LOS ANGELES, December 29, 2016 — Merry Christmas. You’re fired. Happy Hanukkah. Here is your pink slip. Happy New Year. Clean out your desk. Enjoy 2017. 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.
Last year the Rams and Jaguars allowed Jeff Fisher and Gus Bradley to survive Black Monday. This year after moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles, the Rams fired Fisher with three games left in the season and the Rams at 4-9. One week later Bradley was fired by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the team at 2-12. Then on the Tuesday before the regular season finale, the Buffalo Bills fired Rex Ryan and his twin brother Rob Ryan, Buffalo’s defensive coordinator. The firings of Fisher and Rex Ryan sparked debate, while Bradley as the losingest coach in NFL history (minimum 60 games coached) had to go.
Not every situation is so cut and dry. It seems silly, but in 2014 Ron Rivera was on the hot seat. In 2015 his 15-1 Carolina Panthers made the Super Bowl. Last year Jason Garrett was on the hot seat after a 4-12 season with the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones stayed patient and this year Garrett has the 13-2 Cowboys atop the NFC.
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.
These reasons are why John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens and Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers are as safe as it gets. They have an overall track record of success and the confidence of their owners.
This year 14 teams, nearly half of the league, could have coaching changes. To be fair, at least four of these potential firings are serious reaches with almost zero credence or rationale.
Black Monday 2016 actually comes on January 2, 2017. Here is an analysis of each NFL situation where even the slightest chance of a coaching change could occur.
Here are the 2016 Black Monday predictions.
Deserve to be fired and will be fired:
St. Louis Rams — John Fassel
What should happen: Fisher went from being one of the most respected guys in football to one of the most polarizing. His critics labeled him overrated, and after five losing seasons with Fisher, he was let go. John Fassel is the interim coach.
What will happen: The chances of Fassel being given the job permanently are zero. Fisher may have survived in small market St. Louis, but in Los Angeles owner Stan Kroenke needs a rock star name for the impatient fans. Fassel is not it.
Jacksonville Jaguars — Doug Marrone
What should happen: Bradley was awful, and Doug Marrone does not inspire anyone. Then again, despite people thinking Doug Marrone and Mike Mularkey are the same person, Mularkey has done adequately in Tennessee. Marrone is a retread, but at least he is not Bradley.
What will happen: Owner Shad Khan has not committed to Marrone. Any Jaguars coach is lucky that he is in the smallest television market where expectations are low. Khan is also very patient. However, if Tom Coughlin wants his old job back, Khan should back up a Brinks truck to Coughlin’s door and give Captain Grumpy whatever he wants.
Buffalo Bills — Anthony Lynn
What should happen: Ryan took over a 9-7 team and for the second straight year had a 7-8 team heading into the finale. Ryan had always been a players coach beloved by his defense. Yet his twin brother Rob Ryan has been fired as defensive coordinator from several teams. Rex has never had a great offense but he has never been given a superstar quarterback. New owner Terry Pegula replaced Ryan with Bills assistant Anthony Lynn, who has no head coaching experience. Pegula should attend a symposium on how to run an NFL franchise. Coaches and players take time to develop.
What will happen: New owner Terry Pegula wants to win now, which means he will go after a big name. With the Bills having not made the playoffs since the 1999 season, Pegula is not going to settle for Lynn.
San Francisco 49ers — Chip Kelly
What should happen: Owner Jed York should fire himself, General Manager Trent Baalke, and Kelly. The 49ers are a 2-13 disaster. Chip Kelly is ready to return to being a college head coach. The 49ers are truly bad in every faze of the game.
What will happen: York would rather gouge his eyes out than admit he made a mistake by firing Jim Harbaugh two years ago. York put his pride above the good of the team with the Jim Tomsula experiment. Kelly is not the answer.
San Diego Chargers — Mike McCoy
What should happen: The Chargers are terrible, and before the season they appeared to be a talented team. Philip Rivers is still playing at a high level. This comes down to coaching. McCoy has not gotten the job done. How he survived last year is a mystery. The 5-10 Chargers losing to the previously 0-14 Browns has to be the final straw. If not, then it is clear McCoy has serious blackmail evidence on the Spanos family.
What will happen: The Chargers do not even know what city they will be playing in next year. Dean Spanos wants to move to Los Angeles. He needs a big name that inspires people. McCoy is gone.
Deserve to be fired but will stay: None.
Deserve to stay but will be fired: None.
Deserved to stay but were fired: Fisher and Ryan both deserved one more year.
Deserve to stay and will stay:
Cleveland Browns — Hue Jackson
What should happen: The Browns keep firing coaches, delaying their rebuilding. Jackson had success with an injury-riddled Oakland team. Despite starting 0-14 in Cleveland, Jackson is beloved by the players. They fought hard for him in getting that first win. Get him a quarterback and watch him revitalize the offense.
What will happen: Jackson is not going to be one and done. He will be given a fair chance to improve the team.
Chicago Bears — John Fox
What should happen: Fox is a winner. He took both of his previous two teams to a Super Bowl. He was fired from Denver after a 13-3 season. He took over a talentless team with a talented head case in quarterback Jay Cutler. After going 6-10 his first year, the Bears fell to 3-12 this year. It is tough to coach without players.
What will happen: Fox is only two years into a four-year contract. He will be given one more year, and Cutler is most likely gone. Fox wants to mold the team in his image, and jettisoning Cutler is the first start.
Indianapolis Colts — Chuck Pagano
What should happen: Pagano was properly given a contract extension last year. However Owner Jim Irsay also gave one to General Manager Ryan Grigson. Irsay should fire Grigson before firing himself. He blew up the staff three years, firing legendary personnel man Bill Polian and Coach Jim Caldwell. He got lucky with Pagano. While it is true that Bruce Arians coached the team while Pagano was recovering from cancer that first year, it was Pagano who got them to the AFC Title Game. Grigson and Pagano do not get along. Somebody has to go, but it is Grigson who failed to draft people to keep Andrew Luck healthy. Put all the pressure on Pagano by keeping him.
What will happen: Irsay avoided overreacting last year, but he may underreact this year. He will fire neither Grigson or Pagano.
Very close call, could go either way:
Cincinnati Bengals — Marvin Lewis
What should happen: Some will question why a coach who took the Bengals to five straight playoff appearances could possibly be at risk of being fired after one losing season. The Bengals have been were bounced out of the playoffs without a win for five straight years. They have not won a playoff game in 25 years, with Lewis coaching the team for the last 16 years. Lewis is 0-7 in the playoffs. Former Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson is a dynamo, and owner Mike Brown could not keep them both. When Jackson left last year to coach the Browns, it hurt Andy Dalton and the offense.
What will happen: The Bengals were an embarrassment to humanity before Lewis arrived. In the past he was given time to turn the team around, and owner Mike Brown’s patience was rewarded. Lewis has earned another year to turn the team around again, and Brown knows that coaching the Bengals is not the most attractive job out there. Lewis stays.
New York Jets: Todd Bowles
What should happen: After overachieving last year to 10-6 record that just missed the playoffs, the Jets collapsed this year to 4-11. The Jets are awful on every level, and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s play severely declined from last year. The Jets have a ton of holes to fill.
What will happen: Woody Johnson is a somewhat patient owner. Bill Parcells used to say that if they expect you to cook the meal, they should let you shop for the groceries. Bowles will not be shopping for the groceries, but Johnson may fire his general manager and bring in someone who can give Bowles what he needs. Bowles will be given one more year.
Not going anywhere:
New Orleans Saints — Sean Payton
What should happen: Payton should be given a lifetime contract. He turned the Saints from the biggest laughingstock in the league to a Super Bowl champion. Payton may want a fresh start in a new city. Every year he is rumored to be jumping to another NFL franchise. It will be his decision.
What will happen: Drew Brees was given a ton of money, and is on the verge of passing for 5,000 yards for the fifth time. No other quarterback in NFL history has done this more than once. Payton has money, power, and Brees. He will draft on defense and make the Saints contenders again. He stays.
Carolina Panthers — Ron Rivera
What should happen: Two years ago the Panthers were 3-8-1 and Rivera was almost fired. Then the Panthers won four straight and the division with a losing record. This year the Panthers finished 6-9. Sandwiched between these seasons was a 15-1 trip to the Super Bowl last year. If Riverboat Ron leaves, it will be to jump to another franchise.
What will happen: Rumors of him leaving are ridiculous. He is not going anywhere, especially not to a large market where fans demand immediate results. He is entrenched in Carolina and is well liked in the community. He has a good relationship with the Charlotte media.
Green Bay Packers — Mike McCarthy
What should happen: The idea that his name is even mentioned is ludicrous. Won journalist said that even though McCarthy is a good coach, sometimes change for the sake of change is a good thing. That train of thought is a monumentally stupid one, given that nobody would say that about a player in his prime. McCarthy took the Packers to one Super Bowl victory and within five minutes of a second Super Bowl trip two years ago. Ownership would be insane to get rid of him.
What will happen: After starting 4-6, Green Bay has won five straight. If the Packers win the season finale and another NFC North crown, McCarthy will be around for several more years. If the Packers miss the playoffs, the chattering classes will call for his head. The ownership will be smart enough to ignore them. McCarthy is absolutely safe.
Detroit Lions — Jim Caldwell
What should happen: Detroit started 1-7 last year and owner Martha Ford fired everyone except Caldwell. The Lions went 6-2 down the stretch, with one Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary keeping them from an 8-8 season. This year the Lions started 9-4 but have since lost two straight. A loss at home in the finale could bounce the Lions out of the playoffs. It should not matter. The Lions are clearly trending upward.
What will happen: If the Lions win the regular season finale and the division for the first time in 23 years, Caldwell may get a multi-year contract extension. Just as in Green Bay, losing this final game should not matter. The Lions were once 0-16 and perennial losers. They went 11-5 in Caldwell’s first season. He is a calm, quiet man who wins football games. Caldwell has revitalized Matthew Stafford. Caldwell is not going anywhere.