At this point last year, we were in the midst of some of the more turbulent coaching days the NFL had ever seen. Wade Phillips already had been fired by Jerry Jones, with his dismissal coming on Nov. 8, the day after his Cowboys got smacked around by the Packers. And the tenures of three other coaches were growing short. The Vikings dumped Brad Childress on Nov. 22; the Broncos punted Josh McDaniels on Dec. 6; and the 49ers canned Mike Singletary on Dec. 26, hours after they were eliminated from the playoffs. Four coaches canned during the season.
Although it appears we will make it through all of 2011 without an in-season firing, you can be sure there will be turnover once the campaign ends. In addition to measuring who is currently feeling the heat, we wanted gauge which franchises might be the most attractive destinations for a new hire. With a slew of big-name coaches available — including Jeff Fisher, Bill Cowher (despite his statement that he has "no plans" to coach in 2012) and Jon Gruden (he can get out of his long-term ESPN contract) — we looked into how desirable each team might be to one of the "retired" former coaches, or one of the deserving up-and-comers who will receive interviews this winter.
Teams are listed in the order of likelihood of there being a coaching vacancy to fill in the offseason.
General manager: Jeff Ireland
Head coach: Tony Sparano
Hot-seat meter: Scorching
The situation: It might as well be written in stone — Sparano will not coach the Dolphins next season, but it's also unlikely that he will be fired during the season. Owner Stephen Ross won't gain anything with a midseason firing and appears ready to let Sparano go down with the ship. It's also expected that this will be it for Ireland, who deserves a fair share of the blame for the Dolphins' woes.
Job Q rating: The new coach will inherit a team with an All-Pro left tackle, multiple Pro Bowlers on a young defense, Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall and a young running back and center with upside. With a franchise quarterback in place via the draft or trade, the Dolphins could become wild-card contenders in 2012. Ross hurt his reputation with the way he publicly courted Jim Harbaugh last January, but he is committed to winning and has the money to acquire top free agents. Plus, it's hard to complain about living and working in South Florida.
General manager: Gene Smith
Head coach: Jack Del Rio
Hot-seat meter: Scorching
The situation: Del Rio knew going into the season that it was playoffs-or-bust for him and his staff. Giving the keys to rookie QB Blaine Gabbert, clearly not ready to be in the driver's seat, in Week Two hasn't lowered expectations in the eyes of owner Wayne Weaver. Anything short of a miracle in the second half likely will result in Del Rio's ouster.
Job Q rating: Although he hasn't looked the part in his first seven NFL starts, Gabbert has the mental and physical makeup to be successful when surrounded by better weapons and coaches. Jacksonville has some nice pieces on defense but remains a small-market team with limited resources. GM Gene Smith is a sharp straight shooter who likely will be in charge of handpicking the next coach, though nothing is guaranteed with Smith in the final year of his deal.
General manager: Chris Polian
Head coach: Jim Caldwell
Hot-seat meter: Warm
The situation: Caldwell is hardly the only one blame for the Colts' shocking collapse without QB Peyton Manning at the helm. Still, as the losses mount, the likelihood increases that a shake-up is coming after the season. That the winless Colts have not been competitive in recent weeks after fighting tooth and nail earlier in the season does not reflect well on Caldwell.
Job Q rating: A healthy Manning — or ultratalented Andrew Luck — is any head coach's dream. But the 2011 season has magnified a number of holes on the roster, perhaps signaling an overhaul is forthcoming if Manning's neck doesn't fully heal. The Polians have run the organization with an iron fist, which might deter some strong-willed candidates, but it is not out of the question that changes to the front office also could be considered.
To read the rest of this story about NFL coaches feeling the heat, order a copy of the current issue of Pro Football Weekly. In the latest edition of PFW you will also find columnist Mike Wilkening's take on Tony Gonzalez, who is the most prolific receiving tight end in NFL history. Also, we profile sensational young Saints TE Jimmy Graham. And don't miss the Way We Hear It, fantasy football analysis and much more.