback Joe Flacco has looked tremendous this summer, and he's got more support in that offense than he's had in years. The defense continues to look strong as well, and Baltimore's top divisional competitors—the Pittsburgh Steelers—are dealing with their own issues.

    Even after 10 seasons on the job in Baltimore, this might be a do-or-die campaign for Harbaugh.