The National Football League’s most unpleasant tradition is upon us again, and by the end of the day Monday as many as nine NFL teams could join the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns, who fired Mike McCarthy and Hue Jackson in-season, searching for new head coaches.
This year's list of coaches in trouble is a little cloudier than usual because it features more men on the bubble than dead men walking, and there are two unusual factors that will have an outsized influence on how many teams make changes.
The first is that the woods are full of former head coaches looking for second or third chances, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the crop of hot, young assistants in the pipeline looking for their first shot is unusually thin. And with the recent successes of rookies like Sean McVay, Matt Nagy and Mike Vrabel, we’re hearing some teams are disappointed there isn’t a stronger group from which to pick.
The second issue is the NFL has a shortage of minority head coaches right now. The 2018 season began with eight minority head coaches of the NFL’s 32 – Todd Bowles, Mike Tomlin, Marvin Lewis, Hue Jackson, Anthony Lynn, Vance Joseph, Ron Rivera and Steve Wilks – and Jackson is gone already, with all but Tomlin and Lynn now on the endangered species list.
And the hot list of new first-timers is short on minority candidates.
This may not affect individual teams' decisions, but it has folks in the league office and some owners among the league’s power brokers more than mildly concerned.
With that as the backdrop, let’s take a look at what the next few days might hold.
Dead Men Walking
Todd Bowles, New York Jets — To Bowles' credit, his Jets have continued to play hard and compete for him right up to the bitter end. But we’re hearing out of the Big Apple that his 14-33 record after an exciting 10-6 debut is more than ownership is willing to condone, and there are concerns an offensive mind might be required to get the most out of promising rookie QB Sam Darnold.
Update: The Jets fired Bowles on Sunday
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals — Lewis’ first year as a lame-duck coach after years of extensions to avoid exactly this moment seems to absolutely scream for change. A 4-1 start preceded his Bengals dropping eight of their last 10, with no real hope in sight and the defense – Lewis’ specialty – being one of the worst in the league. Of course with Mike Brown making the final call, it still isn’t over ‘till it’s over.
Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos — There was word all over the league last year that Joseph would be one and done in Denver after a 5-11 campaign ended with losses in eight of the last 10 games, but John Elway decided to give him a second chance. We’re hearing now that Elway has seen enough, with losses in Joseph's last three games after he appeared to be settling in with a three-game win streak following a 3-6 start.
Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — After a surprising reprieve last season, and a pleasantly surprising 2-1 start, Koetter’s Bucs got blown out in Chicago 48-10 and the coach said, "based on that game today ... we should fire every person that was on the field, starting with me." With Koetter's Bucs losing eight of 11 games since then, we’re hearing the Glazer brothers will agree with his assessment.
Gregg Williams, Cleveland Browns interim head coach — Williams has done everything he can to claim the full-time gig, but his past continues to haunt him. We really don’t know what John Dorsey is thinking right now but we’re hearing that in spite of Williams' 5-2 record since taking over, the organization fears he is just too tough a sell as the long-term guy.
Joe Philbin, Green Bay Packers interim head coach — Philbin has all kinds of history with the Packers and has gone 2-1 since taking over for Mike McCarthy, but the wins over Atlanta and the Jets were unimpressive, the loss to the Bears ended Green Bay's playoff hopes and his stint in Miami as a head coach did little to brighten his resume. Our sources say the Packers will look elsewhere.
Balancing On The Bubble
Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars — This would seem unfair after the Jaguars' run to the AFC title game just last season in Marrone’s first year on the job, but their collapse has been so ugly and complete, the locker room hasn’t been great at times and we’re hearing boss Tom Coughlin is just itching to get back on the sidelines.
Our gut’s telling us Marrone survives, but this one bears watching.
Jay Gruden, Washington — Gruden should probably be on the Coach of the Year candidate list rather than this one considering the job he’s done keeping Washington competitive in spite of a remarkably devastating injury list, but owner Dan Snyder has done much dumber things and multiple sources are reporting Snyder is looking for a fall guy and Gruden isn’t as safe as he should be.
Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons — Quinn is the most surprising name on our list, and we’re not sure he should be, but again, very solid sources have indicated owner Arthur Blank is weighing his options. We expect Quinn to survive, but with the number of times we’ve heard this rumor and the quality of the sources, we can’t ignore it either.
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers – Our latest word is that “Riverboat Ron” will be safe, and he’s another one we’re a little embarrassed to have on this list because it seems ridiculous. But there is a new owner in town who shares no Panthers history with Rivera, and David Tepper has made no secret of how unhappy he is with their current seven-game losing skid.
The story we’ve heard is that Tepper was ready to pull the plug before going back to Pittsburgh — where he was a minority owner prior to purchasing the Panthers — and receiving counsel from the Rooneys, who asked him if he was crazy. Rivera should be safe.
Steve Wilks, Arizona Cardinals – One and dones are almost never fair, but of all these coaches on the bubble, we’re hearing Wilks is probably in the most danger of losing his job. The Cardinals were supposed to be retooling rather than rebuilding this season, and the complete collapse that is likely to net them the No. 1 overall pick in the draft has left the Bidwills shaking their heads.
We’d watch this situation very closely the next few days.