Every year, the NFL generates good teams and bad teams. The bad teams hope to become good teams. One way to attempt to make the change quickly comes from changing coaches.
We know there will be coaching changes after the regular season ends, beyond the two vacancies that already exist in Jacksonville and Las Vegas. So here’s a look at the places on which we’re currently keeping an eye, whether it’s the traditional “hot seat” candidates or the possible surprises (there seems to always be one) or coaches who may decide to move on voluntarily.
None of this is based (for now) on anything other than a reading of the tea leaves, given published reports and other chatter within the league and the industry covering it on a non-stop basis.
Let’s start with those who are generally regarded as being on the hot seat. None has received a public assurance that he’ll be back. It’s likely that none has gotten a private assurance, either.
Bears coach Matt Nagy: He’s widely expected to be fired. Reports of his demise first began to circulate weeks ago, in advance of the Thanksgiving Day win over Detroit. A coach of the year award in 2018 and two playoff appearances in his first three years on the job apparently won’t be enough to save him.
Bears G.M. Ryan Pace: Recent reports have indicated that he could stay, with a new title. It’s unclear what his title would be, or whether he’d have any real influence over anything. It could be similar to what happened with the Jets years ago, when Terry Bradway moved from G.M. to a scouting role.
Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips: While we’re in the Windy City, it makes sense to point out that the team president may finally get blown out of town. Phillips has captained the ship since 1999, bringing Bears fans the likes of Phil Emery and Marc Trestman along the way, with limited success — only two seasons capped by postseason wins, 2006 and 2010.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer: Will the Wilfs continue to settle for “just good enough”? The problem is that, this year, they didn’t even reach the level of just good enough. Too many lapses, too many blown leads, too many excuses, not enough wins. As I told Paul Allen of KFAN earlier this week, there will always be a string of what ifs that would potentially flip a few losses to wins. This franchise should be striving for a level of performance that doesn’t require luck or flukes or whatever to win just enough games to earn a playoff spot. Since the 1970s ended, the Vikings have been doing donuts on the top level of a parking lot in an effort to become the franchise that the Packers currently are. Zimmer has had eight years to get there. Frankly, he’s had enough.
Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman: This one’s a tougher call. As nice and good of a guy as he is, the Wilfs need to make an objective assessment of the situation and ask whether it’s time for a change. They also need to ask themselves whether their status as out-of-town owners requires a V.P. of football operations/surrogate owner who brings a constant presence and a higher level of accountability, like an owner who shows up every day does. If, of course, the Vikings let Spielman go, they’ll have to assume the risk that he’ll make a beeline for the Lion, where his brother, Chris, has a major position of influence and power — even if that’s not widely realized.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio: With one year left on his contract, it’s the perfect time for the team to move on. Especially with a G.M. in place who didn’t hire Fangio and the possibility of landing a veteran quarterback who could push the Broncos over the top. The only problem with firing Fangio and hiring a new coach is that the new owner (which is likely for 2022) may not be a fan of the coach who is hired.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule: He has been a major disappointment through two seasons, and owner David Tepper reportedly is “unhappy and embarrassed” about the team’s performance under the former Baylor coach. Rhule reportedly is safe, however; a massive buyout (he’s two years into a seven-year, $62 million deal) may have saved him.
Texans coach David Culley: By all appearances, he’s safe. And for good reason. He’s essentially G.M. Nick Caserio’s puppet. Together, they’ve done enough this year to do it again next year.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll: Russell Wilson has said he plans to pursue his goal of three Super Bowl wins as a member of the Seahawks. He hasn’t said that he plans to do it with Pete Carroll as the head coach. That’s the threshold question for owner Jody Allen. Is a coaching change necessary to keep Wilson from trying to force his way out? (Actually, the threshold question is whether she cares if Wilson wants to force his way out.) The Carroll buyout would be pricey, but multi-billionaires can afford it. And there’s no salary cap for coaches.
Seahawks G.M. John Schneider: Widely respected throughout the league, Schneider would be in trouble if Allen opts to push the reset button. Remember, Pete Carroll has final say. Maybe Schneider gets bumped up to top dog in a post-Carroll regime. Or maybe he ends up being asked to leave as part of a fresh start.
Giants G.M. Dave Gettleman: Several weeks ago, the media outlet that the Giants partially own reported that Gettleman will be gone after the season ends. The Giants never pushed back against that report. It’s become a foregone conclusion that Gettleman won’t be back.
Giants coach Joe Judge: Reportedly safe by ESPN, Judge wasn’t talking on Sunday or Monday like a guy who has been told he’ll be back. From his “not a clown show” rant to admitting (basically) that he has engaged in tampering by talking to guys who have left and who are under contract elsewhere and who want to come back, Judge sounds like someone who is trying to talk his way into staying. He could be talking his way into going.
Raiders G.M. Mike Mayock: He entered the season on one of the hottest of seats, with former coach Jon Gruden likely planning to make Mayock the scapegoat, if the season ended with another failure to make it to the playoffs. Mayock has handled a tumultuous season well, and even if the Raiders lose on Sunday night and miss the AFC field, he possibly has done enough to secure the trust, admiration, and respect of owner Mark Davis.
Jaguars G.M. Trent Baalke: Reports that he’ll remain in place have triggered the team’s fan base, culminating in a planned “clown-out” on Sunday. Will that be enough to get owner Shad Khan to change his mind? The presence of Baalke definitely will limit the options at coach.
Jets G.M. Joe Douglas: With owner Woody Johnson back and with the Jets still among the worst teams in the league, Woody could decide to undo the biggest hire that his brother, Christopher, made while Woody was serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. What has Douglas done to improve the roster? It’s a fair question to ask, and Woody may decide that the answer is, “Not nearly enough.”
Next, let’s look at the potential surprises.
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury: He seemingly had a playoffs-or-bust mandate entering the season. Although they’ll make it, the prospect of ending the season with a five-game home losing streak and a one-and-done postseason after a 10-2 start could make ownership wonder whether someone else could get something more out of Kyler Murray. Especially since ownership typically has not kept any coach for a long time. In more than 100 years, no one has led the team for more than six seasons.
Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy: Could Jerry Jones dump a Super Bowl winner? If Dallas loses at home in the wild-card round, who knows? With offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s star shining, the Joneses may decide to play keep away by not just keeping Moore but promoting him.
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians: Ownership has had no qualms about dumping coaches. With Byron Leftwich and/or Todd Bowles potentially gone after this season, the powers-that-be could decide to nudge Arians into retirement (like the Steelers did a decade ago), elevating one of his top lieutenants to the top job. Arians’s handling of Antonio Brown wasn’t a good look for the franchise or for Arians. If the Bucs don’t win another Super Bowl this year, could a change be made?
49ers G.M. John Lynch: The 2019 season continues to be the exception not the rule for Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. Could Shanahan, who calls the shots, opt for someone else to set the table? However it plays out, Shanahan should be thinking about no longer listening to whoever advised him to accept Jimmy Garoppolo instead of Kirk Cousins, and Trey Lance instead of Mac Jones. (Some think it’s assistant G.M. Adam Peters.)
Finally, a quick look at guys who possibly may be looking for greener pastures, either as it relates to the chances of winning or as it relates to great greenbacks.
Saints coach Sean Payton: No coach has won a Super Bowl with two different teams. Every coach who has won a Super Bowl and who is still coaching is keenly aware of that fact. Payton in past years has been regarded as a guy who possibly could roll the dice with a new NFL team. (Preorder Playmakers to find out just how close that once came to happening.) This year, with no long-term answer at quarterback and a cap mess looming for 2022, could he be tempted to look for a place where maybe he’d have a better chance to win a second Super Bowl? It’s impossible to completely rule out the possibility, if another team decides that it wants him — and if that team is willing to give up draft picks to get him.
Ram coach Sean McVay: Burnout has been a concern for McVay for awhile. If he wins a Super Bowl, could he do what Dick Vermeil did after he won a Super Bowl with the Rams in 1999 (and what Vermeil did years earlier after his first stint with the Eagles)? For McVay, here’s the reality — he could make as much or more in the broadcast booth, as the NFL’s new Jon Gruden (pre-Bruce Allen emails). If that happens, it would be wise for the football coach to finally get some coaching on the subject of vocal modulation.
WFT coach Ron Rivera: He’s the best thing the franchise has going for it, by far. And he possibly has seen enough in two years to tap out. With plenty of unvaccinated players having no regard for Rivera’s health issues, Rivera could decide that enough is enough and that he’d had enough of an organization that continues to ooze dysfunction, as evidenced most recently by last week’s collapsing rail debacle. (I wouldn’t bet on it happening, but I wouldn’t fall out of my chair if it did.)