Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 18, 2016

The NFL’s Coaching Carousel Starts To Turn

With just two games remaining for all thirty-two franchises after this weekend’s play is completed, the NFL’s regular season is winding down. Between two Wild Cards in each conference and at least one weak division in both the AFC and NFC, there are still nineteen teams harboring varying degrees of hope for reaching the playoffs. For the rest, and for the fans of those squads mired in mediocrity, the final gun on this season can’t sound soon enough.

To go along with the league’s diminished television ratings, losing teams will play out the string before patches of empty seats in stadiums that were packed when the season was young and hopes were high just three months ago. That was the case in the New Jersey Meadowlands on Saturday when the Jets, the decidedly lesser tenant of MetLife Stadium, all but rolled over for the Miami Dolphins, who kept their Wild Card hopes very much alive with a 34-13 pasting of the home team. The same stadium was a happier and more crowded place twenty-four hours later, when the Giants won their tenth game of the season (matching their co-tenant’s losses), a 17-6 victory over the Detroit Lions, leaders of the NFC North. The win allowed New York to retain its grip on the NFC’s first Wild Card.

If the end of play is in sight for a number of bad teams, then so too is the employment of a number of head coaches. The annual carousel of NFL coaching positions has already started to turn. Last week Jeff Fisher was the first to go, fired in the wake of a 42-14 thrashing by the Atlanta Falcons. Fisher’s dismissal ended a bizarre couple of weeks for Los Angeles, which began when word spread that despite having never posted a winning record in four seasons leading the Rams, he had been given a two-year contract extension during the last offseason. Just eight days later, and already assured of another losing year, Fisher was unemployed.

He already has company. Sunday, right after the Jaguars blew a 20-8 second half lead and lost for the twelfth time this year, 21-20 to Houston, Jacksonville fired Gus Bradley. In three-plus seasons at the helm, Bradley posted an anemic 14-48 record. That’s a .226 winning percentage, which is the worst in the Super Bowl era (yes, that’s half a century) among coaches with at least fifty games. At 2-12 this year the Jaguars are better than only the woeful San Francisco 49ers and the winless Cleveland Browns. One might think that a performance like that would lead an owner to sack his entire management team, but Jacksonville owner Shad Khan said general manager Dave Caldwell “will now be charged with exploring all options to hire the best head coach possible.”

Fisher and Bradley are the first, but they will certainly not be the last head coaches to be given their walking papers. Last year six owners fired their team’s leader and a seventh, Tom Coughlin of the Giants, retired. By the time the dust settles a couple of months from now, the numbers this year could be similar.

Until Fisher got the axe the popular pick for the first coach to be fired was Buffalo’s Rex Ryan. At 8-8 last year and 7-7 this season after Sunday’s win over Cleveland, Ryan is at exactly .500 with the Bills. Prior to defeating the Browns, which should probably only count as three-quarters of a win in the standings, Buffalo had been in a tailspin, losing five of seven. There have also been some troubling signals from owner Terry Pagula, including a meeting with players but not Ryan earlier in the season. If Ryan is let go, it will be just two years after he was fired by the Jets.

In San Diego the Chargers are on their way to a second straight losing season, and also probably on their way up the road to Los Angeles. Following Sunday’s loss to Oakland Mike McCoy’s team has just one win in the division in the past two years. Like Fisher, Chuck Pagano received a contract extension from the Colts in the offseason. Again like Fisher, that may not matter if Indianapolis misses the playoffs, which if the season ended today it would. Marvin Lewis is in his fourteenth season in Cincinnati, and has obviously built up a great reservoir of trust and respect with Bengals owner Mike Brown. But while Lewis has taken the Bengals to the playoffs seven times he has yet to win a single postseason game, and he won’t have the opportunity to break that skein this year as Cincinnati is already assured of a losing record.

Then there are the coaches in their first year, who are probably safe only because owners and general managers hate to admit that they completely blew a hiring decision so soon after making it. But Chip Kelly in San Francisco is leading a team that has made news only because of Colin Kaepernick’s pregame protests, and Hue Jackson in Cleveland is saddled with a squad that might lose to Alabama or Ohio State.

There may also be at least one surprise among the coaching changes that are sure to come. Sean Payton signed a five-year contract extension with the New Orleans Saints last January, but his team appears headed to a third straight losing season. Just this week reports surfaced that the Saints may be open to trading Payton. NFL teams don’t literally trade coaches the way they do players. But since Payton is under contract the Saints could require compensation, in the form of future draft picks, from any franchise interested in signing him away from New Orleans.

Once the firings or resignations, or even a trade, is complete, the work of hiring each affected franchise’s new savior will begin. When it does fans shouldn’t be surprised if among those under consideration are the very coaches just deemed unworthy in other cities. Before being hired by the 49ers last year Kelly first had to be fired by the Eagles. As already noted Ryan surfaced in Buffalo shortly after being bounced out of New York. Among the names at the top of most lists after the Rams fired Fisher were Jon Gruden, who’s been in the broadcast booth since being fired by Tampa Bay eight years ago, and Jim Harbaugh, who departed for Michigan and the college ranks after losing out in a power struggle with the 49ers front office in 2014. In the NFL head coaches are often fired; but they never really leave.


  1. This is a interesting look at the NFL’s Coaches Carousel. Thanks, Mike.

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