As another NFL regular season draws to a close, a hot topic of discussion is always the coaching hot seat. It can be an awkward and unpleasant topic. In many cases it’s not 100% fair to blame the coach for a team’s underperformance. The NFL season is a short one; 16 measly games. A solid baseball team can go through a brutally bad 16 game stretch and have plenty to time to right the ship over its 162 game season. In basketball and hockey, it’s not quite as easy, but over an 82 game schedule, it’s still well within the realm of possibility to recover from a rough 16 game patch.
But football? No, entire seasons can go south in a mere 4 or 5 weeks. The quarterback can get hurt. The schedule makers can be merciless. The referees can be horrifyingly inept, or just plain cheat. Or the oblong ball made of pigskin might take an inopportune bounce. It really takes very little. The final playoff participants are frequently separated from the Just Missed Its by one lousy game…or even a tie-breaker.
And someone has to take the fall. The NFL is a gazillion dollar enterprise, and failure is not tolerated for extended periods of time; not by a fan base that spends ungodly amounts of money on season tickets and memorabilia. Not with television networks throwing around billions. Not in the social media era, where anonymity is an ancient relic from a bygone era, and everything gone wrong can instantly go viral. Every move, every mistake is under a microscope.
You can get rid of an underperforming player or two, and try to sell your fan base that an upgrade here or there was really all you needed. But put too much on the players, the guy who makes the decisions is indirectly pointing the finger at himself, since he’s the guy that went out and got those players. No no, we can’t look too hard at the GM. Well, that leaves the coach.
Again, it’s not always fair. Football can’t be painted in black and white, and there isn’t always a direct cause and effect correlation. Then again, the lowest paid nfl head coach makes 100 times what the average blogger with a day job makes, so my sympathy goes only so far. Well, for right or for wrong, here are The Stain’s top 5 coaches who may be filing for unemployment insurance sooner rather than later.
5. Andy Reid, KC: Didn’t take us long to get to the surprises, did it? But wait a minute, you might be saying. The Chiefs have been halfway decent the last couple of seasons. And, you’d be right. In fact, they went 11-5 as recently as 2013. But there were rumblings that the record was fluky. They got off to a good start, just kind of held on at the end, and then predictably went nowhere in the playoffs. Apologists will point out that as far as the regular season goes, it doesn’t matter in what order you win the games, just that you do. And they’d be right, to a point. But this year, the team will either finish 8-8 or 9-7, barring a tie, and miss the playoffs regardless. That’s a startling regression from a team that won 11 games just one season ago, and doesn’t appear to have any age-related player regression concerns. The defense is solid, they have an all-galaxy running back in Jamal Charles. Alex Smith almost never turns the ball over. The right blueprint seems to be in place. But it didn’t happen. You look at some of the games they lost, like the one against the Raiders. A team that had just beaten Seattle should be able to win that game, right? And there was the winnable game at home against the Broncos. Charles carried the ball 10 times in that game. For perspective, the Broncos’ CJ Anderson carried it 32 times in the same game. Even if you count his four receptions, 14 times is not enough for your best player to get the ball in a game against a division opponent with Super Bowl aspirations. Some tough questions could be asked of Reid after this season. It remains to be seen whether he can come up with answers. I think he’ll get one more year, but if the brass in KC thinks that this could have been the year for them, it may be a story with an unhappy ending for Reid.
4. Marc Trestman, Chi: The Bears have to go down as one of the season’s biggest disappointments. It started week 1 at home against Buffalo, and just never really got any better. What may hurt Trestman is that he brought with him the reputation of being a sort of quarterback whisperer, someone who could coax extraordinary results from his signal caller. Well, that may or may not be true, but Jay Cutler leading the league in turnovers would jade just about anyone’s 10,000 foot judgment on that. If you look at little deeper, yeah, Cutler hasn’t been very good. But he also hasn’t been as terrible as the numbers would indicate. Quite a few of his interceptions have been of the second half variety while his team has abandoned the run and desperately tried to claw back into a game it was losing by multiple scores. This would be because the defense, by in large, showed an alarming lack of ability to stop anyone. Sure, age, injury and some personnel decisions that were questionable have had a negative impact on this unit. But Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker has to shoulder his fair share too. For years, Lovie Smith had success with a reasonably uncomplicated Tampa 2 scheme. Whatever Tucker is running currently for Chicago is neither Tampa 2 nor uncomplicated. That said, Tucker came from Jacksonville with a sterling reputation. And Trestman came from the CFL. In a logical vacuum, Tucker would seem the guy who may be responsible for more of this season’s calamity. But Trestman, at least on the surface, can be called the bigger risk when he was brought in to coach. So, logically, he’d be the guy that would make more sense to fire.
3. Jeff Fisher, Stl: Fisher has always been overrated, largely because he had a Super Bowl appearance with an absurdly talented Tennessee Titans team which he lost by half a yard. Apart from that, mediocrity abounds across his resume. When he joined the moribund Rams franchise three years ago, he was anointed some kind of savior, which was completely unfair to both him and the gullible fan base. But that said, he still represented an improvement over previous coaching regimes, so optimism spread like wildfire. After the third, and arguably worst of his three seasons in charge, the luster has worn off. However, upon closer inspection, he’s been perfectly serviceable as a head coach this year. The real issue is that as long as Brian Schottenheimer is in charge off offensive play-calling, the Rams will never be good enough. Schottenheimer is so brutally incompetent at running an offense, the Rams could eliminate his position entirely, have whomever is playing quarterback call every play at the line of scrimmage, and immediately see a drastic improvement. At the very least, there would no longer be a concerted effort made to keep the ball out of the hands of the team’s most explosive weapons. But the poop rolls down hill as they say (And by they I mean me), so Fisher is more likely to face the scrutiny. Couple the teams offensive troubles with questionable coaching selections (Gregg Williams the first time, then Tim Walton), there’s a real chance that GM Les Snead looks elsewhere. If Fisher has a saving grace, he can honestly and accurately say “look, I haven’t had a healthy starting quarterback for two consecutive seasons.”
2. Jim Harbaugh, SF: Media outlets pretty much have already punched his ticket to Michigan, or Oakland, or…well, anywhere but San Francisco. It would have been hard to predict at the beginning of the season that the Niners would miss the playoffs. After all, the team made it to three consecutive NFC Championship Games, including one Super Bowl, and the core elements of what got them there were intact; rock solid defense, uber-athletic quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and of course, bulldozing running back Frank Gore. Looking back at the 2014 season, it’s not hard to see why it went south. The team essentially anchored Kaepernick to the pocket, taking the most explosive element of his game out of the nightmares of defensive coordinators. They also showed a Schottenheimerian reluctance to give Gore, arguably the team’s best player, the ball. Suspensions and injuries hampered the defense a little, but largely, the unit performed well. The struggles were on offense. Now, was it offensive coordinator Greg Roman who messed with a winning formula? Or was it head coach Harbaugh? I don’t know that the question will be answered. But one thing is for sure. Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire. And if Harbaugh wants out, as has been rumored all year, nobody would benefit by him staying.
1. Mike Smith, Atl: If the Falcons happen to lose on Sunday, they will have gone a combined 10-22 the last two seasons. TEN and TWENTY-TWO!!! And mind you, this is a team that boasts Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Julio Jones on offense, and shows no aversion whatsoever to getting the ball to its best players. The players, especially Ryan, love Smith. But the players are also not the ones making the decision on whether Smith stays or goes. And football is very much a what have you done for me lately game. If the Falcons happen to win on Sunday, they’ll actually win the NFC South division with a record of 7-9, and possibly save his job. But even that might be prolonging the inevitable. All you have to do is Google him and you’ll see multiple media outlets urging, albeit somewhat apologetically, for Smith’s dismissal. When it’s gotten to that point, it’s a long road back.
Honorable Mention. Sean Payton, NO: After nine years of coaching the Saints, you’d be hard to find many detractors of Payton. He’s universally regarded as a great coached, and he’s beloved in New Orleans. It would be hard to imagine him getting fired. But this could end up being a case of the team throwing Payton a bone and letting find a contender to coach next season. (San Francisco?) It’s time for a bit of a rebuild in New Orleans. They have some nice offensive pieces in place, with Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills, and a suddenly good Mark Ingram. But they’re lacking in youth and depth. Even with a good framework in place of stars to build around, it can take a couple of years to restructure a roster to perennially compete. It takes patience, and most often multiple successful drafts. Odds are Payton will stay, but would you really be overly surprised if a coach accustomed to success didn’t want to suffer through a rebuild?
Did we miss anyone on our list? Let us know in the comments. Happy holidays, all.