LOS ANGELES, December 27, 2014 — Happy Hanukkah. You’re fired. Merry Christmas. Clean out your desk. Felice Navidad. Hand in your bathroom key and your playbook. The NFL Coaching Carousel is about to spin like a Dreidel. Where it stops only the owners know.
The Raiders fired Dennis Allen after only four games this year, and Tony Sparano was only given the title of interim coach. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made the first pre-Black Monday announcement, and it was a surprising one. Joe Philbin is not being fired despite the Dolphins missing the playoffs. Philbin will coach the Fins in 2015.
It seems silly, but last year Jason Garrett and Mike Tomlin were on the hot seat. Now they have the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers playoff-bound at 11-4 and 10-5, respectively.
There are several rules owners should follow. Never ever fire a coach after a winning season. Never fire a coach after two losing seasons if they had four or five winning seasons prior. If a coach has won a Super Bowl for you, leave him alone. If he has won two Super Bowls for you, give him a lifetime contract. Lastly, if it is a close call, give the coach one more year.
Around 13 teams have had rumors about coaching changes, although some of these rumors have zero credence or rationale.
Black Monday in 2014 comes on December 29. An analysis of each NFL situation where even the slightest mention of a coaching change occurred allows for ranking these coaching situations.
Deserve to be fired and will be fired:
Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears — The Bears are a mess. Trestman was supposed to know offense and quarterbacks, but Jay Cutler has regressed. While the team was one play away from making the playoff last year, that is misleading. Trestman inherited a 10-6 team and went 8-8 and now much worse. The McCaskeys are a patient ownership group but the fans want the entire thing blown up. They will get their wish, as Trestman and General Manager Phil Emery are gone.
Tony Sparano, Oakland Raiders — Sparano took over an 0-4 team and lost six straight. The Raiders at 0-10 then won three of five, including all three home games. However there was a 52-0 loss in-between those games. The bottom line is that Owner Mark Davis wants and needs a rock star to excite the fan base. The players like Sparano, but they liked Joe Bugel. This young team has a great rookie quarterback in Derek Carr and a defensive standout in rookie Khalil Mack. General Manager Reggie McKenzie could be fired, but he should be allowed to stay based on his 2014 Draft class. With Jon Gruden staying at ESPN, Davis will press hard for Jim Harbaugh. Walrus Mike Holmgren is a possibility.
Deserve to stay, but will be fired:
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers — Harbaugh is gone, and this move is lunacy. Three straight NFC Title Games and one trip to the Super Bowl should be enough to earn another five years easily. Yet Harbaugh does not get along with General Manager Trent Baalke, who has never coached a football game. Harbaugh has a reputation for being difficult. So what? Vince Lombardi, George Halas and Bill Parcells were not warm and fuzzy. They were just winners. Somebody should give Harbaugh everything he wants and get out of the way. Eddie DeBartolo would never let his subordinates destroy things. When the Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season, they regretted it. The 49ers will rue letting Harbaugh go.
New York Jets, Rex Ryan—This is a situation where even a good coach cannot win with players who are losers. Rex Ryan got the Jets to consecutive AFC Title Games without a good quarterback. Ryan, like his father Buddy, is one of the all-time great defensive minds. Ryan wants to run the ball and play defense. Quarterback play has been dreadful, and that is not his fault. He does not teach butt-fumbling in practice. General Manager John Idzik will probably fire Ryan because Ryan was hired by the previous GM. Idzik was forced to keep Ryan for one year, and now wants to bring in his own guy. Ryan is capable of turning it around, but somebody needs to draft him some decent offensive players. Woody Johnson may fire Idzik and Ryan. The smarter move would be to fire Idzik and keep Ryan, since Idzik sabotaged Ryan before the season began by hoarding salary cap money.
Very close call, could go either way:
Atlanta Falcons, Mike Smith—The Atlanta Falcons in four decades never had consecutive winning seasons before his arrival. He led the Falcons to five straight winning seasons including the best record in the NFC twice. Two years ago they were less than ten yards from a trip to the Super Bowl. Winning the NFC South at 7-9 impresses nobody, but losing the finale at home to miss the playoffs could be his undoing. It would be a terrible mistake for Arthur Blank to fire him, but the Falcons were a terrible organization for a long time.
Jacksonville, Jaguars, Gus Bradley — A second consecutive season of 4-12 or worse puts Bradley on the hot seat, but he deserves one more year. Blake Bortles has shown ability at quarterback. Another 4-12 season will doom Bradley, but he should survive into 2015.
Washington, Jay Gruden — Washington is a disaster. Jay Gruden deserves more than one year to show what he can do, but Daniel Snyder is an impatient owner. Snyder may fire everyone, from President Bruce Allen to Gruden to all three quarterbacks Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy. He may fire nobody. Snyder likes Griffin and wants him to succeed. What Snyder does is always a mystery.
Carolina Panthers, Ron Rivera — Jerry Richardson is a patient owner but Rivera was on the hot seat before the Panthers overachieved last year to go 12-4. They were expected to regress and did, but have won three straight after a 3-8-1 start. If Carolina wins their finale, they make the playoffs. In that case Rivera is going nowhere. Even a loss should not hang Rivera since being one year removed from going 12-4 should give him one more year. Rivera is probably staying either way.
Deserve to be fired, but will stay: Nobody.
Not going anywhere:
New York Giants, Tom Coughlin —He wants to return, which should end the discussion. He led a pair of Giants teams that were not that special to a pair of Super Bowl wins. Last year the team began 0-6, yet finished 7-9. This year they started 3-9 but have won three straight. They instilled a new offense this year and it took time to adjust. The players fight hard for him, and the Giants are successful because they show plenty of patience with coaches. Coughlin will retire when he wants to retire, and right now he still has the competitive fire. However, if the Giants do not make the playoffs next year, his status will be shaky.
Buffalo Bills, Doug Marrone — Despite losing to Oakland to fall to 8-7 and out of the playoffs, Buffalo is clearly improving. Their defense is outstanding. Marrone needs a long-term solution at quarterback. The only thing that could hurt is that the team has new owners. However, these owners probably do not want to anger the fans by replacing a coach who is doing a good job.
Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Despite being 2-13, the Glazers know that Smith inherited a mess and needs time to turn it around. Chicago collapsed when he was fired after nine good years. This is Smith’s first year in Tampa. He will not be one and done. Tampa Bay may have the top pick in the Draft.
Ken Whisenhunt, Tennessee Titans — This is the exact same scenario as Tampa Bay. The Titans are 2-13 in Whisenhunt’s first year, but he needs a quarterback. Taking Arizona to the Super Bowl pretty much guarantees Whisenhunt gets a second year to show improvement. Tennessee has a good shot at the top pick in the 2015 Draft.
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals — It seems idiotic to even put him on this list. The Bengals are going to the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, which they have never done before. They have a shot to win their division, although they are expected to lose and flame out in the first round of the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Lewis cannot seem to get the Bengals to the next level, but Mike Brown will remember what level they were before Lewis arrived. They were the Bungles. Andy Dalton has been inconsistent, but Brown would have to be crazy to even consider firing Lewis.