Head coaches “on the hot seat” are a tradition in the NFL. Football fans are a passionate bunch and no one knee-jerks like NFL people (except maybe NBA owners, firing coaches in 12 games).
The NFL is like sumo wrestling: lots of preparation, followed by short and decisive conflict. Teams prepare through a long offseason of strength and conditioning, free agency, the NFL Draft, the ritual of OTAs, training camp, and preseason. After endless preparation, teams clash. Fans and GMs sift through the wreckage and declare a winner…and lots of losers.
The post-Thanksgiving NFL schedule always feels like the backstretch of a horse race. All the NFL teams are looking ahead to the future, but that can mean many different things in the National Football League.
Super Bowl contenders manage a fine line between conserving strength for the playoffs and building momentum to drive through the playoff schedule. Playoff contenders don’t have that luxury: they are leaving it all on the field, trying to scratch their way into the playoff bracket one way or another.
Hope and Dread in the NFL
Rebuilding teams are looking ahead to next year, which means turning over the roster, playing the rookies and young veterans, hoping to evaluate talent in a mode where losing games means a higher draft pick. In this situation, the coach is often a 1st-year or 2nd-year hireling who still has the front office on his side and still has time to experiment.
The Hot Seat
Then there are the coaches on the hot seat. Either the team had huge expectations–playoff expectations or Super Bowl pretensions–and the injury has been a disaster of injuries, controversies, and heartrending losses.
Alternately, the franchise might have entered the year hoping to climb from mediocrity to respectability, after years as an also-ran. In this situation, front office and fan perceptions are the coaching staff has had plenty of time to turn around the program and should be showing results on the field. The coach is on the hot seat, because the fans and owner have lost patience with slow progress.
The Moment of Truth
In each of these latter two situations, one moment or one game becomes the point-of-no-return. This article looks at the coaches facing make-or-break situations, and whether they have had their moment of truth.
Chip Kelly – Philadelphia Coach and GM
Nothing is more dangerous for an NFL coach than to become the General Manager. The GM is ultimately responsible for the product on the field. A head coach can always fall back on the fact he didn’t buy the groceries. But if he bought the groceries and cooked the meal, fans and owners have only him to blame for the results.
That’s what happened with Chip Kelly. He convinced Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to give him full control of the franchise. Then he made a series of questionable moves, sending along LeSean McCoy, Brandon Boykin, and Evan Mathis. He also shipped out starting QB Nick Foles, though most Eagles fans were happy with that news. To replace them, he added a spent Demarco Murray, an overrated Byron Maxwell, and an all-around disappointment in Sam Bradford.
People wondered exactly what Chip Kelly’s plan was, but he was coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons. In an NFL East with only the Dallas Cowboys as a serious rival, many people saw the Philadelphia Eagles as division champs.
The results have been bad and, in retrospect, predictably bad. Sam Bradford proved it wasn’t the Rams franchise which was holding him back. Byron Maxwell proved it was the Seahawks defense which made him look like such a tempting free agent. Demarco Murray proved (once again) that running backs who get 370+ carries in a season aren’t the same runner the next year.
Overall, the offense has been spotty and the defense has been nothing short of bad. Over a four-day period this past week, they gave up a record 5 touchdowns to a rookie quarterback (Jameis Winston) and made Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson look like the players they were 5 years ago. They got outscored 90-31 these past two games.
The Thanksgiving Day meltdown is a killer for Chip Kelly. It’s my guess that is the effective end of his tenure with the Eagles. He is fully to blame for all of this. No one else is accountable. This 4-7 team is what he wanted, and it was on display for the whole United States yesterday. Expect to see the team continue its season-long mediocrity, go 6-10 or 7-9, and Chip Kelly end up in college again next year.
Jason Garrett – Dallas Cowboys Head Coach
I’d bet a lot of money Jason Garrett is the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys at the start of 2016. Jerry Jones is going to blame this debacle on Tony Romo’s injury, giving Jason Garrett a pass. In a micro-sense, that’s true. In the macro-sense, that’s absolutely untrue.
From start to finish, the 2015 Dallas Cowboys were built on the wrong assumptions.
Living in North Texas, I can attest to the fact Cowboys fans want Jason Garrett gone. It’s not that they think he’s entirely to blame; it’s just that they’re convinced he’s not up to the challenge. None of those opinions matter. Only the opinion of Jerry Jones makes any difference. Jerry has based this team’s construction on flawed assumptions; those assumptions will prevail through this situation; and he’ll keep Tony Romo and Jason Garrett into 2016, assuming a bit better health is all that’s needed to turn the corner.
Aside: I totally disagree with that assumption, which I discuss in this post.
Jay Gruden – Washington Redskins HC
All head coaches of the Washington Redskins have a Sword of Damocles hanging over them. Daniel Snyder likes to befriend players and undermine coaches. He and his entourage seem to like to meddle and give their opinions, which alienates most real coaches.
That being said, the next 5 games are a pivotal time for Jay Gruden. Kirk Cousins’ development is the key component in whether Gruden is fired or resigns in the offseason. If the team loses and Kirk Cousins looks good, then Jay Gruden keeps his job. If the team wins some games, but their quarterback looks awful, that is more problematic.
I’d stay Jay Gruden is a 50-50 proposition at this point. If you put a gun to my head, I’d say Gruden loses his job.
Jim Caldwell – Detroit Lions Head Coach
Given Matthew Stafford’s recent resurgence, this is going to sound funny. Maybe I’m wrong. Frankly, I hope I’m wrong, because the Lions were one of my favorite teams after the Matt Millen Years.
Since Jim Caldwell came to the Detroit Lions, something has been missing. It seems like the Lions’ offense became too conservative, with too many checkdowns. That might have been Jim Caldwell’s and Joe Lombardi’s plan, after the emotion-packed, freewheeling atmosphere created under Jim Schwartz. Maybe they decided to rein-in Matt Stafford, in hopes of making him into a more responsible, less mistaken-prone player.
If so, it only half-succeeded. Since Jim Caldwell got to town, the Lions Offense has floundered. It was overlooked in Season 1, because the Lions Defense was superior and the more conservative approach helped the defense.
In Season 2, it became such a disaster that Joe Lombardi was replaced as Lions offensive coordinator on October 27 by Jim Bob Cooter (one of the best names in football). Since then, things have improved and the Lions have won 3 games in a row.
The resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time for Jim Caldwell. The veteran coach was being seen as a man on the hot seat, complete with fan sites dedicated to getting rid of him. The last few weeks remain pivotal, though, so Jim Bob Cooter, Matthew Stafford, and Megatron are key.
If I had to bet, I’d wager that Jim Caldwell is going to be back with the Detroit Lions in 2016. The Ford Family has shown remarkable patience with front office personnel in the past. They waited 7 years to fire Matt Millen. It took an 0-16 season for the family to finally get rid of the ex-Super Bowl linebacker.
Jim Tomsula – San Francisco 49ers Coach
Jim Tomsula is presiding over a shipwreck with the Niners organization. The offseason was as big of a disaster, with several prominent retirements and massive free agent upheaval. The Aldon Smith departure made things worse.
Now, everybody points to Jim Harbaugh’s successful first season with the Michigan Wolverines and thinks the team made the wrong decision.
I bet Trent Baalke doesn’t see it that way. He probably sees that Jim Harbaugh got out “while the getting was good”. Unless Baalke faces firing himself, I bet he gives his embattled coach a pass.
Nobody blames Jim Tomsula for all of this, at least no one rational. In the end, all the troubles could have been surmounted if Colin Kaepernick had been the franchise player many hoped he would be. He hasn’t been the same since teams figured out the Spread Option Offense, much like RGIII hasn’t been the same. Kaepernick is going to get the blame and be shipped on in the offseason. I bet Jim Tomsula gets one more year.
Mike McCoy – San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers have been a disaster in 2015, due to injuries and ineffectivness. At 2-8 and with a 6-game losing streak, anything is possible. With a stadium issue looming and the team likely to move to Los Angeles in the near future, an ill wind is blowing with the NFL’s San Diego franchise.
I would not want to be Mike McCoy, who was riding so high this time a year ago.
Fantasy owners have probably been happy with Philip Rivers’ output, along with Keenan Allen’s before he went on IR. You could say the same about Danny Woodhead and Antonio Gates, until the Kansas City Chiefs game last Sunday. Then Woodhead and Gates had 1 point and Philip Rivers didn’t have many more. Fantasy football doesn’t have much to do with an NFL team’s onfield product, but it contributes greatly to fan discontent. Homer fans draft hometown players higher and expect more of them. When they go bad, it contributes greatly to the aura of negativity surrounding a team.
In his third year as head coach, Mike McCoy is thus at a point when NFL coaches often get fired. Few lose their job after one season, no matter how bad the results. Second-year head coaches get fired if their tenure has been one big disaster or serious player issues happen. Most get a third season to produce a turnaround, while anything after that is gravy.
The timing is bad here for Mike McCoy. In his first season, he led the team to a 9-7 record and an upset victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card game. He even had the team poised to upset the Denver Broncos, before eventually losing to them 24-17. In his second year, the Chargers also finished 9-7, but failed to make the playoffs. Now, they are 2-8 and certain to show regression for the second season in a row.
This is bad regression, too. The San Diego Chargers are likely to fire Mike McCoy and get a fresh start for their franchise.
Mike Pettine – Cleveland Browns
Like the Redskins, it seems like the Cleveland Browns head coach is always on the hot seat. This is the job which made Bill Belichick look bad, for Pete’s sake. Given the passion of the fans and the incompetence of the front office, it is no surprise that Mike Pettine faces an uncertain future.
It’s hard to blame the ex-Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator. Unless you can prove to me Mike Pettine is to blame for spending your two 1st round picks in 2014 on Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert, it’s hard for me to say Mike Pettine is the person in this situation who deserves to lose his job.
I’d find every single person who thought it was a good idea to draft Manziel AND Gilbert and fire them. One massive bust is bad, but two in one round is unforgiveable.
Quite likely, Mike Pettine will be the victim of an organizational sweep. Everyone with any meaningful power in the organization is likely to go. Maybe that’s what’s best for everyone involved, but it somehow seems unfair to the guy. But that’s what the Browns do: change everything every 2 or 3 years. Mike Pettine knew that coming into this job, or he should have known that. Maybe the ownership is going to continue to change things wholesale, until some magic formula appears. I bet they’ll stay on this cycle for a while, if that’s their plan, though.
If Pettine’s tenure had its moment of truth in 2015, it was when compromising pictures of Johnny Football surfaced of a bye week party in Austin, Texas. Or maybe it was the moment Johnny Manziel lied to the team’s leadership about the incident and Mike Pettine replaced him as the starting quarterback…just days after promoting him. Whoever is to blame, this franchise has disaster written all over it.
My advice to the Cleveland Browns: draft a franchise quarterback next time. That makes coaches so much better. Poor Mike Pettine.
NFL Coaching Carousel: Which Coaches Are Likeliest to Be Fired?
That’s the NFL’s 2015 coaching carousel. A few of the coaches discussed above are going to survive into 2016. I bet one of those considered doomed will make it, much to everyone’s surprise. But these are the 7 NFL head coaches on the hottest hot seat with their franchises in the fateful December of 2015.