For this week only, the Friday 10-pack has expanded. (We supposed we should say that it has been enhanced.)
With up to 12 head-coaching jobs soon the be vacant, we’ll look at each one. For the four that already are vacant, we’ll consider the prospects for a replacement. For the other eight that may come open, we’ll look at whether the job will indeed be vacated — and if so who may end up being hired.
If you make it all the way through to No. 12, you’ll find one extra bagel at the bottom of the box.
1. Dallas Cowboys.
It had been assumed that interim coach Jason Garrett will get the job. After the Christmas loss to the Cardinals, owner Jerry Jones said that he’s “mad as hell,” which could doom Garrett to coaching purgatory.
The question for Jones becomes whether he’d be able to find a better candidate who would let Jones, who has acquired the ability to be a meddling owner by making himself the G.M., run the team the way Jones wants to run the team.
The best alternative could be Jeff Fisher, if/when he’s fired by Titans owner Bud Adams. Even then, bringing in a new coach during an offseason that may entirely be lost to a lockout that possibly won’t be resolved until the players miss a game check or two means that the new coach could meet his players for the first time in September.
That factor favors all incumbent and interim coaches, and it definitely favors Garrett.
2. Minnesota Vikings.
Tuesday night’s unlikely win over the Eagles has helped Leslie Frazier tremendously. Already believed to be on his way to shedding the “interim” label for shepherding the team through three weeks of weather-related circumstances that would have made Brad Childress’ hair fall out (the rest of it, that is), Frazier’s team caught the Eagles flat-footed and made the most of their chance to steal the game.
It remains unclear when Frazier will get the job. Given that owner Zygi Wilf made it known in the locker room after a 2005 season-ending win over the Bears that former coach Mike Tice wouldn’t be back, Wilf should get the word out promptly after Sunday’s game against the Lions, if the Vikings pull off the victory and avoid placement in the basement of the NFC North.
3. Denver Broncos.
John Elway soon will be joining the front office, and he’ll presumably be involved in hiring a new G.M. and a new head coach. Though current G.M. Brian Xanders made a misguided public pitch to keep his job by essentially blaming former coach Josh McDaniels for a string of bad personnel moves, we’re hearing that Xanders at best will be retained as a cap expert.
If the Texans fire coach Gary Kubiak, some think that he may return to Denver as the next head coach. We’ve heard, however, that Kubiak wouldn’t be in the mix for the job.
It’s unclear how this will play out, but it’s increasingly clear that Elway will have plenty of say in the process.
Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen.
4. San Francisco 49ers.
Closer than most people realize to competing with the best teams in the conference, the Niners need only a good quarterback to become a contender.
Then again, most teams that aren’t contenders need only a good quarterback to become a contender.
Currently, there’s concern that the 49ers are engaged in a sham G.M. search that’s engineered to result in current V.P. of player personnel Trent Baalke emerging as the best candidate for the job. Baalke, once hired, would then be involved in the search for a new coach.
Peter King of NBC pointed out during halftime of Tuesday night’s Vikings-Eagles game that the Niners hope to pair a G.M. with an up-and-coming, non-superstar coach whom the franchise hopes would become the next Mike Smith or John Harbaugh. There’s no guarantee that they’ll find such a guy, and unless and until they get a good quarterback there’s no reason to assume the Niners will become an elite team.
5. Miami Dolphins.
A 1-7 record at home seemingly has doomed coach Tony Sparano, who was hired by Bill Parcells before Stephen Ross bought the team. With Parcells out of the picture, Ross must decide whether to give Sparano another chance.
Some think Sparano will survive, and there are reports that Parcells has persuaded Ross to stay the course, a fairly obvious move aimed at preventing the Tuna’s tenure in Miami from being regarded as a failure.
The challenge remains finding a replacement for Dan Marino at quarterback, and no amount of second-round picks devoted to the position have done the trick. The Dolphins could have had quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008, but they opted instead for left tackle Jake Long. That said, we’re told that Ross has a blind spot for Chad Henne, given their mutual ties to Michigan.
In the end, Sparano could be saved by labor uncertainty and the reality that Ross already is paying Parcells not to work in 2011. Things could get pricey if Ross also is paying Sparano and G.M. Jeff Ireland, and a new rock-star coach like Bill Cowher.
6. Cincinnati Bengals.
The contract for coach Marvin Lewis expires after the current season ends. Despite another rough season, Lewis won the Associated Press coach of the year award in 2009.
Many believe that Lewis has been hamstrung by owner Mike Brown, who compensates for deficiencies in the talent-evaluation department by pouncing on talented players with character issues that have made them less attractive to other teams. Most recently, injuries to receiver Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco have made the Bengals better, causing some to wonder whether Brown’s approach has kept Lewis from reaching his potential.
Though it’s unclear whether Brown currently has an offer on the table for Lewis, at one point within the past year Brown made an offer that Lewis opted not to accept. Among other things, Lewis wants Brown to build an indoor practice facility.
For now, it’s assumed that Lewis won’t be back. If he isn’t, Lewis possibly will command interest elsewhere. In the end, he possibly will decide after some time on the open market that he should remain in Cincinnati — if Brown remains interested in keeping him.
7. Cleveland Browns.
Eric Mangini is believed to be on the hot seat for three good reasons. First, team president Mike Holmgren inherited Mangini after the 2009 season. Second, the Browns have not had a successful year. Third, neither Holmgren nor owner Randy Lerner have taken a page from Dean Spanos’ playbook and declared that Mangini will be back.
So will he be?
The lockout factor could help, including the fact that Lerner has been buying out more contracts than the producers of the Spider-Man musical. And it would be awkward, to say the least, for Holmgren to fire Mangini, interview a bunch of candidates for the job, and then declare himself the best fit.
Other possibilities include Jon Gruden and, assuming the Millen stink has worn off, Marty Mornhinweg.
For now, it’s simply not clear what Holmgren will do — and the outcome likely depends in large part on the true quality of the relationship between the two men.
8. Tennessee Titans.
Jeff Fisher has coached the Tennessee Titans since they were the Houston Oilers. Sixteen years after getting the job, Fisher could be getting fired from it.
And he wouldn’t necessarily be getting fired due to the team’s performance, but because of an inability to coexist with quarterback Vince Young. Owner Bud Adams wants the two men to get along; Fisher seems to be intent on setting up a he-goes-or-I-go ultimatum.
Fisher’s overriding goal could be to get out of the last year of his contract. There’s a chance that Adams realizes what’s happening, and that he’ll consider parting ways with Fisher in exchange for a Gruden-style bounty of draft picks and dollar bills.
Either way, it would be an upset at this point if Fisher stays and Young goes. It would be even more of an upset if they both stay.
9. Houston Texans.
When John McClain of the Houston Chronicle declared that coach Gary Kubiak likely would be fired, people assumed that McClain had a pipeline to someone who knew what was happening. McClain has since done an about-face, getting updated information from multiple someones who know what will happen.
Until owner Bob McNair says that Kubiak will be back, we won’t declare his seat to be anything other than gently heated. For now, though, it appears that Kubiak will return, with former Cowboys coach Wade Phillips running the defense.
Despite rumors linking former Steelers coach Bill Cowher to the job, McNair’s role as a hard-line owner on the labor front makes him less likely to do anything that would make it harder for the Texans to be competitive in 2011, if a new agreement isn’t reached until a point on the calendar when it’s too late for the new coach to have any meaningful impact on his new team in the first year at his new job.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars.
Earlier this year, after the Jaguars suffered consecutive 25-point losses, there were strong indications that Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio was a blowout loss to the Colts away from getting blown out of Jacksonville.
The Jags won the game, and they surprisingly became competitive. But a late-season collapse has renewed chatter that Del Rio could be gone.
Per a league source who has been carefully monitoring the situation, Del Rio once again may be saved by the $5 million annual salary he’s receiving due to the extension he finagled after that 2007 Leftwich-for-Garrard swap resulted in a playoff berth. But a blowout loss to the Texans could change that — just as a blowout win over the Texans could still endanger Houston coach Gary Kubiak.
That said, there’s talk that Del Rio has lost the locker room, and that some players could be hoping for that blowout loss.
11. New York Giants.
The circumstances point to a problem for Tom Coughlin, if the Giants don’t make it to the playoffs. He’s under contract for only one more year. A lame-duck coaching situation may work in Charlotte or Cincinnati, but it won’t work in New York.
So the Giants will have to give Coughlin an extension — or they’ll have to tell him to take a hike.
Even if it’s only a one-year Band-Aid, the Giants need to do something to avoid Coughlin working out the last year of his deal, especially since as Adam Schefter reported earlier this month the compensation drops $750,000 next year.
One question that the Giants (and anyone else considering a coaching change) will have to consider is whether the next coach will be better than the current coach. With some speculation centering on John Fox replacing Coughlin, the Giants would be better off keeping Coughlin.
Then again, if Bill Cowher is in play, Cowher for Coughlin makes sense.
12. Carolina Panthers.
Speaking of John Fox, he knows that he’s coaching his last game in Carolina. And the Panthers are believed to be looking to take the Meineke approach when it comes to paying the fourth coach in franchise history.
It remains to be seen whether G.M. Marty Hurney gets run out of town, too. (He’s currently believed to be safe.)
Either way, the Panthers face a tough situation in a top-heavy NFC South, and they’ve got a long way to go to turn around a team that only two years ago was nearly the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
13. Washington Redskins.
The extra donut in this specific dozen comes from D.C., where it’s impossible to rule out the possibility that owner Daniel Snyder will decide after a disastrous season that it’s time to pull the plug on the father-son picnic.
Nepotism is a fact of life in the NFL, even though it rarely works in any setting other than ownership. And it’s definitely not working in D.C., with head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan double-teaming the Donovan McNabb debacle and otherwise not winning enough games.
It would be a surprise, but not a shock, if Snyder decides that Jon Gruden should be paired with G.M. Bruce Allen in the latest attempt to save the franchise. Sure, it would cost a lot of money to pay Shanahan not to coach, but Snyder has a lot of money. What he doesn’t have is on-field success.
He desperately wants it, and right now it looks like the Shanahans won’t be able to give it to him. Whether it comes in a week or in a year, it’s looking like the Shanahans-Snyder marriage won’t be lasting very long, after all.