Ah, it’s that time of year again. The days become shorter, the weather gets colder and NFL coaches are starting to update their resumes. Below are the officially unofficial NFL Head Coach Hot Seat Rankings.
32. Andy Reid – Kansas City Chiefs
What a difference a year makes! This time last season, Andy Reid (aka the Kool-Aid guy) and his Philadelphia Eagles owned a disappointing 3-6 record after losing their fifth straight game. Reid’s Eagles went on to lose another four straight and eventually got pounded by the Giants in Week 17, finishing the year with a 4-12 record. Reid was fired the next day.
Now, now—don’t be sad walrus lovers! There’s a happy ending here!
Reid was hired by the Kansas City Chiefs four days after his firing and hasn’t looked back since. Kansas City is easily the most improved team in the league this season and Reid’s presence is the main catalyst (that and the fact that Matt Cassel was told to leave and never, ever come back). The Chiefs sport the third best points differential in the NFL (compared to dead last in 2012) and rank near the top or at the top in just about every defensive category. Reid’s offensive scheme has also allowed Jamaal Charles to break out as an elite three-down running back. Most importantly, the Chiefs sit in first place in the NFC West with a perfect record of 9-0 and will surely be a playoff team in 2013. The historic turnaround will very likely win Reid coach of the year honors, making his job the safest in the league.
31. Bill Belichick – New England Patriots
Belichick has been coaching the Patriots for the last 64 years (seems high, but don’t feel like fact-checking) and with the Pats on track for yet another double-digit win season, there’s no reason why Belichick and his three rings would all of a sudden get canned. He’ll leave Foxborough on his own terms.
30. Pete Carroll – Seattle Seahawks
Pete Carroll has been fantastic in his four years as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Not only is he entertaining to watch on game days, but he’s actually a really good coach.
Carroll took over the job in 2010 and in his first season he led the ‘Hawks to a 7-9 record, which back then was good enough to win the NFC West (oh how times have changed) and won a playoff game (you know, that game Marshawn Lynch did this). Carroll followed up his rookie season with another 7-9 season. Not impressed? 7-9 WITH TAVARIS JACKSON AND CHARLIE WHITEHURST AT QUARTERBACK!!! That’s at least worth a 10-win season in my books. With one of the best defenses in the NFL already in place, Carroll found competent if not great quarterback play from Russell Wilson in 2012 and since then, the Seahawks have won 20 of their last 26 games and are well on their way to a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
29. John Harbaugh – Baltimore Ravens
Being only nine months removed from winning the Superbowl has to be worth something. The Ravens haven’t looked great this year, but Harbaugh can’t be faulted for that. After all, it wasn’t his choice to say farewell to half of his starters on defense and trade away their most proven receiver. Ray Rice’s injury(ies) and Joe Flacco being, well, Joe Flacco haven’t helped things either.
28. Sean Payton – New Orleans Saints
Has a coach ever showed more value by not showing up to work than Sean Payton did last season? The Saints were lost without Payton on both sides of the ball; Drew Brees threw a league-high 19 picks while the defense was an absolute sieve, allowing the second most points in the league. With Payton back this season, the Saints have returned to their usual dominant selves on offense (fourth in points scored), have drastically improved on defense (tip of the hat to obese Fabio) and currently sit atop the NFC South standings at 7-2.
Unless another bounty program surfaces in the Saints’ locker room, Payton’s job should be safe for a long while.
27. Jim Harbaugh – San Francisco 49ers
Jim Harbaugh may be the best coach in the NFL. So why is he only the sixth least likely to get fired coach in the league? A little over a year ago, Harbaugh went all-in on Colin Kaepernick—not just for the 2012 season, but for the rest of his tenure as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
Kaepernick, while still full of potential, hasn’t had the kind of follow-up season the 49ers were surely hoping for after he dazzled last season. People can point to the loss of Kaep’s favorite target—Michael Crabtree—as an excuse for the stunted development, but it’s not as though Kaepernick is deprived of offensive weapons. Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis are well above average as pass catchers, Frank Gore is still a threat in the running game and Kaepernick has the luxury of playing behind probably the best offensive line in football.
Writing off Kaepernick at this stage of his career would be ridiculous, but the chance of him not panning out as an elite quarterback is present nonetheless. And if he doesn’t pan out, Harbaugh will be on the hook.
26. Mike McCarthy – Green Bay Packers
Mike McCarthy has to be the unluckiest coach in the NFL as the Packers seem to endure countless injuries year in and year out. This year is no different, making it nearly impossible to point the finger at McCarthy for the Packers’ disappointing 5-4 record. Unfortunately for McCarthy, the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately?” kind of business. Another bite from the injury bug next year could jeopardize his future in Green Bay.
25. John Fox – Denver Broncos
John Fox is no doubt a great coach (he reached the Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme as his quarterback…no, seriously) but so much of the Broncos success over the past two years can be attributed to Peyton Manning. Without Manning, you have a team with a quarterback with zero career starts and a whisper-thin defense. Sounds a lot like the 2-14 Colts from 2011.
24. Chuck Pagano – Indianapolis Colts
Speaking of those 2-14 Colts, here’s the guy who took over for the man that got fired for that ugly debacle.
Chuck Pagano appears to not only be a good tactician, evidenced by the vastly improved defense this season, but a great motivator. In sickness last season, his motivational speeches—like this tear-jerker for example—helped turn an extremely talent-deficient team into a playoff team. The Colts are once again thin in terms of top-end talent, but they keep finding ways to win—even against the league’s best teams.
For a team that’s supposed to be in year two of a deep rebuild, the Colts’ 17-8 record since Pagano’s hiring is quite frankly incredible.
23. Marc Trestman – Chicago Bears
Marc Trestman got off to a great start this season in his first tenure as an NFL head coach. Articles like this and this were being written about him. But then, at 4-2, the injury bug (quite possibly travelling from nearby Green Bay) hit the team.
Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Jay Cutler—three of the Bears’ best players—have all gone down with serious injuries since their Week 7 loss to the Washington Redskins. Briggs won’t be back until December, Tillman was placed on IR and Cutler is not only dealing with the lingering effects of a torn groin, but is now also dealing with a high ankle sprain that will force him to miss this week’s game against the Ravens. Let’s not forget pro bowler Henry Melton’s torn ACL from Week 3.
Injuries to that many significant players is simply bad luck and considering Trestman’s promising start to the season, his job is about as safe as it can get for a rookie head coach regardless of how this season plays out.
22. Chip Kelly – Philadelphia Eagles
It’s been a weird first season for Chip Kelly as the Eagles’ head coach. In training camp, he continuously reiterated that there was a quarterback competition (even though we all knew the guy being paid loads more than the other guy would eventually be named the starter) and that the Eagles would be running the up-tempo offense Kelly was so successful with at Oregon. In Week 1, with the guy being paid loads more than the other under center, they overwhelmed the Redskins with the up-tempo offense Chip Kelly had promised.
The Eagles are now running with an ordinary-paced offense (in order to keep their porous defense off the field) which is being run by their backup quarterback because Vick got injured (to the surprise of nobody). Kelly, if nothing else, has shown he’s adaptable as an NFL coach, an important trait for a coach to possess in a league where nothing stays constant.
The awful defense he had at the beginning of the year has shown great improvement as the year’s progressed, as they’ve only allowed seven touchdowns in their last five games. Oh, and that “backup” quarterback has thrown for 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions over his last two games.
This Eagles team is just good enough and their division is just bad enough for them to sneak into the playoffs. If that happens, Kelly will find himself even lower in these rankings.
21. Marvin Lewis – Cincinnati Bengals
Not many would dispute the notion that Marvin Lewis is a good NFL coach. After all, being employed by a single franchise for a decade puts Lewis in some pretty select company. But Lewis’ career record as the Bengals head coach is a mediocre 85-84-1, he’s made the playoffs only four times (only twice as a division winner) and is 0-4 in those four playoff games.
If the Bengals miss the playoffs—a distinct possibility after the season-ending injury to Geno Atkins—or get bounced in another AFC Wild Card Game, the Bengals may look at making a change.
20. Rob Chudzinski – Cleveland Browns
Fun Depressing fact about Rob Chudzinski: he’s been employed by the Browns three separate times in his coaching career.
Chudzinski is an offensive-minded coach, which is ironic considering Brandon Weeden is allergic to scoring points. Assuming the Browns are able to draft or trade one or both of their first round picks to acquire their quarterback of the future this offseason, they may be serious contenders next season. No seriously. Come on, stop laughing. The Browns front seven is solid, Joe Haden and TJ Ward are studs in the secondary, Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon are young, dynamic pass catchers and with anyone not named Willis McGahee in the back field, the Browns are really a quarterback away from being a well-rounded team.
Chudzinski’s Browns are faring much better than people anticipated this season. If they’re able to get their guy under center next season, his third stint coaching in Cleveland may be a lengthy one.
19. Mike McCoy – San Diego Chargers
Mike McCoy fixed Philip Rivers!
The Chargers may not be able to stop a nose bleed on defense, but at least they have an above-average quarterback—something that was in serious doubt coming into the season. If McCoy and the Chargers’ management team can fix that defense in free agency and/or the draft, this team could be in great shape next season.
Is it possible the AFC West could be the best division in football next year? Hey, Tim Tebow was once a starting quarterback (ironically, thanks to Mike McCoy), so crazier things have happened!
18. Bruce Arians – Arizona Cardinals
Bruce Arians was phenomenal last year for the Colts filling in for Chuck Pagano and was a deserved hire as an NFL head coach.
Arians’ offensive mind is well-respected around the league, as he won a pair of Superbowls—one as a wide receivers coach (2005) and one as offensive coordinator (2008)—with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Cardinals’ hire of Arians made sense as they fielded arguably the worst offense of all-time last year. That’s not hyperbole, that’s fact. Arians was supposed to fix that and while it hasn’t been nearly as bad as last season, the improvement hasn’t been as big as the Cardinals had expected or hoped. Carson Palmer hasn’t been the answer, to nobody’s surprise, and if Arians wants to last in the desert, a change under center needs to be made.
17. Ron Rivera – Carolina Panthers
Ron Rivera was undoubtedly the toughest coach to rank. If these rankings were made a month ago, Ron Rivera would probably have been numero uno. Now? ‘Riverboat’ Ron has the Panthers playing a dominant brand of defense and his recent aggressive play-calling on offense is paying big dividends.
If the current trend continues, the Panthers will be a playoff team and Rivera’s job will be safe. If it doesn’t, and the Panthers fail to make the playoffs once again under Rivera’s tutelage, he’ll be canned. The NFC is wide open, so either of these situations is plausible which is why he’s right in the middle at number 17.
Stay tuned for Part II which should be posted later in the week.