NFL Coaching Hot Seat Report: Who Is at Risk of Being Fired?
The 2014 political season has thankfully passed, meaning no more "paid advertisements" advocating for one candidate or tearing down another. It doesn't matter what your political leanings are when it comes to these ads, as we can all agree they grow old after a couple of months on constant repeat.
This election, like many in the past, brought about changes across the states and in the capital, seemingly caused by a nationwide desire for something to change about the way things are run. Often, the desire for something better or different often ignites change faster than having a genuinely preferable alternative.
This is especially true among NFL head coaches, whose reputation and job security are often tied to the general success of everyone remotely associated with them, rather than being assessed for their own work. Fans will cry out for a new coach when things aren't going well with a team in the win column, even if the issues may have nothing to do with the coach's vision for the team, his ability to delegate responsibilities, or his in-game decisions.
A coach can only do so much, as he can't line up and play, and he can't be the one making sure every scouting report is accurate, every contract makes sound financial sense, and every assistant coach is always catching flaws in the way players practice or play. But yet coaches are judged on their team's performances all the same, and that's what we'll do using numberFire's data.
Here are six head coaches who are on the hot seat as we draw closer to the end of the season, along with a "historical comparison" to their level of job security.
Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Isn't Rex always in the news for some reason or another? This year, Ryan was given what seemed to be one last chance to turn things around in New York, yet his team sits at 2-8 at the bottom of the AFC East. The Jets have been unable to find a quarterback who meshes with his play callers' schemes and systems since he arrived, leading to another season with a struggling offense in 2014 (ninth-worst in the league according to our opponent-adjusted Net Expected Points data).
But it's the defense that may ultimately get Ryan fired. The defensive guru brought a dominant defensive gameplan to New York, but that has faded over time, slipping to the ninth-worst in the league this season according to our metrics. But the talent isn't where it was during Ryan's best years as head coach, especially at defensive back, leading to a particularly soft pass defense by Ryan's standards.
So is this finally the year when Ryan's time in charge of the Jets runs out? His Jets have lost eight or more games every season since their second of two AFC Championship Game appearances a few years ago, and that may be sufficient reason to start over with a new coach and a new scheme.
Hot Seat Level: 2013 Rex Ryan with a little extra hot sauce.
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
It might seem crazy to include a head coach with a winning record on this list, but Marvin Lewis is one of the NFL's longest-tenured coaches, with very little to show for his extended run in charge of the Bengals.
Since his debut on the sidelines for Cincinnati in 2003, Lewis has five Wild Card playoff game appearances, and his teams have lost all five. No matter who has been under center, at wide receiver, at running back, or on defense, Lewis has maintained a consistent-but-disappointing string of results that have led to plenty of close calls but no meaningful wins in January.
This season, the Bengals have a 5-3-1 record but may be on the outside looking in with a top-heavy AFC and AFC North providing a challenge to secure a playoff spot. They rank 24th in our nERD calculation, which tells us that Lewis' team would be expected to lose to a league average team by nearly four points. That's lower in the rankings than the Ravens (5th), Steelers (14th) and Browns (19th), leaving Cincy with little hope of coming out of that division with a postseason spot.
Lewis has been a consistent winner in the regular season but has failed to lead a team that has done anything spectacular for over a decade. Will the Bengals make a change to give the team a shot in the arm? If so, will it work?
Hot Seat Level: 2001 Tony Dungy and 2012 Lovie Smith. Both of these defensive-minded head coaches were unable to get a win in a big game, and lost their jobs because of it. In the Bucs' case, it worked out, as a Super Bowl victory followed, but the Bears haven't seen the same success since dismissing Smith.
Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
Tom Coughlin has been an NFL head coach since 1995, when he took over the Jaguars and led them to four playoff appearances in his first five seasons as their first head coach. His time in New York was similarly strong to start, with four playoff appearances in five seasons, but with the added bonus of a Super Bowl victory in 2007.
Since then Coughlin has been on the sidelines for another Lombardi Trophy-winning campaign but has failed to make the playoffs in every other season. Yet he's only led the Giants to one losing season since 2004, so why is he on the hot seat?
The veteran head coach's name was mentioned in the hot seat rumor mill a season ago, as it would seem the Giants are growing anxious with the beloved leader who isn't producing the same results he once did. A 3-6 start to this season and a 1.6% shot at making the playoffs (according to our team rankings) certainly don't help matters for the Giants skipper, especially as he approaches 70 years of age and is likely considering moving on from football sooner rather than later.
The Giants rank 22nd in our nERD rankings, which reflects the below-average level of play they've produced this season. Will a second straight losing season be enough to drive Coughlin to retirement?
Hot Seat Level: End-of-career Bobby Bowden at Florida State - but without quite as much scandal.
Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons
Last year, around this time, I wrote about Mike Smith's status on the hot seat as the Falcons fell from their solid finish in 2012 to eventually end 2013 at 4-12. Smith was able to keep his job through the offseason but now sits at 3-6, on track for another lackluster season with another horrible defense.
Smith's Falcons made the playoffs in four of his first five seasons in charge but with only one playoff victory to show for his efforts. Since that playoff win in 2012, Atlanta has won only seven games, with three of those coming against the equally awful Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So what's gone wrong with his team since their spell at the top of the NFC South a few short years ago?
Could it be that Smith's coaching has caught up with his team's declining talent? The Falcons always seem to win in spite of their play callers, as Matt Ryan combined with his talented pass catchers for big plays to bail out the team on more than one occasion over the years. Smith is a coach with a defensive background, yet he's leading the league's worst defense (according to our numbers), the second year in a row with a horrible performance for that unit of his team.
There is a concerning lack of talent on the front-seven on defense and along the offensive line, but does that excuse away just how bad the Falcons have been over the past two years?
Hot Seat Level: The managers in the movie "Office Space" when the consultants showed up to assess the company. "Good luck with your layoffs. I hope your firings go really well."
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
"Riverboat Ron" is currently in his fourth season in charge of the Panthers, and while his nickname and "success" on fourth-down calls last season earned him plenty of press, his team is struggling to produce a winning record for the third time in his tenure as the head coach. So when does the boat get a new captain?
Rivera, like Smith, is a defensive-minded head coach whose defense isn't very good. The Panthers currently rank 26th in the league according to our metrics, a total reversal from the dominant team we saw a year ago. Yes, there are a couple of key personnel changes, but there's still plenty of talent on that side of the ball, and there should be more production and efficiency from that group.
Rivera's offensive coordinator, Mike Shula, had to learn about the no-huddle offense from Cam Newton, according to a report from ESPN. This wouldn't surprise anyone who has watched Shula's previous offenses at work, as he's one of the most backwards, boring play callers in the NFL. Yet he's been with Rivera since his arrival in Carolina, and actually received a promotion to offensive coordinator after an actually innovative coach (Rob Chudzinski) left for Cleveland.
Rivera had one solid season (2013) but has otherwise failed to inspire any confidence that he'll be a year-in, year-out leader for a good football team. The Panthers have had a coach like this before, and they moved on pretty quickly...
Hot Seat Level: 1998 Dom Capers, who led the Panthers to 12 wins in their second season of existence but was otherwise not that great of a head coach and was fired after four seasons.
Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams
Jeff Fisher had one of the longest reigns of any head coach in the modern NFL at his last stop, running the show for the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans from 1994 until 2010. His teams posted six double-digit win seasons, including one trip to the Super Bowl, which earned him plenty of respect and leeway with the franchise until mutual disagreements ended the relationship.
The Rams have not seen the same level of consistency from Fisher's teams as they witnessed during his time with his previous employer, as they've failed to reach .500 in any season under his command and are on pace to fall short of that mark yet again this year. St. Louis ranks 30th in our overall team rankings, proving that their poor record isn't just a reflection of a tough division but of a bad football team.
The franchise has bounced from quarterback to quarterback over the past couple of years, with injuries and poor play leaving much to be desired under center. Will that be enough of an excuse, when combined with Fisher's experience, to keep the veteran coach employed into 2015?
Hot Seat Level: 1996 Jeff Fisher, who had just finished an 8-8 season to cap a third-straight non-winning record with the Oilers. The team was about to relocate (as the Rams may be currently), and Fisher kept his job and ultimately rewarded the Titans for their patience.
Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears
The Bears are currently 27th in our team rankings, have been blown out on national television, and have apparently been dealing with locker room shouting matches between players. The team simply isn't playing as well as last year's unit, which was one of the more exciting teams to watch, especially on offense.
But it's really the defense that has been the issue since Trestman took over, and it might be what saves his job for a year or two. Lovie Smith set a standard for defensive coaching in Chicago, but by the time he left, the cupboard was pretty bare talent-wise on that side of the ball. Chicago has had one of the worst defenses in the league over the past two seasons, including a ranking of 31st this year.
Will simply firing the defensive coordinator be enough for Trestman, or has he lost his team after a decent first year in charge, just like Greg Schiano did with Tampa Bay?
Hot Seat Level: A less angry, less "take out the opposing quarterback's knees" 2013 Greg Schiano.