With every major American sport (except baseball) in the midst of its season, it's only a matter of time before whispers start about restless owners, general managers or athletic directors looking to make a change at the top. Every position in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NCAA is fraught with peril and very few coaching stints end on good terms. But which are the toughest gigs? Our ranked list of the 11 hardest are below. You'll notice each is a marquee job. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
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Congress laughs at the dysfunction of the Washington Redskins.
It was best summed up in 2008. Joe Gibbs retired after a second stint (that was far more impressive than its given credit for). The Redskins, theoretically having learned something in the presence of a Hall of Famer, preached continuity as they searched for a successor. Six weeks and a dozen names later, Snyder ended up tucking his tail between his legs and promoting recently-hired offensive coordinator Jim Zorn (who'd never had a gig above quarterbacks coach) to the spot of head coach because nobody else would take (or could get) the job. Snyder hadn't been happy with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Gibbs' successor-in waiting. (To be fair, maybe his gut was right on that one.) Steve Spagnuolo demurred. Jim Fassel was nearly hired but it seemed that - and this is for real - Snyder heard the almost unanimously negative reaction to that potential hire and slowly backed away from his choice. So, he eventually settled on Zorn.
Coaches come to Washington and are judged instantly. Players didn't like Marty Schottenheimer's training camp and when the team started 0-5 record, Snyder seemed to have made up his mind even with an 8-3 finish that included a brief fling with a playoff berth. When Steve Spurrier became available from Florida, Snyder needed a shiny new coaching toy to add to all the splashy free agents he'd collected. Spurrier lasted two years before Gibbs took over. Zorn, who was touted as Snyder's first low-key hire, was also his first low-key fire - also after two years. Then it was time for another dive into the deep end - this time with Mike Shanahan. There were highlights (Robert Griffin III's rookie season) and lowlights (literally every other moment, including the Donovan McNabb era, that time Shanahan ruined RG3's career by leaving him in a playoff game in which the QB could barely walk and his final year, when he and the Redskins front office were leaking negative stories about each other before nearly every game and the team quit in November. Once again, a coaching search revealed nobody was really all that interested in the 'Skins job, which made Snyder settle for the unsexy selection of Jay Gruden, which has ended up working as well as any other hire so, you know, lesson learned. But probably not.
It's not easy in D.C.. The fanbase thinks they're still in the first Gibbs era and should be winning three Super Bowls in nine years like they did from 1982-1991. What they forget is that it's been a quarter-century since the Redskins last made the NFC championship and that the team has been awful more than good since Gibbs left in '93 (three double-digit win seasons compared to five seasons of four wins or less).
The hardest part though is winning with the team the front office puts on the field. Given Snyder's longtime input/interference with front-office moves, a new coach is already up against it with the roster he's given. How can you win games with a front office that thinks spending on Albert Haynesworth is the right direction? It's like hiring a chef and giving them rancid vegetables and week-old mutton. Again, recent developments have suggested Snyder has taken a step back and handed off the reins but it's a story that's been told before.
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Notre Dame football
"It's impossible to win like that today at Notre Dame," say people who expect a coach to win like that today at Notre Dame. But you can. Don't give me academics. If Duke can win NCAA tournaments, Notre Dame should be fine in finding talent that fits with the school's (chortles) "academic mission." Don't say everybody is on TV now so it's harder to recruit consistently. Really? Has that stopped Alabama or Ohio State or FSU or Clemson or any other team that hangs around the top 10 these days? Don't say South Bend isn't attractive to players from high-school football hotbeds such as Florida and Texas. If Ohio State can get players to go to Columbus and the Kansas basketball team brings in (admittedly fewer) players and sells them on the grandeur that is Lawrence, the Fighting Irish can't bring in the creme de la creme to a gorgeous campus 100 miles from Chicago?
Expectations are as high at Notre Dame as anywhere else but since nobody has reached the pinnacle in just about 30 years, the school is actually understanding and not quick with the trigger. Even Gerry Faust and Bob Davie got five seasons. But, at some point, you probably just wish somebody would put an end to the misery, or at least that's the vibe I get from Brian Kelly every time he gets in front of the press to blame a 19-year-old for his team's latest choke job.
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It's a tight race between FSU football fans and Kentucky basketball fans as to the most unreasonable fanbases in sports. But congrats Kentucky, you win (unlike the 2015 NCAA tournament). It's only going to get worse when John Calipari gets that urge to go back to the NBA after this season or next and there's no obvious candidate to replace him. Similar things will happen over the next few years at UNC, Duke and Syracuse and whether or not the successors to all these great coaches can keep up the lineage and blue bloodedness of their respective schools is going to be a fascinating sideshow when the Hall of Famers retire.
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The difference between Washington and Dallas is that Dan Snyder is consistently second guessing himself while Jerry Jones is always intent on proving he was right, something that, despite both team's long playoff success droughts, might be better for the Cowboys in the long term. This is Jason Garrett's sixth full season with the franchise and he has exactly one playoff appearance to show for it. After his stint taking over for Wade Phillips in Week 10 of 2010, Garrett put together three-straight 8-8 seasons, followed by the 12-4 playoff year and then back to a 4-12 season in 2015. All told, Garrett entered this season .500 in seasons in which he started as Cowboys coach. In Washington, Garrett would have been gone three years ago and serving as offensive coordinator for the Bears. In Dallas, it's all been building to this year, with a front office that's developed the right roster for this staff. The pressure is enormous, yes, but Jones isn't nearly as slap-happy as his colleague to the northeast.
New York Knicks
The Knicks have won two NBA titles, in 1970 and 1973. They've made the finals two other times since then. So why do the denizens of Madison Square Garden believe it's their birthright to be a basketball powerhouse? Get real, people: The Knicks are a big-city basketball team in an era in which being in a big city is irrelevant. If Russell Westbrook can become a fashion-forward, famous basketball player in Oklahoma City, why would anyone subject themselves to the living chaos that is James Dolan's Knicks? Oh, for the glowing coverage on the back page of the tabloids, of course.
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For decades, the Alabama football coach was cursed by the aura of Bear Bryant, the coaching giant that no man could ever live up to. Oh, you won a national championship, Gene Stallings? Great! Bear won six. A conference title? Nice work, Mike DuBose. WE EAT THOSE AS APPETIZERS IN TUSCALOOSA. No one could ever live up to Bryant.
And then in walks the second coming. Nick Saban, the LSU-fleeing, Dolphins-abandoning self-proclaimed football genius who, it turns out, is a football genius. Bryant won six national championships in 25 years. Saban is already at four in nine years, with the team favored for No. 5 this season. (And, no disrespect to the Bear but it's a far different college landscape than it was in his era, which is why Saban > Bryant and Krzyzewski > Wooden even though their numbers aren't as prolific in certain areas.)
While the rational fan knows how blessed the Crimson Tide is to have Saban and is thankful that he's resisted the call of the NFL, there are plenty of fans who aren't so rational. If Alabama loses to Ohio State on the second Monday in January you'll hear some amazing complaints that Saban had the audacity not to win his fifth (!) title and that he's now tied with Urban Meyer for national championships, a reality that besmirches the entire Alabama nation. If he wins, he'll enjoy it for about three days, if that, and then it'll be on to the next one. (Oh, and just wait until Saban retires or leaves. That coach is in for a world of hurt. It'll be tough to watch, unless that coach is Lane Kiffin in which case the sheer amusement will outweigh any possible sympathy.)
Any NBA team
More than half of NBA coaches have been hired in the past year-and-a-half. Only three coaches have been with their teams 5+ seasons and all three of them have won a title with that team. Besides Gregg Popovich, the longest-tenured coach in the NBA is Erik Spoelstra, who was hired on April 28, 2008. Being a professional coach in any sport is no great shakes but only in the NBA do successful coaches have to constantly update their resumes. It's a players league and when the players start tuning you out, management sides with them, not Frank Vogel.
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New York Mets
Ahead of the Yankees? Let me explain: The Mets are saddled with the same expectations as their crosstown rival only without the pedigree, pinstripes and money that makes the Yankees, the Yankees. It's unrealistic to think the Mets should be competing with the Yanks year in and year out but don't tell that to the New York Daily News.
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New York Yankees
Big George is gone and now firing Billy Martin from a cloud on high. With Big Stein's sons in power, the Yankees as a franchise have stabilized. Joe Girardi hasn't made the playoffs in three of the last four years, the only manager in the Steinbrenner era to do that without getting fired, but there are no whispers about his job security. Most Yankees managers in the past 40 years don't even get to four years. From 1979-1986 there were 13 Yankees managerial changes: Billy Martin, Dick Howser, Bob Lemon, Billy Martin, Dick Howser, Gene Michael, Bob Lemon, Gene Michael, Clyde King, Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Lou Piniella. Yogi Berra - Yogi! - only got 16 games into his second season, a move Steinbrenner would regret for decades given Berra's understandable grudge.) It's hardly the Bronx Zoo up at Yankee Stadium any more.
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United States men's soccer
The expectations keep growing even if the on-field product stays pretty much the same relative to the rest of the world. Because it's been 30 years since the USMNT didn't make a World Cup, the ability to get there (which isn't as easy as some may think, as we're finding out this year) is completely taken for granted. Assume nothing in sports, even beating Honduras. Once you get to the World Cup, the overall goal - make it out of the group stage - is doable but at some point there has to be something more, no? In the past 50 years, the U.S. has won exactly one knockout game (2002) and lost three others. On the bright side, soccer is treated like an Olympic sport in the U.S. (the masses only care about it every four years) so there's not an all-encompassing pressure that constantly surrounds a coach.
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Every SEC football school not named Alabama
As Auburn, LSU and Florida have shown, you can catch a great recruiting class, win a title or two and get some memorable Ws in the Iron Bowl, SEC championship or a night game at Tiger Stadium. But when it comes down to it, Alabama is the Death Star and every other SEC team is whatever it is the Death Star blows up in that one Star Wars movie.