NFL Firing Line - Who's Hot, Who's Not
By Tony Moss
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Welcome to the NFL, Mike Mularkey, Lovie Smith, and Jim Mora, Jr. Good to have you back Joe Gibbs, Dennis Green, Tom Coughlin and Norv Turner. Bask in the experience of being a head coach at the top of your profession. Dust off some of your favorite time-honored coaching cliches. Pick a headset that fits well around the ears. Just don't get too comfortable. Most of you will be unemployed within five years.
Only six NFL head coaches have been with their current team for five seasons or more (excluding Gibbs, who coached the Redskins from 1981-92 before retiring). Four of those - Brian Billick, Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher, and Mike Shanahan - have been to at least one Super Bowl. One, Mike Holmgren, went to a couple of Super Bowls somewhere else, and the other, Andy Reid, gets to stay because he's won more games than anyone else over that stretch.
Bill Cowher is one of six coaches who have been with their current team for at least five seasons.
If you fall well short of the big prize for long enough, first-year head coaches, you can reassume your place at the "Primetime" desk, fend off psychotic boosters in the college game, or serve as a coordinator to one of the next generation of best and brightest that will undoubtedly be taking your place. And don't ever forget that the great thing about the league - the ability to win big right away - means you can plummet pretty darn quickly as well.
Below we rank all 32 NFL coaches in order of stability within their current situation. The order represents the chances that a coach will not be in their current job in the near future, whether by choice or termination. Overall and playoff records indicate present team only:
1. San Diego - Marty Schottenheimer (12-20, 2 years, 0 playoff appearances) The Chargers are a resounding favorite to be the worst team in football, and unless they shock the world and show significant progress, Schottenheimer's three-year tenure in San Diego could be over. His old school approach hasn't inspired the players, and it was hard not to at least glance in Schottenheimer's direction when Eli Manning spurned the franchise in the spring.
2. Miami - Dave Wannstedt (41-23, 4 years, 1-2 in playoffs) Wannstedt's record is solid, but his defense-first approach has never been a hit with the fans and the franchise has been seen as underachievering while missing the postseason the past two years. Without Ricky Williams (retired) and David Boston (injured), Miami could be about to sustain its first losing season since 1988, and Wannstedt is likely to take the fall.
3. Cleveland - Butch Davis (21-27, 3 years, 0-1 in playoffs) The Browns stumbled to 5-11 last year, and only saw national attention when Jamal Lewis was running all over them en route to a record-setting season. The defense struggled and the offense was worse, ranking 26th in the NFL. Other than Jeff Garcia at quarterback, no significant upgrades have been made, and the AFC North only appears to be getting stronger. Davis could be back on a college sideline by next fall.
4. New Orleans - Jim Haslett (34-30, 4 years, 1-1 in playoffs) After going 10-6 in his first season, Haslett's talented but underachieving Saints have missed the playoffs each of the past three years, each time enduring a late-season collapse. There is still talent in New Orleans, but the Saints happen to play in a division that includes the last two NFC Champions, and that's before you get to Michael Vick and Atlanta. If the Saints make the playoffs, they will have earned it, and Haslett will get to stay.
5. Minnesota - Mike Tice (15-18, 2 years, 0 playoff appearances) The Vikings went 3-7 after a 6-0 start last season, missing the playoffs after a stunning defeat to the woeful Cardinals in week 17. Tice's team is the odds- on favorite to win the relatively weak NFC North this season. If it happens, Vikings owner Red McCombs will likely reward Tice with a contract extension.
6. St. Louis - Mike Martz (43-21, 4 years, 2-3 in playoffs) Martz inherited the NFL's best team when he took over for Dick Vermeil in 2000, but all he has to show for that talent is one lost Super Bowl (in 2001), a disgruntled former two-time MVP quarterback (Kurt Warner) and scores of disappointed St. Louis fans. Many questioned Martz's conservative approach in last year's playoff loss to Carolina, and his handling of Warner was also unpopular with some. A losing season, which is not out of the question in 2004, would hasten the coach's exit.
7. New York Jets - Herman Edwards (25-23, 3 years, 1-2 in playoffs) Following back-to-back playoff appearances, the Jets sunk to 6-10 last season, with an injury to quarterback Chad Pennington a major contributor to the slide. The Jets are expected to be improved this year in an AFC East that appears weaker. If they're not, Edwards could be in trouble with owner Woody Johnson, though general manager Terry Bradway and offensive coordinator Paul Hackett are more likely targets for dismissal.
8. San Francisco - Dennis Erickson (7-9, 1 year, 0 playoff appearances) Erickson was not an incredibly popular choice for head coach when he was hired prior to last season, and his stock with fans is unlikely to spike this season. The Niners don't figure to be very good minus offensive catalysts Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens, and Garrison Hearst, who have been replaced in the lineup with Tim Rattay, Brandon Lloyd, and Kevan Barlow. The franchise's decision to rebuild should hardly seal Erickson's doom, but if things get especially ugly by the Bay this year, don't be surprised to see the veteran coach walk away on his own.
9. Oakland - Norv Turner (First Year) Most first-year coaches are given time, but the Raiders are a franchise that has given us the lengthy tenures of Bill Callahan (two years), Joe Bugel (one year), Mike White (two years) and Mike Shanahan (one year plus four games). If Turner matches or comes close to last year's 4-12, he'll be gone. By the way, Turner's Redskins teams made one playoff appearance in seven seasons. This marriage has disaster written all over it.
10. Washington - Joe Gibbs (First Year, 124-60 in previous stint from 1981-92) It seems unthinkable that the universally revered Gibbs would be in jeopardy anytime soon, but Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is the type of guy that would fire his own mother if she was late with dinner. Norv Turner (one year plus 13 games), Marty Schottenheimer (one year) and Steve Spurrier (two years) have all had a cup of coffee in the nation's capital under Snyder's watch, and if Gibbs wants to stick around for a refill, he'd better win soon.
11. New York Giants - Tom Coughlin (First Year) Coughlin is known as a demanding taskmaster, a reputation that was solidified when he violated NFL rules on the length of preseason workouts and film sessions immediately after being hired. Coughlin was not a player favorite near the end of his tenure in Jacksonville, and it is uncertain whether his approach will work with a veteran group like the Giants. If he's a disaster in year one, Coughlin could be run out of New York, though it's more likely he'll be permitted to clean house and give it another shot with personnel better suited to his tactics.
12. Pittsburgh - Bill Cowher (115-76-1, 12 years, 7-8 in playoffs) The current head coach with the longest continous tenure in the NFL, Cowher is a fixture in the Steel City and isn't likely to go anywhere. Cowher did shake up his coaching staff in the offseason, and also drafted a quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) in the first round for the first time since donning the headset in 1992. Steelers fans won't suffer many seasons like last year's 6-10, but Cowher is respected by players and should be able to turn it around.
13. Denver - Mike Shanahan (91-53, 9 years, 7-3 in playoffs) Yes, Shanahan has won two Super Bowls with the Broncos. But the team hasn't won a playoff game since 1998 and the natives, not to mention owner Pat Bowlen, are beginning to get restless. If Denver makes the postseason and fails to win a game again this year, Shanahan will be a lightning rod for criticism. If they don't make the playoffs or have a truly miserable season, his decade in the Rockies could be up.
14. Seattle - Mike Holmgren (41-39, 5 years, 0-2 in playoffs) Holmgren's fifth season in Seattle produced the franchise's first 10-win season since 1986, but a tenure that began with so much optimism has yet to yield the club's first postseason victory since 1984. The Seahawks have been favored by most to win the relatively weak NFC West, but that might not satisfy fans that have seen some good but very little greatness from this franchise since it was formed in 1976. A playoff win is in order form Holmgren.
15. Detroit - Steve Mariucci (5-11, 1 year, 0 playoff appearances) The Lions have won a total of 10 games in the past three years, and last prevailed on the road during the 2000 season. They made some strides in Mariucci's first season, and got high marks for this past year's draft, but will have to show improvement in the won-loss column and be consistently competitive as well. If not, team president Matt Millen could get the axe. Once he goes, Mariucci's days will likely be numbered.
16. Houston - Dom Capers (9-23, 2 years, 0 playoff appearances) Capers built the expansion Carolina franchise from the ground up in his last stop, and has done the same with a Houston club that has become competitive enough to make the playoffs a goal in 2004. If they don't make progress over the next couple of years, it could signal Capers' exit, but for now the well- regarded coach is in little jeopardy.
17. Tennessee - Jeff Fisher (88-62, 10 years, 5-4 in playoffs) Fisher's teams have won 11 or more games and made the postseason in each of the past four seasons, giving the veteran head coach plenty of leeway in Nashville. He'll have to deal with the loss of running back Eddie George and defensive end Javon Kearse, as well as an aging quarterback in Steve McNair, but Fisher has been up to most challenges in his career thus far.
18. Jacksonville - Jack Del Rio (5-11, 1 year, 0 playoff appearances) Del Rio's first season in Jacksonville netted the team's worst record since its inaugural campaign of 1995, and also coincided with the introduction of Byron Leftwich at quarterback. As goes Leftwich, so likely goes Del Rio, who is probably two disappointing years from being in a position to sweat.
19. Kansas City - Dick Vermeil (27-21, 3 years, 0-1 in playoffs) The Chiefs were the best team in football during last year's first half, starting 9-0, but had trouble stopping offenses during the second phase of the season and fell short of the AFC Championship game. Vermeil fired defensive coordinator Greg Robinson in favor of former Chiefs head coach Gunther Cunningham, which could elicit more favorable results. Vermeil, who bailed on the Rams after winning a Super Bowl, might be more likely to leave following great success rather than great failure. The job is likely his as long as he wants it.
20. Green Bay - Mike Sherman (43-21, 4 years, 2-3 in playoffs) Sherman has won more games in his first four years than any coach in Packers history (including Vince Lombardi), but has yet to guide the team to a Super Bowl or even an NFC Championship game. That doesn't sit well with some cheeseheads, who might need to be reminded of the tenures of Ray Rhodes or Forrest Gregg. Quarterback Brett Favre will be 35 this year, meaning the Packers are a team on the decline, but their fall from grace would have to be precipitous for Sherman to lose his job any time soon.
21. Buffalo - Mike Mularkey (First Year) Though the Super Bowl can't really be the goal for an organization that has newer won one, the Bills and their fans do expect a consistent winner. Wade Phillips was shipped out following an 8-8 season that was preceded by two early playoff exits, and Gregg Williams also got just three seasons. If Mularkey doesn't put Buffalo back on the NFL map in that time period, he'll be gone.
22. Indianapolis - Tony Dungy (22-10, 2 years, 2-2 in playoffs) The Colts won a playoff game (actually two) last year for the first time since 1995, and the Peyton Manning-led offense was one of the league's most exciting. If Dungy, who was seen as a defensive specialist when he was hired, can ever make that side of the ball a dominant unit, even the villainous Irsay family will be hard-pressed to stab him in the back as they did the city of Baltimore in 1983.
23. Cincinnati - Marvin Lewis (8-8, 1 year, 0 playoff appearances) Lewis turned the Bengals from laughingstock to playoff contender overnight, embarrassing many of the team owners that had rejected his head coaching aspirations over the years. Now there are expectations in Cincinnati, but unless the Bengals revert to their bungling ways over a period of a couple of years, Lewis will be in fine shape from an employment perspective.
24. Dallas - Bill Parcells (10-6, 1 year, 0-1 in playoffs) Parcells turned around the Cowboys sooner than most expected, leading them back to the playoffs in year number one. The team could take a step back this season, but since Dallas owner Jerry Jones gave Dave Campo three 5-11 years, he's not likely to put any heat on Parcells. If the coach leaves anytime soon, it will probably be due to dysfunction in his personal relationship with the owner, which hastened his exits from both the Patriots and Jets.
25. Tampa Bay - Jon Gruden (19-13, 2 years, 3-0 in playoffs) After winning the Super Bowl in his first year with the Bucs, the boy wonder suffered through the first losing season of his head coaching career in 2003. After overhauling the talent and hand-picking a new GM (Bruce Allen), Gruden now has a team that better fits his style. Unless the results are disastrous, Gruden will have many years to tweak his inricate system in Tampa.
26. Carolina - Jon Fox (18-14, 2 years, 3-1 in playoffs) Fox took Carolina to the promised land last season, as the Panthers made a stunning run to the Super Bowl and came alarmingly close to winning it. That fact doesn't mean Fox is necessarily secure - five of the last seven Super Bowl losing coaches are no longer with the team they led there - but the head coach's approach is obviously working in Charlotte. Fox has a long leash.
27. Philadelphia - Andy Reid (51-29, 5 years, 5-4 in playoffs) The city of Philadelphia, which hasn't won a pro championship in over 20 years, is starving for a title. Reid has gotten the Eagles tantalizingly close with three straight NFC Championships in the past three years. Anything short of a trip to the Super Bowl is going to be viewed as a disappointment in Philly, though it would be madness to let Reid get away in light of his success. Only something shocking, like a losing season, would lead to any serious call for change.
28. Baltimore - Brian Billick (47-33, 5 years, 5-2 in playoffs) Billick is a popular figure in Baltimore, as its citizens will never forget his Super Bowl title and can recall the Ted Marchibroda era all too well. New owner Steve Bisciotti rewarded Billick with a new and lucrative contract prior to training camp, which should keep him in the Charm City for years to come. The team has won just one playoff game since its Super Bowl season of 2000, but Billick's job is hardly in danger.
29. Chicago - Lovie Smith (First Year) The Bears organization has been pretty patient with its coaches of late, giving Dick Jauron (four losing seasons in five years) and Dave Wannstedt (no 10-win seasons in six years) plenty of time to become the next Halas or Ditka. A city that hasn't won a playoff game since 1994 might be less patient with Smith, but it is hard to envision the franchise giving up on him before allowing three seasons for success.
30. Atlanta - Jim Mora, Jr. (First Year) Mora is set up for big things, as he inherits the most talented quarterback in football, Michael Vick, and will work before a fan base not exactly known for being demanding or outspoken. It took four losing seasons in five years following a Super Bowl appearance to run Dan Reeves out of town, and Mora should expect about the same treatment.
31. Arizona - Dennis Green (First Year) Some said that Green took the worst gig in football, but would could be better than being able to do your job with minimal expectations from the outside? Green is a proven winner, and even remote progress should help him keep his place in the sun just as long as he wants.
32. New England - Bill Belichick (39-25, 4 years, 6-0 in playoffs) Two Super Bowl titles in in the past three years give Belichick as much "untouchable" status as a coach can lay claim to in today's NFL. Like Mike Shanahan, Belichick would probably have to go five years without a playoff win for anyone to begin whispering about his job status.
Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Tony Moss at firstname.lastname@example.org