NFL Preview: Coaches on the Hot Seat

NFL head coach is not a job for the faint of heart. Job security is virtually nonexistent. Most coaches, even successful ones, are only one or two bad seasons away from getting fired. There are only three head coaches that I am certain will not get fired in 2017 (or probably ever) – New England’s Bill Belichick, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin. Here is a look at six of the coaches who are on the hot seat in 2017.

Coach: Todd Bowles

Team: New York Jets – 3rd year

Record: 15-17

Why He’s on the Hot Seat: After a solid 10-6 record in his first year in New York, Bowles’s Jets regressed to 5-11 last season. The Jets enter 2017 with a roster that is virtually bereft of talent. They look like a great candidate to finish with the worst record in the NFL. Josh McCown, who has made a career out of being a stopgap quarterback for bad teams, is expected to be the starter. The only intrigue for this year’s team is if the Jets will receive the #1 pick in the NFL draft. Perhaps USC quarterback Sam Darnold will be playing for the Jets in 2018. If that is the case, the odds are very high that his head coach will be someone other than Bowles.

Why He Might Survive: Expectations are extremely low. No one expects this team to do anything. If Bowles can somehow coax six or seven wins out of this rag tag squad, it might be enough for the Jets front office to give him another chance. Or perhaps Jets owner Woody Johnson will be too busy to make a coaching change after being inexplicably nominated for Ambassador to the United Kingdom by the Trump administration.

Coach: John Fox

Team: Chicago Bears – 3rd year

Record: 9-23

Why He’s on the Hot Seat: After two lousy seasons, the Bears still don’t appear to be ready to compete for a playoff berth. The franchise controversially chose North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky after trading up in the first round of the draft (a decision supposedly made behind John Fox’s back). Fox reportedly has an acrimonious relationship with general manager Ryan Pace, who made the move to select Trubisky. The Bears still lack talent and another double digit losing season would likely be more than the Bear’s ownership is willing to tolerate.

Why He Might Survive: Fox had moderate success as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, taking both franchises to the Super Bowl. Maybe the Bears will give him the benefit of the doubt, at least until they can determine if Trubisky can become an effective NFL starter. If he’s a bust, Fox and Pace will be out the door, and the Trubisky pick will be remembered as one of the most hilariously awful NFL Draft selections in history.

Coach: Marvin Lewis

Record: 118-103

Team: Cincinnati Bengals – 15th year

Why He’s on the Hot Seat: The Bengals underachieved last season, falling to 6-9-1 in an injury-plagued campaign that snapped a streak of six consecutive playoff berths. The franchise saw several key veterans depart during the offseason, although they did draft lightning-fast Washington receiver John Ross, who will give opposing secondaries someone to worry about besides A.J. Green. However, Lewis’s position already seemed questionable even before the disastrous 2016 campaign, due to his mind-boggling 0-7 record in postseason games. Lewis is in the last year of his contract, so the franchise could easily make a change at the end of this season. Another non-playoff campaign, or another first round loss, would likely slam the door shut on the Lewis era for good.

Why He Might Survive: Lewis works for one of the most patient and tolerant owners in the NFL, Mike Brown. Brown has an extensive history of retaining coaches until long after they would have been fired by anyone else. His approach contrasts sharply with the Bengals’ inept Ohio counterparts, the Cleveland Browns, who fire coaches and general managers with an almost gleeful abandon. Unfortunately, Mike Brown’s approach has not resulted in postseason success. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since January 1991, when they beat the Houston Oilers, a franchise that long ago ceased to exist. If Lewis can lead the Bengals back to the playoffs, and win just one playoff game, he might be named coach for life.

Coach: Hue Jackson

Record: 1-15

Team: Cleveland Browns – 2nd year

Why He’s on the Hot Seat: Jackson suffered through a miserable one-win campaign last season. The Browns were awful on both offense and defense. Other than left tackle Joe Thomas, the Browns couldn’t point to any area of success whatsoever. Only a narrow and rather lucky victory over a demoralized Chargers team spared the Browns from the infamy of 0-16. Since their resurrection in 2002, the Browns have been notoriously impatient with their head coaches. Jackson is their eighth non-interim head coach since 2002. The past four head coaches, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmer, Rob Chudzkinski, and Mike Pettine, lasted two seasons or less before getting canned. Cleveland still hasn’t resolved their quarterback situation. Jackson’s 2017 options for starting quarterback are Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler, and rookie Deshone Kizer. Yikes.

Why He Might Survive: Although expectations are low in 2017, the Browns appear to have enhanced their roster and will be expected to win some games.  Jackson might need only five or six wins to convince ownership that he deserves another chance. If so, he will be the first Browns coach since Romeo Crennel to last more than two seasons.

Coach: Chuck Pagano

Record: 49-31

Team: Indianapolis Colts – 6th year

Why He’s on the Hot Seat: The Colts finished 11-5 in Pagano’s first three seasons (although most of the credit for 2012 should go to Bruce Arians, who coached the majority of the season while Pagano battled leukemia). But the Colts have been mired in mediocrity ever since their humiliating 45-7 thrashing at the hands of the Patriots in the 2014 AFC Championship Game. Since then Colts fans, who used to take playoff berths for granted, have watched their team stumble to back to back 8-8 seasons. Another non-playoff year would likely be enough for Colts owner Jim Irsay to pull the plug. New general manager Chris Ballard is probably eager for an excuse to handpick his own head coach.

Why He Might Survive: Andrew Luck battled injuries last season. If he can stay healthy this year, it’s not hard to imagine the Colts rising back to the top of the weak AFC South. A postseason appearance would significantly enhance Pagano’s job security.

Coach: Sean Payton

Record: 100-70

Team: New Orleans Saints – 11th year

Why He’s on the Hot Seat: The last and most surprising entry in this article is dedicated to the most successful coach in Saints history. Payton led New Orleans to its only Super Bowl at the end of the 2009 season, upsetting Indianapolis to claim the Lombardi Trophy. He has teamed up with star quarterback Drew Brees to form one of the most dynamic passing attacks in recent NFL history. So why is he on this list? In a word, defense. The Saints’ defense has been consistently awful for years. Their ineptitude, especially in the secondary, has left the franchise mired in mediocrity. New Orleans has had three consecutive 7-9 seasons. A fourth losing season in a row would increase pressure on the front office to make a change. Besides, winning a Super Bowl does not grant a coach eternal immunity from being forced out of his job. Just ask Tom Coughlin, Brian Billick, and Jon Gruden.

Why He Might Survive: The Saints are a good defense away from being one of the best teams in the NFC. Maybe this is the year that they finally turn it around.

Heating Up?

Here is a brief look at some other coaches who should be watching their backs this year.

John Harbaugh (Ravens) – won the Super Bowl in 2012, but Baltimore has missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons.

Ron Rivera (Panthers) – Another season like last year could spell doom for his tenure.

Jay Gruden (Redskins) – Dan Snyder’s lack of patience means that any coach of his is potentially one false move away from getting canned. Will Kirk Cousins continue to have success without Sean McVay around?

Jim Caldwell (Lions) – Making the playoffs twice in three years in Detroit is actually pretty impressive, but it’s easy to see him getting replaced if the Lions regress in 2017.