We’re at the halfway point of the NFL season and most of the teams in the league fall into two groups: contending for wins each week looking to squeeze into the playoffs or look absolutely awful on a weekly basis.
One thing I’ve noticed about the NFL is that coaching is at a premium. If you have a good coaching staff, your team will be good and have a chance to sustain that success over time.
If you don’t have a good head coach with a good staff below him, then you will continue to have issues.
This inspired me to take a look at all 32 teams and rank the security of the head coaches as we near the time of the year where the hot seats get really, really hot.
I have put the coaches into five categories: Safe, Cool, Warming, Hot, and Scorching. You can figure out what those mean as we go along.
32 – Bill Belichick, New England Patriots – He’s led this team to nine Super Bowl appearances in 18 years including SIX rings. He’ll get fired when he wants fired. Or maybe he’ll retire. The rest of the league can wish, right?
31 – Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints - Only one Super Bowl title, but should have been in the Super Bowl last year and could very well make his way there once again. Drew Brees is a no-doubt Hall of Fame quarterback but even Teddy Bridgewater looked like one of the league’s best in Brees’ absence. This team is regularly in contention and after Payton’s long suspension for “Bounty-gate” a few years back where the rumor mill was in full circulation, he’s righted the ship and kept the Saints contenders.
30 – Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams – This will look like one of the best hires in the history of pro football. The Rams were a nobody team with a terrible coaching situation with Jeff Fischer at the helm. After several near .500 seasons and being completely irrelevant, the team moved to LA, eventually fired Fischer and hired a 32-year-old offensive assistant to take charge of the franchise. The two-year turnaround led to a Super Bowl appearance and turned the Rams into a “glamor” franchise for free agents looking to compete. He’s here until he wants to be somewhere else.
29 – Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers – He was long considered one of the top young offensive coordinators in the league and helped the Matt Ryan-led Falcons to just their second Super Bowl appearance. After that game, he took over as the head coach for the 49ers, where with a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo, he looks like he’s taken them to the top of the NFC. Who knows how this year plays out, but it’s clear that Shanahan is plenty secure for the next few years, assuming he has Jimmy G.
28 – Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs – Reid would be higher on the list if he didn’t have so many playoff woes. He quelled some of those by working his way to the AFC Championship game with MVP Patrick Mahomes as his new quarterback. He has a little wiggle room for the time being, but another couple of early playoff exits with the talent on the Chiefs offense will make it a difficult decision for the KC brass to keep him around.
27 – Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks – Another perfect QB-Coach duo. Two Super Bowl appearances and one title has put Pete in a safe position with this job. They are right back in the playoff mix this year and assuming Pete still feels as young as he looks, he could be here a while. Age could be a factor, but if the miserable-looking Belichick can eventually coach into his 70s, I think the youthful Pete Carroll can, too (he’s 68, btw).
26 – Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles – If you’ve won a Super Bowl in the last five years, you’ll have plenty of job security. Pederson has had plenty of success as an against-the-grain offensive mind, but there’s still room for improvement for this franchise with Carson Wentz as the lead man. Remember, Nick Foles has led both of the deep playoff runs for the Birds while Wentz was sidelined due to injury. Can Wentz do that? And if he can’t, does that responsibility fall on Pederson’s shoulders?
25 – Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts – The Colts got lucky when they were spurned last minute by New England Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels and got Frank Reich as a last-minute back-up hire. He’s been perfect for this team after helping the Eagles win the Super Bowl as their OC. Now, he’s making Jacoby Brissett look like a Pro Bowler while the Colts haven’t missed a beat without Andrew Luck. If they make the playoffs this year, he’ll drop even lower on this “Hot Seat” list.
24 – John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens – After a couple of years of missed playoffs, it does the ol’ job security meter good to win a division title. That’s what Harbaugh and the Ravens did last year and with the Browns struggling, the Steelers banged up, and the Bengals absolutely atrocious, they’re on their way to winning another one. As long as Lamar Jackson continues to improve, you’ll be seeing Harbaugh for a long time with the purple and black.
23 – Bill O’Brien, Houston Texans – This guy’s done a good job, but he’s had plenty of talent to work with. Now the question is how well he can get the defense to play in the absence of JJ Watt for the rest of the season? Deshaun Watson is the real deal at QB and DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best receivers in the game, but can they eek out a playoff berth in a crowded AFC?
22. Matt LaFleur, Green Bay Packers – This has everything to do with the Packers being 7-1. We still don’t know what LaFleur brings to the table. There have been a lot of questions about the Green Bay offense this season. But thanks to the greatness of Aaron Rodgers, the reliability of the receivers and back, and to a much-improved defense, the Packers look like they are back to being the contenders we were used to seeing them be.
21. Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders – A ten-year deal will get you some job security. He didn’t have the roster to compete immediately and owner Mark Davis knew that when he was hired. Still, the Raiders are making positive strides and if they can hover around .500 this year and add a piece or two before their move to Las Vegas, Gruden will know he’s got a long leash as the head man.
20. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers – Tomlin has won the Super Bowl multiple times, so you would think he’d be more safe, but after the debacle with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell last year, I thought you could justify making a coaching change. I think the Steelers did the right thing by keeping the coach and getting rid of those players, though. Big Ben going down early has been tough but a 3-4 start isn’t anything to scoff at with the roster the Steelers are throwing out there.
19 – Bruce Arians, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – First year in Tampa Bay and he’s had success in Indy and Arizona. His biggest issue is figuring out who his quarterback will be long-term. But I can see this being a short-term relationship if things don’t go as planned as early as next year. Remember, this guy voluntarily retired and thought he’d never coach again. Sometimes that will slow down the mojo.
18 – Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings – If the Vikings were around or under .500, people would be bashing Kirk Cousins more than Mike Zimmer. He’s been in Minnesota for some time and has gotten them as far as the NFC Championship Game a couple of seasons ago with CASE KEENUM as his quarterback. If they crash and burn this year and miss the playoffs, I could see multiple heads rolling in Minny after the season. But at 6-2, I think he’s pretty safe for now.
17 – Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers – The Cam Newton injury made this team feel like they were going to slide right out of relevancy. And then a full overhaul could be expected. What we weren’t counting on was the excellent play of Kyle Allen in Newton’s stead and the emergence of Christian McCaffery as one of the best all-around backs in football. It’s not playoffs-or-bust for this team considering the circumstances, but flirting with a wild-card spot would go a long way to securing Riverboat Ron’s job long-term.
16 – Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills – He got the Bills to the playoffs two years ago. They look like they could get there again. They are young, physical, and promising. Still on the schedule are the Redskins, Browns, Dolphins, Broncos, Steelers, and Jets. Go 5-1 in those games and the Bills have at least 10 wins. Even with a winning record, it’d be hard to justify cutting ties with McDermott at this point, knowing how bad this franchise has been over the last 20 years.
15 – Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals – He should be more secure since he was hired to coach the worst team in the NFL and drafted his starting QB with the #1 overall pick this year. But since the Cardinals seemed fine firing Steve Wilkes after just one season, I can’t rule out the possibility of Kingsbury going the wrong direction on this list of there’s a lack of improvement. There’s no way he’s fired after this season, but he could be entering next year on the hot seat unless something changes.
14 – Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions – The most unlucky franchise in NFL history has been pretty fun to watch this year. If they get the calls they deserved in that Green Bay game and that weird fumble return doesn’t happen against Kansas City, they’d have a couple of signature wins and would be at the top of the NFC North. But since they’re the Lions, they lost both and are battling just to be .500. It’s not playoffs-or-bust for Patricia either, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s let go if things really go downhill in the second half of the season.
13 – Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans – As a highly touted hire who played under Bill Belichick, Vrabel will get all the time he needs to figure this out… as long as he has a QB controversy to mask his shortcomings. They were fortunate they won against Tampa Bay last week after that stupid fake field goal attempt while they had a one-possession lead. He seems overwhelmed at times and Marcus Mariota’s regression after leading the Titans to the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs two years ago has to at some level be on him. But, like I said, if he’s trying different things, including benching Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill, he’ll have an excuse for why things aren’t clicking.
12 – Pat Shurmur, New York Giants – He took over a difficult situation and now that the franchise has moved on from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones, it’s on him to bring them back into contention over the next few seasons. He’ll have some time to work with, but as awful as he’s been as a head coach before (9-23 over two seasons with Cleveland) he’ll have to show significant improvement or we might see the end of the Shurmur era as early as next season.
11 – Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers – This team was 12-4 last year and Lynn was in the mix to be the NFL Coach of the Year. The expectations were that they would be at least that good this year and make a run at that elusive Super Bowl for long-time quarterback Philip Rivers. Well, it took a missed field goal at the horn to secure a win over the suddenly hapless Chicago Bears, and losing games to Detroit, Denver, Pittsburg, and Tennessee have to put Lynn on notice. The seat is still “cool” but lose to the Raiders, Broncos again, or Jaguars, look out. On the other hand, beat Green Bay and Kansas City in the next few weeks and all of a sudden the Chargers are back in the playoff hunt. It won’t be easy, though.
10 – Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears – Speaking of NFL Coach of the Year, what the heck happened here? There was so much hype for this season after the Bears overperformed and won the NFC North last year. You could blame the playoff loss on poor kicking, but the full-on regression of Mitchell Trubisky, the deterioration of the playcalling, and relying far too much on the defense has the Bears at 3-4 and staring straight up at the Packers and Vikings. There’s still time to salvage this season, but if the last nine games are anything like the first seven, fans and media personalities will be calling for Nagy’s head a lot louder than they are right now.
9 – Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals – First off, this guy is only 36 years old. He was hired because he was an assistant under Sean McVay and if you even know Sean McVay, you’ll get an opportunity to bring some of his talent and mindset to the franchise. But this has been an unadulterated disaster. The 0-8 record comes with Andy Dalton and both of their top running backs healthy. Games at home to the Jets and on the road at the Dolphins appear to be the only real winnable situations at this point. If Taylor goes 1-15 or 0-16 and shows no sign of improvement, do the Bengals let him draft the next franchise star at the top of next year’s draft? Or do they cut him loose and bring in a more experienced coach? I would guess the former because they stuck it out with Marvin Lewis for so long, but who the heck knows. This isn’t the most well-run franchise.
8 – Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars – You have to make the playoffs, right? You signed Nick Foles and I know he got hurt, but Gardner Minshew has been one of the best rookie QBs we’ve seen in years. They have a great running back. They have really solid players all over the defense, and that’s without Jalen Ramsey. The Jags are 4-4, and the Colts and Texans don’t seem to be that much better than them. I know in my mind the Jags are better than Tennessee. Four more divisional games, including the next three. If they win two of those and beat the Bucs and Chargers at home and at least split against the Raiders and Falcons on the road? We’re talking right around 9-7 or 10-6 and knocking on the division crown and/or a wild card berth. Anything less, and the seat warms even more.
7 – Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys – I think the Cowboys have a better chance at winning the division than Philly, but I’m not sure it’ll matter for Garrett. He’s been given ample time and a solid roster to make a push to a Super Bowl. It hasn’t happened. Some of it has been unfortunate (Dez caught it) but he’s seemingly been overestimated as a coaching mind. He was always hanging around, first as Troy Aikman’s long-time backup then as an assistant, but he’s been given all the time he needs to figure this out. His contract is up after this year, and if the Cowboys don’t at least make the NFC Championship Game, I think it’s safe to say Jerry Jones will look for a different option (Lincoln Riley, perhaps).
6 – Brian Flores, Miami Dolphins – The Fins would be doing this guy dirty if they fire him after one year. This roster was hot garbage from the start. They’ve been shipping pieces off since before he was brought in. Josh Rosen still isn’t ready (not that he’s ever had a line either here or in AZ to protect him). Ryan Fitzpatrick has seen better days. The defense has a complete lack of talent and anybody worth anything has been or will be shipped off for picks. But as terrible as they look, if they think a top candidate is looming out there and would be interested in their job, Flores would be easily disposable.
5 – Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns – Kitchens doesn’t have the excuses Brian Flores or Zac Taylor have. He was given a roster with loads of talent on both sides of the ball. Most of the talent was untapped or unproven, but for the first time there were real expectations in Cleveland. Well, after a 2-5 start and the team looking as disorganized and dysfunctional as ever, Freddie might need to start looking for the Kitchens sink (I’ll see myself out). His saving grace is a very weak second half schedule that features Denver, Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Cincinnati on the road (all very winnable) and Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Miami, and Baltimore at home (also all very winnable). Remember, Cleveland dismantled the Ravens on the road earlier this year. Outside of that game, they will have more talent on the field than their opponents. But if this continues to go south, Kitchens will definitely be on the cutting board (I’m sorry, I’ll stop) because the Browns’ roster will attract plenty of high-profile coaching candidates.
4 - Vic Fangio, Denver Broncos – The reason I would throw this guy here is that it took him forever to earn a head coaching opportunity. His defense he coordinated last year (Bears) still looks real good without him. His quarterback Joe Flacco basically called out his unwillingness to grow a set of cojones and try to finish off the Colts last week when he had the chance. And now the team appears to be selling and still have the Browns, Vikings, Bills, Chargers, Texans, Chiefs, Lions, and Raiders to play. And right now, they are worse than all eight of those teams. I can’t imagine the Broncos’ front office keeping around a 61-year-old guy who’s never been a head coach before at any level if this team goes 3-13 and continues to talk about his lack of stones to the media.
3 – Adam Gase, New York Jets – He looked awful at the end in Miami. He looked awful in his press conference as he was introduced to the media in New York. And he’s looked awful on the field. He’s had no chance to win with Luke Falk and Trevor Simeon getting starts at QB, but even with Sam Darnold in there, it’s been painful to watch. Outside of the win against Dallas, this team has been horrendous. They look unprepared and without any direction. They have very winnable games the rest of this season, though, and it may prolong Gase’s tenure in the Big Apple. The Dolphins, Giants, Redskins, Bengals, and Dolphins again should be reasonable games to win. If you lose three of these? Gase is one and done in New York.
2 – Bill Callahan, Washington Redskins – He is the interim, so this might not count. But Jay Gruden was let go after a terrible start. Callahan has already failed as a head coach on many fronts and unless he can lead the ‘Skins to some level of respectability over the second half of the season (highly doubtful considering the QB situation and schedule) he’s a stop-gap guy for the next unfortunate soul who has to try to make the Redskins relevant under the ghost of Dan Snyder.
1 – Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons – How is it possible that Matt Ryan is still nearly leading the NFL in passing yet this team is 1-7? Oh, right… he’s throwing a ton since they’re behind. Well, what happened to the offense that made it to the Super Bowl? Oh, right… it left when Kyle Shanahan was hired to coach the 49ers. Well, why don’t they upgrade their defensive coaching staff? Oh, right… Dan Quinn was brought on as head coach because of his defensive acumen in how he helped build the Legion of Doom in Seattle. It was playoffs-or-bust for this team this year. That cloud of the 28-3 choke job in Super Bowl 51 still hangs over this team. The fact that Quinn hasn’t been fired yet is nuts to me. If this team would be 4-4 right now that’d be a disappointment. They are 1-7. Get him out of there.
Now, who will take these jobs? We know at least a handful of these guys won’t make it past Black Monday at the end of the season.
Here are my top five potential NFL coaching candidates:
1.Lincoln Riley – Watching the Oklahoma offense is an experience. Jerry Jones has his eye on him. I’m sure he’s not the only one.
2.Mike McCarthy – The former Packers coach had a falling out in Green Bay, but I think he could help a young QB like he helped a young Aaron Rodgers.
3.Jim Harbaugh – He’s very high profile and can bring along a set of challenges, but if things don’t work out at Michigan he’ll have his choice of which team he’d like to coach. Imagine the circus he’d bring to Cleveland with that cast of characters…
4.Kris Richard – Took over as the Defensive Coordinator in Seattle after Dan Quinn left for Atlanta and now serves as an assistant in Dallas. He’s young and everyone within the league has respect for him. He’s likely who Miami was hoping Brian Flores would be.
5.Kellen Moore – This might be a stretch, but could happen in Dallas if Garrett is let go and Jerry is spurned by Lincoln Riley. Moore has taken over the Offensive Coordinator duties for the Cowboys this year and seems to be meshing well with his former teammates as their playcaller. He’s just 31 years old. It doesn’t seem like all that long ago he was leading Boise State to the top ten in college football…
We’re getting to the point where teams need to figure out what kind of culture they have. For most of the struggling teams, the problems go much deeper than their coach, but we know that’s one of the easiest things to fix. It’s only a matter of time before a chunk of the coaches in the NFL are out of work.