With the first preseason games not far away, we are gearing up for the season. Having covered veteran players who could find themselves looking for new employment earlier, it’s time to turn our attention to the coaches.
No head coach is going to be fired before the season starts, and there is rarely more than one or two who go during the year, but by this time next year we will have four or five new head coaches and four or five new faces on pre-game panels and in commentary boxes. So, which coaches are sitting on the hot seat to start the season?
1 Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts
It was a surprise when Pagano survived the ax at the end of last season. The Colts have gone backwards during his five years at the helm, and while a lot of the blame can be placed at the feet of departed general manager Ryan Grigson, he has to shoulder some responsibility as well, particularly for the woeful defense.
With Andrew Luck’s surgically repaired shoulder still causing issues and question marks all over a partially rebuilt defense, there should be plenty of concern in the Pagano household despite his four-year extension signed last year.
2 Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans
9-7 is the Bill O’Brien way. Come rain or shine, the Houston Texans go 9-7. With a +65 point differential in 2014 or a -49 one in 2016. That record has been enough to win the AFC South for the past two years, but that division has been in chaos since Peyton Manning had neck surgery. The Texans have been bounced swiftly from the playoffs in the last two years, with their only win coming against a Derek Carr-less Raiders.
O’Brien, often credited for being a “QB Guru”, has failed to work his magic on a lot of very middling talents, but now he has his quarterback. How long Tom Savage can hold off Deshaun Watson is anyone’s guess, but with the Tennessee Titans coming on strong and the Jacksonville Jaguars finally starting to put together a solid roster, 9-7 might not cut it anymore, and if they do manage to repeat the last two years it still may not be enough to keep O’Brien on to the end of his five-year deal.
3 John Fox, Chicago Bears
Fox was hired in 2015 to lift the Chicago Bears off the foot of the NFC North. Two years and 23 losses later and the Bears are in exactly the same position as they were when he was hired. General manager Ryan Pace, who came in with Fox, is probably feeling the same pressure, which is why he first signed Mike Glennon and then traded for Mitchell Trubisky.
The pair of quarterbacks are going to be fighting it out for the whole of camp and 2017’s first round pick may well end up sitting on the bench. Meanwhile, 2016 first round pick Leonard Floyd has been working on tackling better (an important thing for a linebacker) and 2015 first round pick Kevin White has just 14 catches to his name in what has been effectively two lost seasons. If those three explode in 2017 it could save Fox’s job, and after going 3-13 last year even a six or seven win season might save his job so long as they avoid a long losing streak. Still, this is likely the last year for Fox barring a miracle.
4 Todd Bowles, New York Jets
Is this harsh? The Jets have cleaned the roster out since Bowles arrived in 2015. They purged the roster of basically anyone over 30 who was getting paid in the offseason and have left him with such an obvious tank-job that they ended up below the Cleveland Browns in our preseason power rankings.
With Josh McCown, Bryce Petty, or Christian Hackenberg under center, the chances of the Jets improving from their 5-11 record of last season seem minimal, and while Bowles still has a great defensive line to play with and a few nice pieces behind them with which to cause some havoc, the likelihood of him avoiding a slew of terrible headlines from the New York media is very slim.
5 Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
It seems like Lewis has been on the hot seat forever. He has been in charge of the Cincinnati Bengals since 2003 and had seven winning seasons, but no playoff wins, in his tenure.
So if he has survived this long, why would he be on the hot seat now? Well, the Bengals roster is in tatters after another year of letting quality players walk out the door in free agency. Andy Dalton has relied on excellent blocking up front, and with both Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler elsewhere for 2017 he is at great risk of being flattened again and again. We have seen before that the Bengals simply don’t have the team to survive losing Dalton, or even put up wins with Dalton only having a so-so season.
If the Bengals fall further behind the Steelers, or into the clutches of the Browns, there will be hell to pay for Lewis. Or at least, there should be.
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