The NFL coaching carousel, and who’s getting thrown off it

(Another sinus bug, Thanksgiving, my 42nd birthday, life in general … and I end up gone from the blogosphere for another couple of weeks.  To paraphrase Remy the rat from Ratatouille, “I think it’s apparent that I need to rethink my blog a little bit.”  More on that in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, how about some football?)

Today, the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs fired head coaches Tony Sparano and Todd Haley, respectively.  This follows the Jacksonville Jaguars’ canning of Jack del Rio a couple of weeks ago.  A move like this always seems weird to me — if the season isn’t lost, why not wait until it’s over and see if the current guy can turn it around?  And if it IS lost, the only reason to boot the current fellow is to see if one of your current assistants can be The Man — but how can you tell that in only three games?  I dunno — to me it smacks of an owner trying to appease a fan base (or maybe a player base) that’s seriously disgruntled and out for blood.  “Here, tear this guy apart!”  The Owner says as he chucks the poor guy over the wall to the rampaging barbarians below, figuring that might stall them long enough for him to spirit his family out of the castle to the waiting escape ship …

Anyway, so three coaches gone, with three weeks still to go in the NFL regular season.  And it got me wondering, how many could end up gone by the time we reach the Super Bowl?  I took a few moments to look over the current standings and checked a few lifetime coaching records, and …

… and wouldja believe, as many as twelve?!?
Seriously — there could be a DOZEN coaching vacancies to fill come early January!  Let’s walk through the potential carnage for a moment, shall we?

(Disclaimer: just because a coach is fired doesn’t mean it was the coach’s fault the team is terrible.  Some coaches take the fall because the owner thinks he should be able to fix his team with a magic wand, or because the general manager wants someone else to take the fall so he doesn’t have to.  But sometimes a coach isn’t a very good playcaller, or has risen to the level of his incompetence, or has lost the respect of his players.  I’m not saying the men listed below should be terminated, just trying to divine how likely it is that they will be.  Feel free to voice objections in the comments section; I’ll make a good-faith effort to answer them.)

* It’s becoming common knowledge that St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo is gonzo at season’s end.  His team is 2-10 going into tonight’s game against Seattle, in a season where many expected them to run away with the division.  Furthermore, it’s his third year, and his overall record is 10-34 despite his team being in possibly the league’s weakest division.  You can’t blame the Rams for thinking they can do better.

*  A consensus is building that the San Diego Chargers’ Norv Turner has overstayed his welcome.  Every year, the Bolts seem to end up a disappointment (usually in the playoffs).  This year, they didn’t wait for the playoffs; the team has not played well, and is only 6-7 in a mediocre division.  And San Diego GM A.J. Smith is not a patient man, by all accounts …

* Indianapolis Colts head honcho Bill Polian is a patient man, but I have trouble imagining that Jim Caldwell will be kept on if (as expected) they finish 0-16 or 1-15.  Yeah, I know they lost quarterback/de facto offensive coordinator Peyton Manning for the year, but other teams have lost future Hall of Fame QBs in the past, and none of them ended up 0-for-the-universe.  Caldwell’s sideline demeanor (inert) doesn’t inspire confidence either.

We’re already up to six, and that’s just the ones who a) have already been dumped, and b) almost assuredly will be dumped.  There are eight more who appear to be on the hot seat.  Going roughly east to west:

* Andy Reid has been coaching the Philadelphia Eagles for 13 years, and has weathered storm after storm, both personal and football-related.  And if they can’t sweep the final three games, this will be only his third losing season (and first in six years).  But he was handed what appeared in August to be an All-Pro squad, and seems to have mismanaged it through his use of players and coaches in unfamiliar roles, and his much-documented weaknesses in clock management.  His long term of service may protect his job … or Eagles ownership may decide that things need to be shaken up, and where better to start than with the NFL’s longest-tenured coach?

* Mike Shanahan got off on the wrong foot last year with the Washington Redskins, and still hasn’t found the right one.  In almost two seasons in D.C., his record is 10-19, and he’s jerked his quarterbacks in and out like an NBC executive trying to reprogram Tuesday night.  Worse still, ‘Skins owner “Chainsaw” Dan Snyder is possibly the most impatient guy in the league, always trying to solve his team’s problems with a couple of “quick fixes.”  And there’s no quicker move one can make than replacing the dude with the headset …

* Chan Gailey doesn’t really have much to work with on the Buffalo Bills roster, so it probably shouldn’t be held against him that after a surprisingly strong 5-2 start, they’ve sunk back to their usual level of ineptitude and lost their last six.  That doesn’t mean his job is safe, though.

* Raheem Morris was thought to be in over his head with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from the day he was given the top job; he was only 32, had never been a head coach at any level, and was bumped all the way up from defensive backs coach.  After a horrid 2009 season (call it on-the-job training), he led the Bucs to a 10-6 record and a near-miss of the playoffs last year.  Big things were expected in 2011.  Big things have failed to happen — Tampa is 4-9 with games against Dallas and Atlanta still to come — and the blame for that could land on his shoulders.

* Leslie Frazier‘s job with the Minnesota Vikings is probably safe, since despite the team’s 2-11 record, it’s only his first full year as coach (he was 3-3 in 2010 after replacing the departed Brad Childress), the team is recovering from various problems and wasn’t expected to contend, and owner Zygi Wilf (a name I am totally not making up, honest) tends to be the patient sort.  But the possibility exists.

* Jason Garrett is in a similar position to Frazier (first full year with his team after taking over as an interim in mid-2010), but with three major differences.  One is that the Dallas Cowboys are one of the more talented teams in the league, and were expected by many to win big this year.  Another is that his boss, owner/GM/plastic surgery aficionado Jerry Jones, does NOT tend to be patient; he keeps his coaches on the shortest leash of anyone not named Snyder.  And third, while the Cowboys are no longer “America’s Team,” they do work under a far bigger spotlight than, say, the Vikings.  Add in that Garrett hasn’t helped his argument with some foolish decisions (like accidentally icing his own kicker a week ago), and his team has blown more than its share of leads, and it makes for an unstable situation that belies their 7-6 record.  My guess: if Dallas doesn’t make the playoffs, Jones will probably be looking for a new victim coach.

* Ken Whisenhunt is three years removed from taking the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl, a feat comparable with turning Bangladesh into an economic superpower.  But the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately?” league, and over the last two seasons, the Cards have gone 11-18 and have failed to find a quarterback who can stay healthy and play consistently well.  I don’t know if that’s entirely the coach’s fault, but if I were him, I’d update my resume, just in case.

* Pete Carroll is probably the least likely one on this list to be gone; he’s only in his second season with the Seattle Seahawks, and they did make the NFC Championship Game last year (albeit with a 7-9 regular-season record).  But this year they’re 5-7 going into tonight’s game versus the Rams, his personnel decisions have often been questionable (he appears to be the only person outside of Tarvaris Jackson’s or Charlie Whitehurst’s immediate families to think that either Jackson or Whitehurst is a good pro QB) and at some point ‘Hawks owner Paul Allen is going to want a winning record or something.  The clock is ticking, it’s just a matter of how fast …

Add that all up, and you’ve got fourteen teams that could potentially be hiring new skippers in the next few months.  And adding to the uncertainty is that there are a lot of veteran NFL coaches available for hire.  Bill Cowher, with nine division titles, two AFC championships and a Super Bowl ring on his resume, is doing his bit in the CBS studio every Sunday, but you know he’s listening for the right offer to head back to the sidelines.  Brian Billick and Tony Dungy won Super Bowls too, and might decide they’d like to get back to coaching.  There are plenty of co-ordinators out there like Josh McDaniels, Marty Morninghweg and Scott Linehan, who have been head coaches in the NFL and could do so again.  I could go on and on, but you get the picture — if a coach gets the heave-ho, there are dozens of qualified candidates ready to take his place.

It could be a verrrrrry interesting off-season for the NFL coaching carousel.  Because it is nowhere near stopping now …

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