LOS ANGELES: Merry Christmas. You’re fired. Happy Hanukkah. You’re history. Happy Festivus. Clean out your desk and add this pink-slip to your list of grievances. Happy New Year. Best Wishes for 2019, but first hand in your bathroom and building key cards and your playbook.
The NFL coaching carousel is about to spin like a dreidel. The final regular season games are played on Sunday, December 30th. New Year’s Eve is Black Monday, when owners fire coaches and other underperforming personnel. Owners could theoretically wait until Tuesday, January 1st to fire employees, but the NFL is a cold place in losing environments. As retired coach Jerry Glanville used to say, the NFL stands for “Not For Long.”
The 2018 regular season has been relatively quiet. The normally patient Green Bay Packers in a stunning move fired Mike McCarthy after nearly 13 years. McCarthy deserved better, and Aaron Rodgers is now out of excuses. In a far less surprising move, the Cleveland Browns put Hue Jackson out of his misery. Jackson won only 3 of 40 games, a record of futility in the modern era.
Owners can fire any of their employees they want whenever they want, but that does not mean they should. There are certain unwritten rules that owners should consider before firing (or not) NFL coaches on Black Monday.
- Never fire a coach after a winning season. No matter how badly the team underachieves, some teams would kill to go 9-7.
- Do not fire a coach unless it is absolutely definite that a better replacement option exists.
- Do not fire a coach after one season unless there is zero hope for improvement. Bill Parcells won only three games in his first season as an NFL head coach. Jimmy Johnson won one game. Tom Landry won zero games and tied one.
- Do not fire a coach after two losing seasons if they had four or five winning seasons prior. Allow two or even three bad seasons if the coach has the ability to turn things around.
- If a coach has won a Super Bowl for you, leave him alone for a few years.
- If he has won two Super Bowls for you in non-consecutive years, give him a lifetime contract.
- Lastly, if it is a close call, give the coach one more year.
With that, here are the 2018 Black Monday NFL Coaches predictions.
Black Monday firings to anticipate:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Dirk Koetter
What should happen: Koetter is not getting the job done. A case could have been made for firing him last year. He has two quarterbacks that play well as backup and badly as starters. His defense is a mess.
What will happen: Koetter was given a reprieve last year. He has run out of rope. He’s gone.
Green Bay Packers — Joe Philbin
What should happen: Philbin is a placeholder after the surprise in-season firing of McCarthy. He is a boring, uninspired choice who seemed to go 8-8 every year he coached Miami.
What will happen: Philbin may get an interview, but the Rooney Rule requires at least one minority get interviewed. Philbin is the poster child for average nondescript white guy monthly. The Packers did not improve when he took over. Philbin may come back as a coordinator, but not as the head coach.
Should be fired but will stay:
Cincinnati Bengals — Marvin Lewis
What should happen: Last year with the Bengals at 5-8, Lewis announced his resignation with effective at the end of the season three weeks later. The season ended and he changed his mind and decided to stay. How did he pull that off? He has coached the team for 16 seasons without a single playoff victory. He lost his starting quarterback, but so did rival Baltimore. So did the defending Super Bowl champions last year.
What will happen: Mike Brown is not known for opening up his pocketbook for players or coaches. Who would take the job besides Hue Jackson or some coordinator with no head coaching experience? Lewis remains the default option.
Miami Dolphins — Adam Gase
What should happen: His supporters say he has been saddled with Ryan Tannehill. His critics point out that he was supposed to be an innovative offensive mind who could develop Tannehill. Miami was mediocre before he arrived and remain that way. Miami is one of the most exciting cities in America, yet they have the league’s most boring franchise.
What will happen: The job opening is not an attractive one, and 7-8 is not 3-12. Gase should be given one more year to finally get the Dolphins to the next level or be deposed.
New York Jets — Todd Bowles
What should happen: Bowles is just not winning enough games. The Jets may have finally found their quarterback in Sam Darnold, but 4-11 is what it is.
What will happen: A case can be made to give Bowles one more season with Darnold. Bowles’s seat would be white hot.
Denver Broncos — Vance Joseph
What should happen: This is a tough call because team President John Elway hired Joseph himself. Denver did rally from 3-6 to 6-6 but then lost three straight to miss the playoffs. Case Keenum has regressed after taking Minnesota to the NFC Title Game one year earlier.
What will happen: The Raiders are the sworn enemy of the Broncos. This one game could give Elway the impetus to act.
Jacksonville Jaguars — Doug Marrone
What should happen: The Jaguars led 20-10 on the road in the fourth quarter of the AFC Title Game last year with Blake Bortles at quarterback. Ever since that 24-20 heartbreaking loss, the team has collapsed. Bortles is not the answer. It is unfair to judge Marrone without giving him a quarterback.
What will happen: Marrone deserves to return based on 2017. Team President Tom Coughlin may throw him under the bus, but team owner Shad Khan could always fire Coughlin. Khan is a fairly patient owner, and this is a situation where patience would be justified. Somebody get Marrone a quarterback.
Black Monday survivors who deserve to stay:
Arizona Cardinals — Steve Wilks
What should happen: Wilks took over a rapidly declining team that Bruce Arians retired from just in time. The Cardinals are on pace for the top pick in the 2019 Draft. However, rookie quarterback Josh Rosen has shown promise. This is Wilks’s very first season as an NFL head coach anywhere. He may not be ready, but he deserves a second year for us all to find out.
What will happen:
Atlanta Falcons — Dan Quinn
What should happen: Two years ago the Falcons led 28-3 in the third quarter of the Super Bowl. The nightmarish collapse was followed by a downward spiral. The offense has malfunctioned with Kyle Shanahan now in San Francisco. While nothing about the Falcons is working, the team has not quit. Quinn deserves time to turn things around.
What will happen: Quinn will get another year, but his seat will be red hot next year.
Carolina Panthers: Ron Rivera
What should happen: Rivera should not be anywhere near this list. He has led Carolina to multiple division titles. Three years ago the Panthers were 15-1 and in the Super Bowl. Last year they made the playoffs with an 11-5 record. This year they started 6-2 before the wheels fell off. Cam Newton has been playing with a bad shoulder. The Panthers have lost seven straight games. Rivera is not only a widely respected coach but a pillar of his community.
What will happen: Under normal circumstances, Rivera would be totally safe. The only reason he could be fired is the change in ownership. Jerry Richardson liked Rivera a lot. Richardson sold the team to David Tepper before the 2018 season. Tepper may want to bring in his own guy. He did not become a billionaire by making rash decisions. He will be smart enough to leave things well enough alone and let Rivera get back to business with a healthy Newton.
Pittsburgh Steelers — Mike Tomlin
What should happen: Why is Tomlin ever on this list? Every two or three years the fans call for his head. In 10 years as head coach, he has never had a losing season. The Steelers have lost four of five games after a 7-2 start, but Tomlin’s teams are always competitive.
What will happen: The Steelers are a very patient organization, and that patience has been well rewarded. They should do what their most hated rival Baltimore just did and announce a contract extension for Tomlin. Give him as much time as he wants. With two Super Bowl trips and one win in the big game, he’s earned it.
Cleveland Browns — Gregg Williams
What should happen: He is only the interim coach. That interim label needs to be removed now. The Browns won only three of 40 games under his predecessor. The Browns are 5-2 since he took over, winning five of their last six. The entire team has improved in all phases.
What will happen: The Rooney Rule requires interviewing at least one minority candidate. However, Williams absolutely deserves to coach this team. It would be a horrendous mistake if anyone else was hired.