NFL Preview: Coaches on the Hot Seat
Roughly one quarter of the NFL’s franchises change head coaches each year. This offseason was particularly unpredictable as Tennessee’s Mike Mularkey was dismissed despite reaching the second round of the playoffs while Cleveland’s Hue Jackson was retained despite winning only one game in two years. Here are some prime candidates to be canned during or after the 2018 season.
Coach: Dirk Koetter
Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Why He’s on the Hot Seat: Times are tough for the former Arizona State coach after a massively disappointing 5-11 season in 2017. A year ago, Tampa Bay was boasting about their plans for a deep playoff run. Instead, an abysmal defense and nonexistent running game doomed them to a last place finish in the tough NFC South. All of the other teams in the Bucs’ division made the playoffs last season and are expected to be postseason contenders again this year. Koetter suffered another setback this summer when controversial starting quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended by the NFL for the first three games of the 2018 season.
Why He Might Survive: The Buccaneers overhauled their defensive line in the offseason. Along with using their first round NFL Draft pick to add monstrous rookie Vita Vea, they also signed veterans Vinny Curry from Philadelphia and former Giants lineman Jason Pierre Paul. Former USC running back Ronald Jones II is expected to add a spark to their rushing attack.
Bottom Line: Tampa’s first three games are against New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. An 0-3 start would almost certainly doom the Bucs to another last place finish and spell the end of Koetter’s tenure in Tampa.
Coach: Hue Jackson
Team: Cleveland Browns
Why He’s on the Hot Seat: Did you read his record? Jackson’s 1-31 mark is remarkably abysmal even by Browns standards. Yet, somehow, Jackson still has his job and he will be the first Cleveland coach since Romeo Crennel to coach the Browns for a third season.
Why He Might Survive: The Browns seem to have upgraded their roster, although that appeared to be the case before last season as well. They drafted Oklahoma superstar Baker Mayfield to be their future franchise quarterback and signed veteran Tyrod Taylor as a stopgap. Cleveland also drafted Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward and signed receiver Jarvis Landry from Miami. The Browns hope that talented but mercurial receiver Josh Gordon will stay on the field and out of trouble this season.
Bottom Line: If Jackson has another miserable season and finally gets fired, he will be remembered as the worst head coach in modern NFL history and one of the worst coaches in the history of professional sports. However, Jackson probably only needs slight improvement to survive. 4-6 wins might be enough to earn him a fourth season.
Coach: Marvin Lewis
Team: Cincinnati Bengals
Why He’s on the Hot Seat: Lewis has coached the Bengals for fifteen years but has never won a playoff game and failed to even reach the postseason in 2016 or 2017. Like Hue Jackson, it’s amazing that Lewis is still employed. The fanbase is frustrated and restless after consecutive losing seasons.
Why He Might Survive: Bengals owner Mike Brown apparently has an endless amount of confidence in Lewis. Either that or he just doesn’t want to have to endure the hard work of finding and hiring a new coach.
Bottom Line: Another losing season would substantially increase the pressure to make a change, but it’s anyone’s guess whether Mike Brown could muster the energy to do anything.
Coach: Todd Bowles
Team: New York Jets
Why He’s on the Hot Seat: The Jets have trudged through back-to-back 5-11 seasons after going 10-6 in Bowles’s first year. There was so little talent on the roster in 2017 that winning five games was somewhat of a triumph. However, fans will expect improvement this season. The Jets drafted former USC QB Sam Darnold with their first-round pick. Bowles is pinning his hopes on Darnold becoming a franchise quarterback and the cornerstone of the Jets’ rebuilding process.
Why He Might Survive: Expectations are still low. Only the most optimistic fans would expect a playoff run this year. A mediocre season would probably be enough for Bowles to retain his position.
Bottom Line: When will Darnold will become the starter? How he will perform when he does? These are the questions that loom over the Jets’ offseason. Darnold’s success or failure will determine the fate of the Bowles era.
Coach: Jay Gruden
Why He’s on the Hot Seat: Gruden has made the playoffs only once in his four seasons with the Redskins and has never finished better than 9-7. The Redskins made a huge gamble in the offseason when they replaced quarterback Kirk Cousins with former Chiefs QB Alex Smith. Gruden’s fate now depends on the questionable idea that Smith will be a significant improvement from Cousins. Franchise owner Daniel Snyder is notoriously impatient and has a long history of firing his head coaches.
Why He Might Survive: Gruden has made it to a fifth season, which is longer than any previous head coach in the Snyder era. Alex Smith has more “big game” experience than Cousins, which may help the Redskins’ success level in close contests.
Bottom Line: Gruden desperately needs the Alex Smith experiment to work. The Redskins are taking a huge gamble on a quarterback with an inconsistent NFL career.
Here is a brief look at some other coaches who should be watching their backs this year.
Jason Garrett (Cowboys) – Garrett’s long but inconsistent tenure in Dallas will likely end if the Cowboys miss the playoffs again.
Vance Joseph (Broncos) – Denver has collapsed remarkably quickly after winning the Super Bowl less than three years ago. Joseph narrowly survived being canned after his first season and needs new quarterback Case Keenum to help restore the offense to respectability.
John Harbaugh (Ravens) – Yet another mediocre and forgettable campaign will test the patience of owner Stephen Biscotti. The 2012 Super Bowl title is now a distant memory.
Adam Gase (Dolphins) – Regressed to 6-10 in 2017 after making the playoffs in his first season. Can quarterback Ryan Tannehill rebound from injury?
Pete Carroll (Seahawks) – It’s unlikely that the Seahawks would fire the most successful coach they’ve ever had, but a losing season would lead to pressure from fans and media for Carroll to step aside.