Fourteen NFL teams have hired a new head coach in the last two offseasons and one of those franchises (Cleveland) doubled their pleasure during this span. With nearly half of the league employing first- or second-year head coaches, “tenure” isn’t exactly a word that’s used to describe this fraternity.
Even with all of the recent turnover at the top, however, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any coaches who are already feeling the pressure with Week 1 still more than six weeks away. These four head coaches need to produce results this fall if they don’t want to become the newest to join the ranks of the unemployed.
1) Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
The pressure’s always on for the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, but that’s especially true for Garrett, who is in the final year of his contract and desperately needs to get his team into the playoffs. In his three and a half seasons at the helm, Garrett has yet to post a winning record over a full season. After going 5-3 when he replaced Wade Phillips (1-7 start) halfway through the 2010 season, Garrett has posted three consecutive .500 campaigns.
While the Cowboys’ four-year postseason drought is no doubt tough for owner/general manager Jerry Jones to stomach, the late collapses have been even more painful for him to endure. In each of the past three seasons, Dallas has had a chance to win the NFC East title. Unfortunately, the Cowboys have gone 0-3 in these games, which is a big reason why Garrett is feeling the heat in Big D.
2) Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Since leading the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances in his first two seasons, Ryan’s team has gone 22-26 and missed the playoffs three straight years. With general manager John Idzik entering just his second season with the Jets, the onus is on Ryan to show Idzik (as well as owner Woody Johnson) he’s still the man for this job.
Ryan did sign a contract extension in January that carries him through at least 2016, but the pact has some interesting language, including verbiage that states the deal isn’t fully guaranteed after the ‘15 season. The contract also features incentives related to postseason success. In other words, the writing in his contract is pretty much the writing on the wall for Ryan this season – make the playoffs or you may not be with the Jets in 2015.
3) Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins
Philbin had the Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card chase until disappointing back-to-back losses to end the season. So after a two-game improvement (7-9) from his rookie year, why is he on the hot seat?
For one, thanks to an embarrassing bullying scandal that put the team in the national spotlight for all of the wrong reasons, the pressure is on Philbin to show his critics that he is in control of the locker room. The ‘Fins also need to focus on making headlines for what happens on the field, not off of it. And while Philbin survived the Dolphins’ tumultuous offseason, several others did not. With former Tampa Bay executive Dennis Hickey now in place as the general manager, Philbin may as well treat this season like a job interview. And in that respect, hopefully the on-the-field results will provide all the answers to Hickey’s questions.
4) Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders
Allen’s gone 4-12 in each of his first two seasons in Oakland and let’s face it, no one expects the Raiders to produce a miraculous turnaround this year either. However, these are no longer Al Davis’ Raiders, as son Mark has taken over the reins and empowered general manager Reggie McKenzie to overhaul the roster.
McKenzie was very busy this offseason, using free agency and a couple of trades to bring in a lot of new faces. The Raiders clearly have a long way go before they can be considered legitimate contenders, and with recent draft picks like linebacker Khalil Mack, quarterback Derek Carr and cornerback D.J. Hayden considered a big part of the future, it’s not out of the question that the next change made is at head coach. After all, the Raiders certainly are no strangers to coaching changes — try seven different head coaches since Jon Gruden left after the 2001 season.
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
Last season, Lewis became the first in coach in Bengals’ history to earn three straight playoff berths. Unfortunately, Lewis is still looking for his first postseason victory (0-5), and even though he’s the winningest coach in franchise history (90-85-1 in 11 seasons), one can’t help but wonder if Lewis has taken this team as far as he can. And despite all of his success in Cincinnati, Lewis’ current contract is set to expire after the 2015 season.
Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were decimated by injuries last season, so Smith should get a mulligan for their 4-12 showing, which broke a string of three consecutive 10-win seasons. However, with the NFC South only getting tougher and owner Arthur Blank readying his shiny (and expensive) new stadium in 2017, it wouldn’t hurt Smith to show that 2013 was the exception and not the norm.
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
From coach of the year to the unemployment line? It’s not likely, considering Rivera led the Panthers to an improbable 12-4 record and NFC South title last season, which netted him the AP’s NFL Coach of the Year award. However, after nearly doubling his win total from his first two years (13-19) at the helm, Rivera can’t afford too many steps backward this season in what figures to be a tightly contested division. Fair or not, Rivera has raised the expectation level in Charlotte, which subsequently decreases his margin for error.
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
A two-time AFC champion with a Super Bowl ring to his credit, it’s entirely possible that Tomlin directs the Steelers back to the top of the AFC North this season. And should that happen, any questions surrounding his job security would be rendered moot. However, after consecutive 8-8 finishes which resulted in the proud franchise’s first extended playoff drought in more than a decade, Tomlin also knows that his team needs to produce better results in 2014 if he doesn’t want to worry about answering said questions.
Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
Coughlin has won two Super Bowls with the Giants and is among the top 15 head coaches in all-time wins (14th with 158). Even if the Giants fare considerably worse than 7-9 this season, I don’t really see any scenario in which co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch fire Coughlin, who is the third-longest tenured head coach (11 seasons). However, considering the Giants’ steady decline since their 2011 Super Bowl run, I am not ruling out the possibility that Coughlin makes the decision to call it quits after a Hall of Fame-worthy career that covers nearly two decades. If anything, Coughlin, who is signed through the 2015 season, has earned the right to leave on his terms.