In almost every season as far back as I can remember, it is right around the halfway point that “coaches on the bubble” talk starts to really heat up, and with eight weeks of the 2012 campaign in the books, this year is no exception.
The heat is on around the NFL, and the most important questions are “who is in the biggest trouble?” and with former Panthers GM Marty Hurney and Browns president Mike Holmgren most recently sent to the unemployment line, “are general managers in just as deep of jeopardy as coaches?”
Fires are burning the hottest right now with the Chiefs, Chargers, Jets and Eagles. Our secondary list includes the Cowboys, Panthers, Lions, Bills and Browns. It should include the Bengals, but apparently owner Mike Brown took a “’til death do us part” vow with Marvin Lewis, and while there’s none or at least very little smoke yet, keep an eye on the Cardinals and Redskins.
The big four are so easy to identify because the Chiefs, Chargers, Jets and Eagles were expected to be playoff teams by many, and Super Bowl contenders by some. While only the Chiefs seem out of the playoff picture, these four clubs have disappointed greatly and none seems to have any help coming. In the case of K.C., San Diego and the Jets, their general managers, Scott Pioli, A.J. Smith and Mike Tannenbaum, are under every bit as much scrutiny as their coaches, Romeo Crennel, Norv Turner and Rex Ryan. Howie Roseman is fairly new to the GM job in Philly, so we assume he will be OK, but right now Eagles head coach Andy Reid might be on the hottest seat of all. According to all that I’m hearing, all four of these coaches need to at least make the playoffs to save their jobs, and Reid probably needs at least one playoff win to stick around. If losing continues, Reid, Turner and Crennel — in that order — are the most likely to get axed before the end of the season.
Those same sources tell me that Pioli and Smith very well could survive to hire one more coach if they have to. But if there are changes in New York, it will be a double dip, with both Ryan and Tannenbaum gone.
The most fluid situations after the big four seem to be in Dallas, Carolina and Cleveland. The Cowboys clearly need to fire their GM, but owner Jerry Jones is unlikely to fire himself. If Jones is qualified to be a GM in the NFL, he has to know that a number of the Cowboys’ ills point at head coach Jason Garrett. But as the guy who anointed Garrett as the NFL’s next great offensive savant and head coach, will Jones admit his own mistake and fire him? Ron Rivera had a very good rookie year in Carolina but is having a miserable sophomore run. Pat Shurmur has struggled in Cleveland, period. What makes Rivera’s and Shurmur’s situations so tenuous is new bosses are definitely coming and those guys tend to like hiring their own guys. My best guess is Rivera gets at least one more year; Shurmur doesn’t.
For Jim Schwartz in Detroit and Chan Gailey in Buffalo, it’s all about how they finish. Stay competitive and get to nine wins and they’re back. But considering the alleged talent in Detroit and lack of discipline it seems to possess, and all the money that was spent in Buffalo, a sub-.500 season could cost both their jobs.
Ken Whisenhunt is probably OK in Arizona, but if the free fall I expect is coming happens — resulting in a 5-11 or even 6-10 record — it could be too much for the natives to stand. And, in Washington, with all the focus on RG3, this will be Mike Shanahan’s third consecutive bad team in D.C., and you never know how long owner Dan Snyder will hang on before deciding to go in another direction.
I hate writing these columns about these men as if they were used cars or old shoes that are meant to be interchangeable and tossed aside at a moment’s notice when they no longer make their owners happy. However, they are paid millions of dollars to win games, so this kind of speculation and scrutiny is in the context of the line of work they chose.
And believe me, change is coming.