NFL training camps have begun, which means the battle for roster spots has started anew. Players aren’t the only ones who need to worry about job security, however, as there’s generally no hotter seat in the league than the one belonging to the head coach.
Over the last two seasons, 13 teams have changed coaches, including one team (Jacksonville) twice. Given that sample size, it’s reasonable to assume that one or more current head coaches will join the unemployment line at some point this season. Here is our list of the coaches who really need to win this fall if they want to keep their job.
1. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Unless you’re winning Super Bowls, and even then there are few guarantees, “job security” are two words that don’t really seem to be a part of Jerry Jones’ vocabulary. The outspoken owner/general manager of “America’s Team” makes it clear that a successful season comes down to one thing – him holding the Lombardi Trophy at the end.
It has been 17 years since the Cowboys’ last Super Bowl title back in 1995, and what’s worse is that the Cowboys haven’t even been in the playoffs the past three seasons. Garrett, who took over halfway through the 2010 season, is 21-19 as he enters his third full one as the head coach. He has led his team to a 16-16 mark over the past two seasons and Jones has made it clear that won’t cut it this year.
Jones signed quarterback Tony Romo, who is just 1-3 in his career in the playoffs, to a six-year contract extension in March, so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was replaced by 73-year-old Monte Kiffin, who is switching the Cowboys’ from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. The past several Cowboys’ drafts have produced very few starters on the current roster.
While all of the aforementioned moves and decisions were made primarily by Jones, he’s not the one who will be held accountable if the Cowboys don’t fare better than 8-8 this season. The buck may stop with Jones, but it’s Garrett whose job is on the line this fall.
2. Rex Ryan, New York Jets
There have been no recent Super Bowl guarantees from the normally boisterous Ryan, but that’s what happens when your team goes 14-18 over the past two seasons. Since leading the Jets to back-to-back AFC title games in his first two seasons, Ryan’s team has gone the opposite direction and become primarily a punching bag for both the local and national media.
That’s the price you pay for coaching the least successful of the two teams based in the biggest media capital of the world, and especially when you provide them with fodder such as last season’s Mark Sanchez-Tim Tebow quarterback drama.
Tebow is no longer on the Jets’ roster, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any sort of quarterback controversy. For the second straight training camp, Sanchez and Ryan and the rest of the team will have to endure the barrage of questions about the battle between the incumbent starter and his latest competition, second-round pick Geno Smith.
The bottom line for Ryan is he needs training camp to figure out who his quarterback is going to be, especially with a new offensive coordinator (Marty Mornhinweg) calling the plays. Forget about any Super Bowl or any other sort of guarantees coming from Ryan’s mouth this season. He just needs to focus on getting his team ready to compete and win more than six games in 2013, or he can pretty much guarantee he will be out of a job.
3. Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions
In 2011, Schwartz led the Lions to a 10-6 mark and their first playoff berth since 1999. Outside of that season, however, he’s 12-36, including a discouraging 4-12 record in 2012. Injuries played a large role in last season’s collapse, but so did turnovers (-16 differential, 30th in NFL), the lack of a running game and a defense that gave up more than 27 points per contest.
The Lions made significant changes during the offseason, both in regards to player personnel and on the coaching staff. Defense was the focus of the draft while running back Reggie Bush was the big free-agent addition.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford also recently signed a contract extension, meaning both he and record-setting wide receiver Calvin Johnson are locked up for years to come. Now it’s up to Schwartz to show that 2011 was no fluke if he wants to be a part of the Lions’ future too.
4. Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Rivera is just 13-19 in his first two seasons with the Panthers, but they did finish 2012 strong by winning their final four games. Quarterback Cam Newton is entering his third season and the Panthers don’t lack for options at running back. The defense showed significant signs of improvement last season, finishing 10th overall in yards allowed, and added to its defensive line depth through the draft.
Put it all together and it appears this team is on the upswing. Being in the same division with expected Super Bowl contender Atlanta and a New Orleans team that gets head coach Sean Payton back makes the playoffs seem perhaps too optimistic for the Panthers this season. However, any significant steps backwards from their 7-9 showing a year ago may result in new general manager Dave Gettleman looking for a new head coach after the season.
5. Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders went from 8-8 in 2011 to just 4-12 last season, Allen’s first as a head coach on any level. The roster went through significant changes during the offseason, and there’s no disputing that this team is a long ways from playoff contention.
With as many holes as this team appears to have, starting first and foremost with quarterback, one would think the Raiders would give Allen time to mold the roster to his liking and then see what he can do with it. That said, the words coaching and continuity haven’t been used together often when it comes to the Raiders. Since 1995 the only head coach that lasted more than two full seasons in Oakland was Jon Gruden (1998-2001). And everyone remembers what happened after Gruden left the Raiders, right?
It’s only fitting that Gruden won his only Super Bowl title the very season after he left Oakland. Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay following the 2001 season, then promptly led the Buccaneers to victory over the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. Given the current state of the Raiders,
6. Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans
After leading the Titans to a 9-7 record and just missing the playoffs in 2011, Munchak’s team slipped to 6-10 last season. The Titans were active in free agency and also used the draft to shore up the offensive line and add depth to its defense. The team’s success in 2013, however, will likely come down to the quality of quarterback play they get from 2011 first-round pick Jake Locker. Locker is entering his second full season as the Titans’ starter and he needs to show them he can get the job done on a consistent basis.
Munchak is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman who has been with the Oilers/Titans franchise since he was the eighth overall pick of the 1982 NFL Draft. Owner Bud Adams has seen Munchak grow from a first-round pick into an NFL coach and clearly thinks highly of Munchak since he was the one he hand-picked to replace Jeff Fisher, the franchise’s all-time winningest head coach.
Adams also is 90 years old and hasn’t seen his team make the playoffs since the 2008 season. This man wants to win a Super Bowl and knows he doesn’t have many years left to fulfill that goal. This sense of urgency and borderline desperation may be just enough to trump loyalty and sentimentality, especially if Munchak’s team doesn’t win more than six games this fall.
7. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings
Frazier’s team rebounded from a disheartening 3-13 campaign in 2011 to a 10-6 season and playoff berth in ’12. Running back Adrian Peterson’s historic 2,000-yard campaign had a lot to do with the team’s success, but several other young players emerged and provided contributions last season too.
Following the season, the Vikings exercised the fourth-year option on Frazier’s contract, which means he his now signed through the 2014 season. The team made some moves during free agency and added more young talent, especially on defense, through the draft, but it also lost some key members of last season’s roster. Expectations have changed now in Minnesota, so Frazier cannot afford to just sit back and rest on last season’s success, especially given his contract situation.
8. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals are coming off of back-to-back Wild Card appearances, marking the first time the team has played in consecutive postseasons since 1981-82. So why is Lewis, who is entering his 11th season as the head coach, on the hot seat?
Considering Lewis’ recent success (winning nine or more games in three of the last four seasons) and the fact he is signed for two more seasons, he may have noting to worry about. On the other hand, the Bengals weren’t able to win either of their Wild Card matchups these past two seasons.
With a solid quarterback in Andy Dalton, an All-Pro weapon in A.J. Green and a defense that ranked sixth in the NFL in 2012 all in place, Lewis knows that the expectation level for his team has been raised. Simply making the playoffs, which was a pipe dream during “The Bungles” years, is no longer the goal for this breed of Bengals.
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