Gauging How Hot Every NFL Coach's Seat Is Heading into the Draft
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one in a "hot seat" is in "a position of uneasiness, embarrassment, or anxiety." The hotter the seat, the more uneasiness, embarrassment or anxiety. The colder the seat—you get the picture.
It's a phrase you see and hear often in NFL coaching analysis, especially now that rebuilds are expected to take about seven minutes and thus seats often rise in temperature at an accelerated rate.
So with peak free agency in the rearview mirror and the draft still a few weeks away, we decided take the temperature of 32 metaphorical inanimate objects. Here's how we categorized the result (click the links to jump to):
Scorching hot: Something needs to change quickly.
Warm: In trouble if it hits the fan in 2019.
Room temperature: Probably safe but wilder things have happened.
Cool: Safe barring a disaster accompanied by a shocking decision from above.
Ice-cold: Not happening. Not now and probably not anytime soon.
Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
It's incredible that Garrett is the sixth-longest-tenured head coach in the NFL, because he's merely 77-59 with two playoff wins in eight-and-a-half seasons in charge of the Cowboys. He's the butter-less toast of the NFL head coaching fraternity, and he'll never be mistaken for a football mastermind, but Jerry and Stephen Jones have exercised plenty of patience with him. It helps that he's put together four winning seasons in a five-year window, with both of those playoff victories coming during that span.
Still, you never know with Jerrah. He didn't extend Garrett's contract this offseason, which could make this a do-or-die year for the 53-year-old—especially if the Joneses get the impression Sean Payton might be willing to make a move across the Texas-Louisiana border.
Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins
There might be a little bit of extra rope for Gruden because of Alex Smith's injury, but Case Keenum isn't a bad replacement and it's not as though that team is devoid of talent. The organization has endured a lot of bad press of late, so it's easy to see owner Daniel Snyder—who's never held on to a head coach this long—cleaning house in the case of an ugly season.
The question might be if Gruden even survives another so-so campaign. He's never put together a double-digit-win season and he's got zero playoff victories in five years. Can he afford a sixth? Considering a recent report from 106.7 The Fan in D.C. that Gruden wasn't consulted on free-agent signings ahead of a lame-duck season, I wouldn't count on it.
Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are one of the most talented teams in the NFL. There's almost no way owner Shad Kahn, who spent hundreds of millions of dollars building said team, will allow Marrone to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
The team's 5-11 2018 campaign has to be an anomaly. If it isn't and they don't make another deep playoff run following an offseason quarterback upgrade, the Jags will almost certainly be looking for a new head coach come January 2020.
Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans
O'Brien is a mere 42-38 with just one playoff win in five seasons in Houston, and he's running out of excuses. Unlike in 2014, 2015 and 2016, he's got an excellent quarterback to work with. And unlike in 2017, his team wasn't ravaged by injuries in 2018. But it still essentially no-showed in a home playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
That probably can't happen again. It's time for the Texans to make a run in the wide-open AFC or find a new head coach to work with Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and that talented young defense.
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Rivera has never put together back-to-back winning seasons, but he hasn't finished below .500 in consecutive campaigns since his first two years on the job back in 2011 and 2012. How might Panthers owner David Tepper react if his newly purchased team misses the playoffs in his first two seasons as the man in charge?
It's entirely possible that if Rivera loses nine or more games again despite plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, the Panthers will decide to make big changes to a team that went 1-7 during the second half of the 2018 campaign. The NFL also stands for Not For Long, and as time passes, it's becoming harder for Rivera to live off a 15-1 2015 Super Bowl season that is surrounded by inconsistency and a lack of January success.
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
Could Tomlin be this year's Mike McCarthy? In December, McCarthy was fired by the Green Bay Packers in his 13th year on the job because he continued to come up short despite the presence of a future Hall of Fame quarterback. When he was canned, he hadn't been to a Super Bowl since 2010. Tomlin now enters his 13th year on the job and—despite the presence of a future Hall of Fame quarterback—he too hasn't been to a Super Bowl since 2010.
The Steelers appear to be regressing following the losses of Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is beyond his prime and the Cleveland Browns just might be the new favorite in the AFC North. Tomlin could miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. And if that happens, the increasingly criticized Tomlin could be out of a job.
Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Expectations are high in Minnesota. They have to be when you're paying your quarterback $28 million per year guaranteed and you have a league-high seven defensive players making $10-plus million. That makes an 8-7-1 2018 campaign a magnificent fail for Zimmer and Co., and it's possible that wasn't an aberration.
Despite plenty of talent, the defensive-oriented 62-year-old has actually won more than eight games only twice in five seasons with the Vikings. This is a team in win-now mode, and it would be hard to blame general manager Rick Spielman and/or team owner Zygi Wilf if they decided to make significant changes following another dud in 2019, sparing Zimmer a lame-duck contract year in 2020.
Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals
Already? Never underestimate the lengths to which a desperate general manager will go to deflect culpability and/or buy himself time. If Steve Keim was willing to dump Steve Wilks after just one three-win season with a terrible team, and if he might be willing to trade Josh Rosen just one year after trading up to take him 10th overall, he just might have the audacity to fire Kingsbury in Year 1.
Of course, there's a decent chance Keim himself would be booted before having a chance to fire another coach, but the arrival of a new GM could also spell the end of the Kingsbury experiment. In other words, there's a chance.
Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
The defensive-minded Quinn has sort of been riding the success of one great season in which the Falcons were carried by an unstoppable offense. It wouldn't be unfair to pin a 7-9 2018 campaign on tough-luck injuries, but it was so ugly at times last year that owner Arthur Blank had to give his head coach a public vote of confidence.
The 48-year-old's defenses have ranked in the bottom 10 in two of the last three years, and there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about Atlanta's inconsistency and mental fortitude. With that in mind, Quinn can't endure a second consecutive dud season.
Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
The Bills front office is probably willing to give McDermott and raw sophomore quarterback Josh Allen two more seasons together. But it's also possible that if the defensive-oriented McDermott's D ranks in the bottom half of the league in points allowed for the third time in as many years, they will instead decide to make a change and bring in somebody who can work with Allen in 2020.
Still, expectations aren't through the roof for a team that is still in the process of rebuilding within the football prison that is the AFC East, so that isn't a realistic possibility unless Buffalo takes another step backward following a 6-10 2018 campaign.
Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions
The Lions appear to be all-in for 2019 after spending big money on the free-agent market, and they've gotta be growing impatient with the Matthew Stafford era. The No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft is now 31, and this season he'll count $29.5 million against the payroll for a team that hasn't won a playoff game in Cardi B's lifetime. That could put a lot of pressure on Patricia, whose team regressed on paper in his maiden season as head coach.
The 44-year-old took some heat for potentially alienating veteran players and generally employing odd tactics and approaches in his first year. If the team doesn't improve soon, that divide will only become more apparent and Patricia could face the possibility of going two-and-done in the Motor City.
Adam Gase, New York Jets
Considering their lack of success this century, the Jets have been relatively patient with head coaches since Woody Johnson became team owner in 2000. So they'll probably give Gase more than a year to try to turn things around for a team that has won five or fewer games in four of the last five years.
Still, general manager Mike Maccagnan spent, like, a trillion dollars this offseason, and there's an expectation that Gang Green will take a big step forward in 2019. If that doesn't happen and Maccagnan feels the heat, he could look for a scapegoat. But chances are Maccagnan would be fired first.
John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
The league's fourth-longest-tenured head coach signed a contract extension in January, which probably means he's got a couple of seasons' worth of rope. But there's no telling how patient new general manager Eric DeCosta will be, and this is a Ravens team that has just one playoff victory since winning the Super Bowl in 2012.
If Baltimore bombs in a big way with Lamar Jackson under center and playoff expectations in 2019, don't rule out the possibility of Harbaugh and the Ravens "parting ways" after 12 seasons together. But realistically, after getting to the playoffs with a rookie quarterback in 2018, the 56-year-old's seat won't likely be warm until next year at the earliest.
Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns
The Browns aren't messing around. They're good enough on paper to make a playoff run this year, which immediately puts a lot of pressure on Kitchens as he embarks on his first head coaching journey. His hire was met with quite a lot of surprise, so if it begins to appear as though he isn't up to the task or the Browns fall flat, Kitchens could certainly be one-and-done in Cuyahoga County.
That said, we're talking about an organization that stood by Hue Jackson during a two-and-a-half-year stretch in which he won a grand total of three games.
Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers
The Packers aren't the type of team to send a coach packing after just one year on the job, but if LaFleur can't get in sync with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, it's entirely possible they'll decide to cut their losses before 2020 arrives. They can't afford to risk wasting another year of Rodgers' prime if the fit turns out to be a bad one.
And such a move wouldn't be completely unprecedented in Green Bay. Ray Rhodes was fired just one season into his tenure after relieving Mike Holmgren in 1999.
Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
Shanahan took over a bad team in 2017 and fared OK after a late-season rally got San Francisco to a respectable 6-10. Then, with expectations up, he was put in a bad spot when new franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL three weeks into the 2018 campaign. That's why he hasn't been heavily criticized for his 10-22 career record, but he won't likely get a pass for a third consecutive losing season in the Bay Area.
Still, if the 49ers struggle again, look for 2020 to become the make-or-break season of Shanahan's first head coaching stint. There was a lot of hype surrounding this new regime two years ago, and bad circumstances have probably bought Shanahan and general manager John Lynch at least an extra year. Just ask team owner Jed York, who doesn't appear to have lost any confidence in that duo.
Vic Fangio, Denver Broncos
John Elway looks as though he's growing increasingly impatient, but the Broncos' problems are mainly at the quarterback position. If that remains the case in 2019, look for quarterbacks coach T.C. McCartney and/or offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello to be scapegoated.
If Vance Joseph was able to survive two putrid seasons in Denver, Elway almost certainly won't fire the well-respected 60-year-old Fangio before at least giving him a chance to right the ship early in 2020.
Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders
For starters, the Raiders might simply owe Gruden too much money to fire him only two seasons into a reported 10-year, $100 million contract. Then there's the enormous PR hit associated with such a move, which couldn't come at a worse time with the team preparing to relocate to Las Vegas.
This is still somewhat of a rebuild following last year's shocking teardown. But with highly touted newbies Antonio Brown, Trent Brown, LaMarcus Joyner and Tyrell Williams eating up so much salary-cap space, they also know they can't afford to waste time. We're leaving the door slightly ajar, mainly because the Raiders are the Raiders.
Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
The eighth-winningest head coach in NFL history has turned the Chiefs offense into a freakin' work of art, and he's somewhat quietly won double-digit games in four consecutive playoff-worthy campaigns. No way the Chiefs break up Reid's relationship with MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, even if 2019 somehow becomes a write-off (always at least a small possibility in this unpredictable league).
But Reid's seat hasn't completely frozen over because he still hasn't overcome his reputation for playoff duds, and another embarrassing home playoff loss could change everything.
Pat Shurmur, New York Giants
There's no way in hell you can trade two of a coach's best players (Odell Beckham Jr. and Olivier Vernon) and let another walk in free agency (Landon Collins), stick him with an over-the-hill 38-year-old quarterback and expect him to win more than a few games, right? The Giants aren't hiding the fact they're rebuilding, and they're not the type of team to do something rash under those circumstances.
Shurmur can afford another five-ish-win season after going 5-11 last year. The only way he'll get canned now is if he appears to lose the locker room and the G-Men are held to a win or two (or less).
Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals
The only question here is whether Bengals owner Mike Brown has changed. The notoriously patient and thrifty Brown finally ran out of rope with Marvin Lewis after his 16th consecutive season without a playoff win (and third straight losing season), but will Taylor's rope have just as much slack? Or is Brown fed up in general and expecting the 35-year-old former Rams quarterbacks coach to suddenly turn Andy Dalton into Peyton Manning in 2019?
That we don't have a definitive answer leaves Taylor's seat cold but unfrosted.
Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans
The defensive specialist won nine games with a good-not-great team and got superb results on his side of the ball (ranking third in points allowed and eighth in yards allowed) in his debut season as an NFL head coach. His energy is something the young Titans can rally around, and they appeared to be playing hard for him even as injuries made life difficult in 2018.
Barring a winless campaign or something scandalous, the 43-year-old isn't going anywhere.
Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We suppose it's possible that 2019 could be enough of a disaster in Tampa for the no-nonsense Arians to retire for the third time in eight years. But the Buccaneers know this'll take some time and they caught a big fish in Arians. They won't throw it back.
If Bucs general manager Jason Licht were to fire Arians after just one season on the job, Licht would probably show up for work to find that his key card no longer works.
Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
Belichick really deserves his own category. The six-time Super Bowl champion's proverbial seat is located permanently at the Vostok Station in Antarctica, which, according to Scientific American, is the coldest place on Earth.
When his coaching career ends, it'll be his decision.
Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
After missing the playoffs for the first time during the Russell Wilson era in 2017, Carroll bought himself several years' worth of rope by leading a depleted Seahawks team back to the postseason last year. It was the seventh consecutive winning season for the league's oldest head coach.
His time in Seattle will almost certainly end with a retirement, not a pink slip.
Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins
One-and-done seasons happen, even in ridiculous cases in which coaches have inherited bad teams. But the Dolphins have been gutting their roster, and their lack of action at key positions (Ryan Fitzpatrick is slated to start at quarterback!) indicates they know 2019 is a lost cause.
That probably guarantees Flores more than one season regardless of whether the Dolphins are the worst team in the NFL this year.
Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers
Lynn has put together back-to-back winning seasons since taking over as the franchise relocated from San Diego, so he's gotta be pretty damn safe entering Year 3 on the job. Dude's coming off a 12-win season in which the Bolts finally overcame their allergy to the division-rival Chiefs and then won a playoff game in Baltimore.
Even if the Chargers abruptly fall on their face in 2019, Lynn will likely get a chance to fix that in 2020.
Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
Teams with head coaching vacancies just spent several weeks drooling over candidates who had any connection at all to McVay, who won Coach of the Year as a 31-year-old in 2017 and then took his team to the Super Bowl as a 32-year-old in 2018.
He could suddenly go 0-16 as a 33-year-old in 2019 but would still retain his job in L.A.
Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
Nagy has young quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on the right track, but that's just part of the reason he was Coach of the Year in 2018. The 40-year-old took a team that hadn't experienced a winning season since 2012 and immediately led it to 12 wins and the playoffs, where they might have had a run in them if not for that whole Cody Parkey thing.
Not even a significant sophomore hiccup would jeopardize his job.
Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
There's a feeling that when the longest-tenured NFL head coach not named Belichick departs New Orleans, he'll do so on his own terms. Seven double-digit-win seasons and a Super Bowl victory in a 13-year span will do that, especially considering that one of those seasons was lost as a result of his Bountygate suspension.
And don't forget, if not for an abysmal blown call, Payton would be coming off another Super Bowl appearance.
Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles
Fourteen months ago this week, Pederson delivered the city of Philadelphia its first-ever Vince Lombardi Trophy and its first NFL championship since 1960. And he fought through the hangover to sneak into the postseason and win another playoff game in 2018.
He's not immune to a future firing just yet, but he's probably bought himself about a decade.
Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts
Few expected Reich's Colts to take off as quickly as they did in his first year on the job, but the 57-year-old's innovative offense was effective from the get-go and only got better over the course of what was a breakout/comeback season for quarterback Andrew Luck.
Throw in that Reich got Indy back to the playoffs for the first time in four years and led it to a road postseason victory over the division-rival Texans, and this is a no-brainer. He's got the job for years to come.