Which head coaches are in trouble in 2016?
It’s that time of the season again. As various team’s destinies become cemented, the fate of head coaches around the league become clearer. It’s time to take a look at who’s in trouble, and who can rest easy.
This year I’ll be taking a simpler approach to the rankings: either safe or unsafe. I won’t be trying to get cute and predict exactly when they’ll be fired. “Unsafe” doesn’t mean they will definitely be fired – but certain conditions not being met could lead to their dismissal in this writer’s humble opinion.
Baltimore Ravens – John Harbaugh
This hasn’t been a textbook season for the Ravens, but their measly .500 record at this stage still keeps them in line for a playoff berth in a weak division. However just like last year, they’ve struggled with key injuries. Lack of depth is an issue that can’t be thrown at the head coach’s feet – it’s on the GM to provide. The smart move is to hold on to this talented coach for at least another year. His contract is up at the end of this year, so perhaps Baltimore could decide to part ways – but it would seem more likely to me that if anyone makes a decision to part ways, it’s John himself. Verdict: Safe.
Cincinnati Bengals – Marvin Lewis
Last year I predicted that Lewis would be fired on Black Monday if the Bengals went one-and-done in the playoffs. They did, and they didn’t. However, this year is another make/break season for them. The Bengals have a very talented roster and until A.J. Green went down in week 11 they’d managed to avoid the serious injury bug. Which begs the question – why they can’t capitalise on a poor division this year? Lewis has been handed every opportunity to succeed and squandered it. Verdict: Unsafe.
Cleveland Browns – Hue Jackson
The Cleveland Hydra continues on its terrifying path, using three different QBs (4 if you include Terrelle Pryor) to bring the total count of different QBs to start since 2005 to 20 (or 21). They now have a new head coach in Hue Jackson, their 6th in the same time frame. And they’re not adverse to moving on after one season – just ask Rob Chudzinski. However, Jackson has been saying the “right” things about their record and where the team needs to go, and while it’s easy to look at this winless team and think they’ll be moving on – I wouldn’t be so sure. Jackson inherited a lot of problems that he’s been tasked with putting right, and will get at least one more year to show progress. Verdict: Safe.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Tomlin
This is one of the toughest ones to predict. Although Tomlin coached Pittsburgh to Super Bowl victory in 2008, the record since hasn’t been as strong. In the 8 years since, they’ve been to the playoffs 4 times (with a loss in the Super Bowl to Green Bay, two wildcard losses including the infamous overtime loss to the Tebow-led Broncos and a divisional round loss) and finished in every position but last in the division. They’re just alive in the division right now, and anything short of a playoff appearance should be the end of Tomlin’s time in Pittsburgh. Verdict: Unsafe.
Buffalo Bills – Rex Ryan
Year two is when you like to see pieces falling into place for a new head coaching regime – not necessarily going big, but showing promise. Unfortunately the Bills have been playing to less than the sum of their parts, struggling with a league-worst passing offence. Perhaps this was to be expected when the Ryan Brothers are in town – two very strong personalities with a defensive mind. However, conventional wisdom states that a coach needs 3 years to show their true colours – and Buffalo could get some key draft positions this season to help Rex’s case. Verdict: Safe.
Miami Dolphins – Adam Gase
This has been a pleasing outing for Gase, in his first ever head coaching gig. With something of a reputation as a quarterback whisperer, the expectations were high that he could make Tannehill play at the same level as his contract. The season got off to a rough start with a 1-4 record, but since then they’ve won 5 in a row. They haven’t been highly convincing wins, but wins nonetheless. Add to the mix that this is Gase’s first year and there’s no conceivable chance that he’ll be let go. Verdict: Safe.
New England Patriots – Bill Belichick
Really, I have to explain why Belichick is safe at the end of the year? The Patriots control their own destiny in the AFC and continue to look like Super Bowl contenders. No other coach has done so much with so little outside of Brady and Gronkowski (and lest we forget that 14 of the players in New England are ex-Browns). Love them or hate them, there’s no denying his genius. Verdict: Safe.
New York Jets – Todd Bowles
Todd Bowles’ second year as head coach of the Jets hasn’t been one to write home about, but he’s not entirely to blame. The quarterback play has been dire across the entire roster this year –with Fitzpatrick’s second season in green resulting in more interceptions than touchdowns. Bowles needs to get a strong finish to the season to have a realistic chance of keeping his job. If they finish 6-10 this year, he’ll be 16-16 across two seasons, enough to warrant another chance. 5-11 might also do it, depending on how well he can talk himself out of it to the front office. However, anything less and it would not be surprising to see New York make a change. Verdict: Unsafe.
Indianapolis Colts – Chuck Pagano
It’s easy to look at the Colts’ poor roster and think “Pagano has nothing to work with.” And you’d be partly right – poor rosters lie primarily on the shoulders of the GM. But after some questionable decisions in London (including sitting Gore on 4th & 1) and that horrific trick play from last season, sympathy has to have run out for Pagano, surely. This is another disastrous season for Indianapolis, and the word “playoffs” shouldn’t even be uttered in the same sentence. Of course, I was wrong last season about Chuck – so we’ll see. Verdict: Unsafe.
Houston Texans – Bill O’Brien
When the team hands you a talented quarterback (and I will defend Osweiler on that front) you expect some level of success. Continuing to sit atop the division with arguably the strongest roster (only Jacksonville can really contend that point) is at least SOME level of success. He’ll see another year to make Brock fit in more comfortably and earn that big contract (which I WON’T defend). Verdict: Safe.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Gus Bradley
The Gus Bus should have been pedal-to-the-metal, soaring across the broken bridge to safety in a division that’s open to almost anyone. 90’s action movies aside, Gus has done absolutely nothing with one of the best rosters in this division. Bortles has gone backwards, the tandem of Allen & Allen has been ineffective, and that defence needs to hang its head. With the talent available, I pegged the Jaguars to be a wildcard team this year – and I would not be surprised if the front office thought the same. Verdict: Unsafe.
Tennessee Titans – Mike Mularkey
I was as surprised as anyone to see Mularkey being kept on this year, but the front office obviously saw something they liked in him. It’s paid off though – the Titans have equalled their previous two-season win record combined this year, including a decisive trouncing of the Packers. The schedule down the home straight doesn’t look too terrifying either, and if Houston and Indianapolis continue to struggle we could see them move up a slot. Unlike Gus, Mularkey has done good things with a relative lack of talent all-round, and they’d do well to hold on to him. Verdict: Safe.
Denver Broncos – Gary Kubiak
The relationship between GM (or in this case, “VP of football operations”) and head coach is one of the most underrated relationships in the league – which is a shock considering how important it is. Elway and Kubiak have a massive history together, and are clearly on the same page. This connection can elevate teams above their roster, and we’ve seen this in Denver this year. Great personnel decisions combined with clever coaching to get the best of them has kept a struggling offence in the playoff mix. As long as Denver can continue to look at the post-season, Kubiak will have a seat. Verdict: Safe.
Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid
Midway through his fourth season in Kansas, questions have to be asked about Reid’s effectiveness. He’s never managed better than 2nd, and never progressed past the divisional round in the playoffs. Is it that Denver have dominated the West for so long (and now Oakland are making their name too), or is it that Andy Reid’s coaching style is too conservative to have the big success in the post season? In his 11 career playoff appearances, he’s taken a team to one Super Bowl (in which his Eagles lost to New England). He may have a great regular season record in his career, but his lack of playoff success could be the final nail in the coffin for a team who hasn’t hoisted the Lombardi since 1969. Verdict: Unsafe.
Oakland Raiders – Jack Del Rio
There are many parallels to be drawn between the Oakland Raiders and the MLB’s Houston Astros (which is made even more apt by the fact that the Raiders are the only NFL team to play in a shared football/baseball stadium). Both have been a laughing stock for some time. Both have prioritised youth with a couple of veterans to anchor and lead. Both have had this come to fruition and had success explode from seemingly nowhere. The Raiders are in a serious position to take the division, and many – including myself – would not be surprised to see them in the AFC Championship game. Give credit to Del Rio and his staff for the excellent work done with rookies and second-year players. Verdict: Safe.
San Diego Chargers – Mike McCoy
Another year, another basement finish for the Chargers – barring any late-season meltdowns. They’ve been getting slowly worse since 2009, and Philip Rivers has to be wondering when his time will come. McCoy’s fourth year in San Diego is yielding nothing to be positive about, and they have to be looking around at who’s available to give this talented team the right push. Verdict: Unsafe.
Chicago Bears – John Fox
Ordinarily, despite this terrible season, I would argue that Fox gets another year to try and turn things around. This season has not been kind with injuries and suspensions, and Fox has been fighting a losing battle. However, the Bears have hired an outside consultant to look at the entire structure of the organisation, and frankly nobody is safe. Expect them to hit the big reset button once this year is in the rear view mirror. Verdict: Unsafe.
Detroit Lions – Jim Caldwell
Jim Caldwell survived last season, and it’s paid off for Detroit in the latter half of the season. Currently atop the NFC North at time of writing, Caldwell’s Lions look like they’re headed back to the playoffs as long as they can keep Minnesota at bay. It’s promising for a team that lost key players Suh and Johnson over the last couple of years and have a little rebuilding work to do. Expect the front office to keep faith in Caldwell if this run of strength continues. Verdict: Safe.
Green Bay Packers – Mike McCarthy
Last year I called McCarthy one of the few tenured coaches in the league who would get to announce their own retirement, but after Green Bay’s recent meltdown I’m not so sure. The Packers haven’t finished third in the division since 2008 – and been to the playoffs in each of those years – but they’re looking like they could put up one of the worst seasons in recent years. That said, he should have hopefully built up enough good will with the decision makers in Green Bay to stay around and help right the ship. He needs help from the GM to draft youthful impact players and make better splashes in free agency though. Verdict: Safe.
Minnesota Vikings – Mike Zimmer
It’s easy to look at the 4 game slide that Minnesota had recently and start looking for the panic button, but hold your horses a minute. Their position certainly isn’t as strong as it was before their bye week, but this seems to me to just be a case of things levelling themselves out in the universe. Crucial injuries to Bridgewater and Peterson had people writing off their season before it began – and then they went on a 5 game streak. Now the cracks are beginning to show, but it’s not a coaching issue. Zimmer has done excellent things with the hand he was dealt, and deserves to be given a chance to prove what he can do down the stretch, and next year as well with a healthy roster. Verdict: Safe.
Dallas Cowboys – Jason Garrett
Jason Garrett has been one of the luckiest head coaches in recent times, surviving mid-table mediocrity that would have other coaches fired. It’s telling of his relationship with Jones that he’s still around and good news for Cowboys fans too. This year Dallas have been incredibly dominant behind their rookies, which can be partially credited to great game planning. Verdict: Safe.
New York Giants – Ben McAdoo
After the first 5 weeks, it looked like another ho-hum season for New York – but they’ve turned it around. Outside of Beckham, McAdoo has inherited a largely aged team in need of rejuvenation, but he’s done well in his debut season. He’ll get a few years to show what he can do. Verdict: Safe.
Philadelphia Eagles – Doug Pederson
Early in the season, the rookie of the year discussion was between Prescott and Wentz, however Wentz has seemingly slammed into the rookie wall and started making questionable mistakes. These are the issues that will be looked at when it’s time to review Pederson’s position in the franchise – but that time doesn’t come this year. A rookie QB and a new head coach will always (or should always, at least) get time to work together and form a relationship. Verdict: Safe.
Washington Redskins – Jay Gruden
Credit Gruden with seeing something in Cousins that many of us didn’t. A player who looked like a career backup was given the faith to lead the franchise this season, and he’s delivered. Leading the league in QBR at time of writing, Cousins has made the most of the chances given to him and Washington could make a real run for the playoffs down the stretch. Gruden will get more chances to work with a QB who will become one of the highest paid and continue his development. Verdict: Safe.
Atlanta Falcons – Dan Quinn
After a strong start in 2015, Atlanta came out of their bye week and went 2-5. It’s not a great look for a team that should be an offensive powerhouse with Ryan and Jones, but at 6-4 so far this season they’re making a case for keeping Quinn on board. He’ll be into his third year in 2017 which will be the real make-or-break year. Verdict: Safe.
Carolina Panthers – Ron Rivera
Teams who win the Super Bowl often suffer from the “Super Bowl hangover” the year after. In Carolina’s case, it’s the NFC Championship hangover. Questions will be asked about that loss, and the poor play this season – but his 50-37 career record should be enough to convince the front office that he deserves a chance to stick around. He was introduced as head coach when Cam Newton was drafted, and ripping away that relationship could make the Panthers’ life more difficult in coming years. Verdict: Safe.
New Orleans Saints – Sean Payton
Another year, another disappointing season for Sean Payton’s Saints. Last year I predicted he would be one of the coaches fired, and I’m sticking to that. The reset button needs to be pressed in the Big Easy, and they need new blood across the entire team. The debate about Drew Brees’ future still rages on, and Payton is in that mix. Verdict: Unsafe.
Tamp Bay Buccaneers – Dirk Koetter
Koetter has been tasked with taking the promise Winston showed pre-draft and developing the talent we all know he has, coming from the pro-style offence he played in at college. Although currently sitting at a .500 record, there’s plenty to be hopeful about for the Bucs in the coming seasons, and they’ll look for Koetter to keep it going. Verdict: Safe.
Arizona Cardinals – Bruce Arians
Arizona is another team that isn’t playing to their full potential, and part of that has to lie with the coach. However, when you look at his body of work as a head coach Bruce Arians has put together a good record, and it would be a mistake to fire him after one bad season. His seat will be warm for sure in the coming years, but this year he can rest easy. Verdict: Safe.
Los Angeles Rams – Jeff Fisher
What does Jeff Fisher have to do to get fired? One of the, if not the, losingist coaches in history, Fisher somehow continues to keep his head above water. One can only assume he has had something on owner Stan Kroenke to keep his job this long – but patience has to have run out. This year he mismanaged the Jared Goff situation, ignoring the fans repeated calls in the hope that Case Keenum could somehow steer them to victory. Coupled with a record that would normally put them bottom of the division if it weren’t for San Francisco and it’s hard to justify keeping him around any longer. Verdict: Unsafe.
San Francisco 49ers – Chip Kelly
The most divisive coach in the league right now was asked to take the helm of a drowning team and star handing out buckets to bail out the water. So far, it’s been a disaster – but look who they have to work with. Big name retirees and players going elsewhere, coupled with a QB rotation that is terrible at best. Last year’s firing of Tomsula after one season was somewhat of an anomaly, adding credence to the idea that he was there just to be thrown under the bus. Kelly gets a little more time to correct the issues – San Francisco isn’t Cleveland. Verdict: Safe.
Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll
Every year the Seahawks start slow and then string together crucial wins to finish strong. This year is no exception with Seattle now sat atop the NFC West and a 3 game lead. Carroll continues to find ways to win despite losing Lynch – helped enormously by the terrific talent that is Russell Wilson and that defence. They’ve also learned how to use a tight end in the passing game this season, adding an extra dimension to the offence. Carroll will be leaving his mark on the league for some time to come. Verdict: Safe.