There’s no such thing as job security for NFL head coaches
Halfway through the NFL’s regular season, Bills head coach Rex Ryan and the Titans’ Mike Mularkey are off the hot seat. But several of their compatriots remain from our last rundown, and it seems like a new coach is added every week. Now that it's midseason, it's time to take the temperature of the ever-warming head coaching seats, which range from mildly toasty to absolutely scalding.
Very mildly toasty: Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns (0-8)
Along with Dolphins first-year head coach Adam Gase, Jackson was one of the more sought-after candidates for this past round of vacancies. Jackson’s Browns have been competitive in almost every game even though they’ve lined up each time against a superior opponent -- with six different quarterbacks under center (including Terrelle Pryor). But if you flip a weighted coin 16 times, will it ever land on heads?
If Cleveland actually goes 0-16, all bets are off. Look at the remaining schedule, and it’s tough to find a win. Of course 1-15 won’t (or shouldn’t) feel much better than 0-16. The lifespan of a Browns head coach is not very long, but if ownership is convinced that Jackson is the man who will lead the most impossible franchise renaissance in town, Jackson will be around to groom a surplus of upcoming Browns draft picks (now with one fewer, plus Jamie Collins).
Is it warm in here, or is it me? Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers (4-3)
Along with the Saints’ Sean Payton, McCarthy is the longest-tenured head coach after Marvin Lewis and Bill Belichick and has posted a stellar 104-55-1 record since 2006. But what has McCarthy done for the Packers lately? Although they’re quite injured right now, the Packers have been flush with talent during McCarthy’s tenure, foremost with Aaron Rodgers who has entered the latter portion of his career. McCarthy is a solid play-caller but is at times too conservative. The Packers have suffered five disappointing playoff exits in a row, in particular the NFC Championship game collapse in Seattle two seasons ago. Not nearly as quickly as it is in Cincinnati, the window is closing as the Vikings are rising in the NFC North.
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Hand on the stove just to see how it feels: Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1)
It’s a similar story here. It’s not that Lewis is doing a worse job this season; the Bengals aren’t cruising to another playoff berth because the personnel is trending downward due to age and free agency departures, combined with several offseason coaching departures, namely former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. The Bengals have a bye week after their tie in London to rest up before embarking on a manageable slate of games to get back to the playoffs. If that doesn't happen, owner Mike Brown may look to let go of Lewis to give the organization a jolt just like the Giants let go of successful head coach Tom Coughlin last offseason.
“Could you lower the heat a little?”: Todd Bowles, New York Jets (3-5)
If the radio callers had their way after he inexplicably decided to punt the ball in the fourth quarter in Week 5 at Pittsburgh, Bowles, in only his second season at the helm, would already be gone. Defense is Bowles’ calling card, and right now the Jets are not getting nearly enough pressure or productivity from their prized defensive line, which would help mask a dreadful secondary that’s seen Darrelle Revis & Co. routinely get burned for big gains. Bowles probably knows he can’t count on patience from owner Woody Johnson, who has acted before in response to public perception.
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Someone get an ice pack: Chip Kelly, San Francisco 49ers (1-6)
Kelly is kind of a wild card here. Typically, coaches fall back to a coordinator position before getting another head coaching gig elsewhere (if ever again), but Kelly’s tenure in Philly was anything but normal and San Francisco’s leadership under CEO Jed York has been shaky at best. San Francisco's roster is pretty barren, the defense has hemorrhaged points since shutting out the Rams in Week 1 and the offense has been terrible, too. Maybe Kelly looks to go back to the college ranks. The Niners didn’t trade anyone at the deadline, so at least there’s hope for a few more wins this year.
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Wearing a winter jacket in the summer: Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions (4-4)
The Lions have been inconsistent and a bit lucky this season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is enjoying a post-Calvin rejuvenation under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, while the defense, missing top starters at every level, has been absolutely dreadful -- dead last in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ranks.
The Lions have a Vikings and Jaguars sandwich from Weeks 9-11 (at Minnesota, Jacksonville, Minnesota), followed by a trip to the Superdome. Detroit has an improving offensive line and some nice players at the skill positions, and Stafford is still only 28. If general manager Bob Quinn, who decided to retain Caldwell after his hire in January, doesn’t like what he sees down the stretch there’s a good chance he picks his own guy for the job.
Igneous: Jeff Fisher, Los Angeles Rams (3-4)
We’re drawing on the the earth science vocabulary here because Fisher has been on the hot seat in Tennessee and St. Louis/Los Angeles so long that the lava has solidified and he very well may be impervious to conditions that would melt other head coaches.
ESPN’s Aldon Gonzalez asked on Tuesday whether Fisher’s contract extension is still on the table; it’s an open question, and maybe owner Stan Kroenke is punting it to season’s end. At that time he can consider why Fisher is running fake punts when he should punt, ordering punts when he should be going for it, and why Case Keenum attempted 53 passes against the Giants in London when Todd Gurley is in the backfield. Meanwhile, the future, QB Jared Goff, has been getting first-team reps during the bye week and may or may not make his first start at some point this season.
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Sitting on the radiator: John Fox (2-6)
A very nice home win over the NFC North-leading Vikings provided one of the few positives for the Bears this season. The day before the game, NFL.com insider Ian Rapoport reported that Bears brass has brought in “what is being described as an outside consultant to help.”
That’s not good for Fox or his staff as everyone will be scrutinized given that the team has floundered in recent years (what would you say... you do here?). The Bears are in the midst of a total roster rebuild, but ownership expected better this year, and after blown fourth-quarter leads to the Colts and Jaguars before the Vikings win, nobody is safe.
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Second-degree burns: Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers (3-5)
A lot of credit where’s it due: McCoy’s Chargers have shown tremendous spirit fighting back after repeated late-game blunders that plagued them early. They flew cross-country and beat a solid Falcons team thanks to a fourth-quarter comeback and overtime win. Top draft pick and rookie holdout Joey Bosa has been far more disruptive on defense (in a good way!) than anyone imagined, and other playmakers like rookie linebacker Jatavis Brown have emerged.
But this is a “show me” year for McCoy, in his fourth season in San Diego, and those blunders stand a good chance to cost the Chargers a playoffs berth. San Diego resides in the AFC West cellar with three more losses than the remainder of the division. Time is running out to make the most of Philip Rivers' window.
Broiling: Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts (3-5)
Pagano figured prominently in the quarter-season edition of this hot seat monitor and hasn’t done anything to change his position. That’s not entirely his fault: The team’s personnel leaves much to be desired and is pretty dismal in the trenches on both sides of the ball, allowing the team’s prized possession to go under siege almost every week. With an opportunity climb atop the lowly AFC South at Houston in Week 6, the Colts collapsed in the fourth quarter and lost in overtime. Last week against a Chiefs team that had mustered only eight sacks through six games, Kansas City bagged Andrew Luck 6 times. Not good.
"Actions speak louder than words” Jaguars owner Shad Khan said when asked for comment after the Titans lambasted the lifeless Jaguars last Thursday night. “Very little for me to say.”
That is the cutting, parenting equivalent of “I’m not mad, just disappointed.” And Khan, who said before the season that a winning record in 2016 was “everybody’s reasonable expectation,” certainly has a right to expect better than he’s seen. The Jaguars have drafted at the top and spent big money in free agency in recent years, including $127 million this past offseason ($57 million guaranteed) on tackle Malik Jackson, cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Tashaun Gipson. They’ve spent on offense, too. And fans have waited patiently for these Jaguars to improve as Bradley has managed just a 14-41 record since taking the helm. But quarterback Blake Bortles has regressed and the entire offense has been pulled down with him.
When asked after the Titans debacle whether he expects to be coaching the Jags game at Kansas City this week, Bradley said: “I worry about this team and why did we perform like that in the first half, and figuring out, OK, how can we get it right?" Offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s head rolled this past week, and if things don’t improve, Khan’s patience may expire before the season does. Talent is one thing, and a team’s performance is another. The latter is on Bradley.