Tis the season for NFL coaching changes

Will Titans' Boss Jeff Fisher survive?

Will Titans' Boss Jeff Fisher survive?

By Ralph Vacchiano

It was supposed to be a year of relative safety for NFL coaches. The looming lockout was going to make it difficult for regime changes. And it was supposed to make it nearly impossible for poverty crying owners to justify firing one coach, hiring another, and paying both.

Yet here they are, with one week to go and four coaches have already been axed — Wade Phillips in Dallas, Brad Childress in Minnesota, Josh McDaniels in Denver, and now Mike Singletary in San Francisco. At least two more — John Fox in Carolina and Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati — are likely gone because their contracts are about to expire.

That’s six. And their could be anywhere from two to six more.

It’s a remarkable and unexpected development in the last year of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. It also could make for quite a feeding frenzy for the coaches who are available. Imagine a half-dozen teams vying for Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden. And the teams that miss out on them could reach deeper into the past for the likes of Jim Fassel or Brian Billick.

And what about the newly fired? Anyone think Fox will be out of work for long? Lewis likely won’t be, either. What if Mike Holmgren is available to be lured from the Browns front office to somebody’s sideline? And if Tennessee decides Jeff Fisher isn’t worth the $6-plus million he’s due next season? He could be No. 1 on everybody’s list.

The fun — if it’s even fair to call it that — could begin in less than a week. For four teams it’s already started, and the Bengals and Panthers seem to be on deck.

Here are the other teams that may be pondering a dip in the coaching pool, too:

• Miami Dolphins. With Bill Parcells removing himself from the Dolphins’ front office, Tony Sparano’s biggest ally, the guy who brought him in from obscurity, is gone. That’s never good news. Also not good for him is 1-7 record at home that spoiled an otherwise promising season. Losing to the Bills and Lions in their final two home games wasn’t a good thing for him, either.

• Cleveland Browns. It was a stunner when Holmgren decided to keep Eric Mangini in the first place after he joined the franchise last season, but he did it because the Browns had finished so strong. Unfortunately for Mangini, they rode that strong finish to a miserable 5-10 record, including a current three-game losing streak. There is always the outside possibility that Holmgren would replace Mangini with himself. If not, he’s close with Gruden so the Browns could be in the lead there.

• Jacksonville Jaguars. They seemed to have a surprising division title in their hands, but now they’ve lost two straight and it’s the Colts that again control their destiny. That could put Jack Del Rio back on the hot seat, though in such a small market paying two coaches is hardly ideal. Plus, they won’t be able to lure any big names. It’ll be a nondescript former assistant for them.

• Tennessee Titans. Most of the NFL would find it hard to believe that Jeff Fisher is in jeopardy, but the Titans are 6-9 and Fisher has picked a fight with owner Bud Adams’ hand-picked quarterback, Vince Young. Add in a contract that will pay him more than $6 million next season? Fisher could be the most attractive free agent on the market in a few weeks.

• Houston Texans. Enough is seemingly enough for these classic underachievers. In a year when some picked them to finally pass the Colts and win their division, the Texans are 5-10. When they blew a 17-0 lead and lost to Denver on Sunday, Gary Kubiak’s job went to the top of the endangered list.

• New York Giants. The Super Bowl XLII championship may still be enough to save Tom Coughlin, especially if the Giants end up winning 10 games. But take away that magical season and Coughlin’s Giants have collapsed in almost every one of his seasons. They were 6-2 this year. They were up 31-10 on the Eagles two weeks ago with eight minutes to play and control of the NFC East in their hands. If they go from that to out of the playoffs — which now seems likely — that championship season is going to seem like it was 100 years ago.

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