Time to Turn it Round? 10 NFL Head Coaches in the Hot Seat (Part 2)

Today, we continue our countdown of the 10 coaches in the hot seat. If you haven’t read Part 1, you can do so here.

5. Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars.

It has not been a good year for Gus Bradley, or the Jacksonville Jaguars. At 1-9, your chances of turning your season around are out of reach. The best possible record for this team is seven wins—not even a .500 season—and that assumes the team win out. Their best realistic hope: Not finishing dead last in the NFL, though of course that also means giving up first overall pick in next years draft.

But just because the season may be out of reach, doesn’t automatically mean that their head coach is on the chopping block. A number of head coaches have survived horrendous seasons—eg, the Falcons kept Mike Smith after a 4-12 record in 2013, Jim Schwartz survived in 2012 after a similar record—and for Bradley, he will need to make it to at least that sort of record for if he is to have a chance of remaining in Jacksonville next season.

Bradley is a second year head coach, and his first year record of 4-12 gives him very little leeway when it comes to failure. The first-year jitters should be out of the way by now, and wins should be starting to come in.

The biggest thing in Bradley’s favour at this point is the fact that the Jaguars know they are in a long-term rebuilding process, and Bradley represents a big philosophical change for the team, which was always going to take time to implement. Typically speaking, a rebuilding as significant as that required in Jacksonville would take at least three to four seasons, and owner Shahid Khan would certainly have known this when he brought Bradley in.

As Alfie Crow, over at Big Cat Country said prior to the start of the season, “Barring the Jaguars getting their doors blown off every game in 2014 and ending up with the first overall pick, I find it hard to picture Gus Bradley being on the proverbial hot seat this season.”

We agree, but unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what has happened through the first half of the season. The team rank towards the bottom of just about every meaningful category in the NFL, on both offence and defence—Bradley’s supposed speciality.

Add to that the fact that the team could be preparing to relocate to the UK shortly after Bradley’s rebuilding is complete, and the continued shift in the NFL towards offence, over defence, and Bradley may yet find himself unwanted in the Jaguars, or unwilling to remain their.

No-one in the Jaguars organisation expected a one year turn around, and so even small progress will likely be enough for him to keep his job, regression, however, may be enough to force the team’s hand,

4. Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears.

Marc Trestman was a hire we loved when it was first announced. Although relatively unknown in NFL circles, Trestman had done great things in the CFL, including back-to-back Gray Cup titles, and a CFL Coach of the Year  title. Trestman inherited a team which had gone 10-6 in the previous season, and was perceived only to need tweaking to make them Super Bowl ready.

The Bears had seemed to hit a wall with the defensively minded Lovie Smith, and were struggling to get the most out of their star QB Jay Cutler. Trestman—a QB guru in the pass-heavy CFL—was seen as the answer.

A solid, if unspectacular 8-8 season in 2013 was enough to convince most fans to give Trestman a little more time—yes, it was short of the 10-6 record Smith had delivered one season earlier, but passing and rushing yards were both improved on previous seasons, and the drastic change in philosophy was always going to take some getting used to.

However, after 9 games, their 3-6 record, including back-to-back 50+ point blowout losses to both the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers have some questioning if the Trestman experiment is over.

The Bears success has always come on the back of tough defence, hard running and efficient passing play. Abandoning that formula so completely has been costly for the Bears, and has alienated fans and players alike.

To pin it all on Trestman is, perhaps a little unfair. Some of the blame has to fall on GM Phil Emery, who fired Lovie Smith in spite of their 10-6 record—a record which in almost any other season would have been enough for a wildcard spot—and handcuffing Trestman to Cutler, in spite the growing body of evidence to suggest that Cutler, not Lovie Smith was the major reason that the Bears passing offense struggled.

At 3-6 the playoffs are not completely out of reach—a 10-6 season is still within grasps—but assuming the Bears don’t win out, Trestman is very much in the hot seat. Anything less than a playoff appearance is unlikely to cut it with the Bears top brass, considering the recent record of the team Trestman inherited.

Trestman’s inability to make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons would likely spell the end of his career in Chicago, and while the CFL would still undoubtedly welcome him back with open arms, other NFL teams may hesitate to offer him another shot.

3. Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons.

Another coach on the “what have you done for me lately” list, Mike Smith has unfortunately watched his Atlanta Falcons implode in recent seasons.

In 2008, Smith took a team that had gone 4-12 in the previous season, to an 11-5 record, and a wild card berth in the playoffs. After a slight down season in 2009 (9-7) Atlanta went 13-3 and won the NFC South in 2010, 10-6 and a Wildcard spot in 2011, and 13-3 in 2012, winning the NFC South, and scoring their first playoff win under Smith, against Seattle.

Then the wheels came off. In spite of being considered by most as Super Bowl contenders in 2013, the season never got going. An injury riddled team struggled to find the form they had seen in recent seasons, and Smith did not seem to have backup plans to deal with the struggles they faced. They ended 4-12, well outside of the playoff hunt, and far from the “hotlanta” seen in previous seasons.

2014 was therefore seen as make or break for Smith, and a 3-6 start to the season has not done much to help his cause. Once again, injuries have caused at least some of the difficulties for this team, and while this may have bought some head coaches a little grace, Falcons owner Arthur Blank has been vocal in his criticism of the teams performance, and seems unwilling to give Smith another season.

A 10-6 turn around could be enough to grant Smith a reprieve, but according to Jason La Canforna, the decision to fire Smith at the end of the season has already been made.

Perhaps the only hope for Smith could be the fact that Blank wants an “A-list” replacement to turn things around, and, if no such candidate looks likely to become available, could be forced to reconsider.

Potential A-list names could include a trade for Jim Harbaugh, whose time in San Francisco is reportedly over, handing the franchise to Rob Ryan, the Saints current Offensive Coordinator, or tempting Jon Gruden to leave the broadcast booth, but if none of these are available, none of the other up-and-coming assistants considered as head coaching candidates are considered high-profile enough to make the big splash Blank wants, nor are many a great fit for the team.

However, this is hardly the eventuality Smith should be counting on to keep his job, and that this is considered his only real chance of surviving shows how bad things have got for this once admired coach.

2. Rex Ryan, New York Jets.

There are no two ways to slice it—Rex Ryan’s time in New York is coming to an end. The only question remains how much of the season will he get to keep hold of the reins, and who will he take down with him. He knows he’s on his way out—his demeanor and choice of phrase during the post-game press conference after their surprise win over the Steelers felt almost like a farewell, a man determined to go out on a high.

Ryan’s major issue is not the win-loss record—although it makes some pretty tough reading in recent seasons—nor the even some of the questionable personnel choices the team have made recently—GM John Idzik needs to take some responsibility for this—but rather his bullish insistence that the team is not that bad, that their performance is not reflective of their skill.

There are, of course, times when this is true, and a coach needs to let people know. And there are times when this is not true, but a coach needs to inspire his troops nonetheless, to let them know he believes in them. But there is only so long people will believe this, before they begin to question your sincerity, and no longer believe anything you say.

That, coupled with his refusal to acknowledge that his quarterbacks have not been getting the job, and unwillingness to try others until the season is already out of reach appear to have sealed his fate.

To this day, Jets fans still wear Tebow Jersey’s to the game, in spite, or perhaps because, of Ryan’s unwillingness to give him a shot at QB. Geno Smith’s tenure as starter has been an unmitigated disaster, and yet Michael Vick—who has played well while healthy in Philadelphia, and looked hot against the Steelers—was not given a shot to start until Week 10, when the playoffs are already well beyond reach.

These are the sort of gaffes which, looking back, will ultimately have cost Ryan his job in New York. At this point, there is really nothing Ryan can do to keep his job—even winning out would only net the team an unimpressive 8-8 record. The Jets need a clean break, a fresh start. Ryan is not a bad coach, but the combination of Ryan, Idzik and the Jets just never worked out as planned, and Gang Green deserve more than this group have delivered. A house cleaning is in order, and seems inevitable, even before the end of the season.

1. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants.

The only coach in worse shape than Jets coach Rex Ryan, is Giants coach Tom Coughlin. It’s tough times at Met Life stadium, and for New York football fans all around.

It’s hard to think that the Giants are just two and a half seasons removed from their second Super Bowl victory of the Coughlin/Manning era. At 3-6 in 2014 and following a 7-9 season in 2013, the shine has worn off this once great tandem.

At 68, it is apparent to almost all that Coughlin just doesn’t have it any more. He is making errors on, and off the field, and is no longer the imposing figure he once was. He has already lost his coaching staff—the majority of his biggest supporters have been replaced in recent seasons—and appears to be losing the locker room as well.

The Giants appear to have a successor lined up in offensive coordinator Ben Mcadoo, a coach the players appear to be rallying around, and the front office are slowly building a coaching staff which appears to have him in mind.

Off the field, Coughlin appears to be out of touch with the modern NFL, sticking with veterans who are no longer up to scratch, and failing to evaluate and nurture younger talent properly, and on field, he is becoming slow to react to the pace of the game—for example, his team recently gave up a touchdown while he stood on the sideline fumbling to find the challenge flag he kept in his sock.

Although he was recently given a contract extension until the end of the 2015 season, the reality is, there is no chance Coughlin will still be head coach next year. If the Giants do not promote him, Mcadoo will get a head coaching job elsewhere, and that would be perhaps the biggest mistake this team could make.

The only question which really remains is whether Coughlin will be given the chance to retire, and walk away with his head held high, or if he will be forced out prior to the end of the season.

If he can retire gracefully, he has a shot at Canton in 5 years time. If he is fired, and leaves under a cloud, his reputation, and chance of enshrinement could be tarnished.  While we hope that Coughlin will be allowed to call time on his storied NFL career on his own terms, we fear that unless wins begin to come thick and fast, Coughlin may be cut, and will not get the chance to walk.

What do you think of this list? Have we missed anyone? Are there any coaches on this list who you don’t think deserve to be? Let us know in the comments below.

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