Head coaches, coordinators and quarterbacks all share the same quickest path to the unemployment line.
“Making the same mistakes week after week,” one longtime NFL general manager said.
That’s why Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett deserves credit for swallowing his pride and quickly hiring Jerry Rosburg as a Game Management Coach. The strategic mistakes that Hackett made while also trying to call offensive plays in his first two games at the helm were obvious to any teenager with a Madden video game.
It might have been job-saving, too. Because if you think one year is too quick to fire a head coach, think again. Eight NFL head coaches have been dumped after one season (or less) since 2011, and the Broncos changed ownership in August.
So, it’s not too early to declare Hackett — or any other first-year coach such as the Raiders’ Josh McDaniels (0-3) or Saints’ Dennis Allen (1-2) — on the hot seat.
“Your goal isn’t to prove you are patient and give people a fair amount of time,” another longtime NFL executive said. “Your goal is to find the right people and support them — and drive them to be the best they can be.”
Here is a list of other head coaches, coordinators and quarterbacks on the hot seat after three weeks of the NFL season, compiled after conversations with sources in and around the league:
Matt Rhule, Panthers head coach: Since owner David Tepper was sitting outside Rhule’s home waiting to offer a seven-year, $62 million contract when the family came home from a vacation to Mexico, Rhule is 11-25. Rhule took over floundering programs at Temple (2013) and Baylor (2017) and won 10 or more games in Year 3 at both stops. He’ll be rumored as a top candidate for any Power Five school with a vacancy, and there already are three (Georgia Tech, Nebraska and Arizona State). Let’s see how long Tepper’s “patient approach,” as reported by NFL Network, lasts.
Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals head coach: Like Rhule, he’ll have no trouble landing back in college, though he was 35-40 before he was fired by alma mater Texas Tech. The Cardinals have started fast and finished poorly under Kingsbury — from 5-2 to 8-8 in 2020 and from 7-0 to 11-6 in 2021 — but are 1-2 and yet to hold a lead in regulation of any of their three games. No cushion to pad another poor finish. The Kingsbury-Kyler Murray love affair has died down. So has Kingsbury’s play-calling creativity.
Frank Reich, Colts head coach: A lot of equity was lost when Reich went to bat for acquiring Carson Wentz and Wentz flopped so badly in his one year as quarterback that owner Jim Irsay ripped him after trading him. Now Matt Ryan’s skills seem to be deteriorating under Reich’s watch. Not good, especially combined with the Colts’ head-scratching struggles against recent division doormats Jacksonville and Houston. General manager Chris Ballard would be on the hot seat, too, if he weren’t so good at drafting All-Pros.
Lovie Smith, Texans head coach: David Culley was a lame duck head coach all last season. When he was fired, it certainly wasn’t with the intention of promoting his defensive coordinator. But it seemed the Texans were scared off from hiring Josh McCown without any NFL head coach experience and settled on Smith, whose third shot to be an NFL head coach is off to a winless start (0-2-1). Smith’s defense (no coordinator was hired) ranks No. 29 in yards allowed.
Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator: Arguing with Patrick Mahomes — as Bieniemy did just before halftime last week — isn’t good for job security. Bieniemy reportedly has interviewed for 14 head coach jobs over the past four hiring cycles without an offer. If the Chiefs don’t win it all again and someone has to take the fall, a “mutual parting” makes sense so Bieniemy can prove his worth away from the shadow of Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid. Former Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale was in a similar position when he came to the Giants last offseason.
Luke Getsy, Bears offensive coordinator: It sounds ludicrous to put a first-time play-caller on the list three games into his first year, especially for a 2-1 team. But the Bears are heavily invested in their 2021 first-round pick, quarterback Justin Fields, who has been limited to throwing 15 times per game in a league where the next-lowest team has averaged 26.3 pass attempts. First-year general manager Ryan Pace (who did little to help Fields in the offseason) and defensive-minded first-year head coach Matt Eberflus won’t be blamed if Fields regresses.
Aaron Glenn, Lions defensive coordinator: Highly regarded for his ability to lead players, the former Jets cornerback has been on a few head coach lists. But the Lions are allowing a league-high 31 points per game. For all the people who want to blame quarterback Jared Goff, the offense is averaging 31.7 points per game. It’s clear why the Lions are under .500 again.
Mitch Trubisky, Steelers quarterback/Matt Canada, Steelers offensive coordinator: The feeling around the Steelers is Mike Tomlin wants to stick with Trubisky until at least midseason because there is no going back if rookie Kenny Pickett falters when he gets his chance. And the streak of 15 straight non-losing seasons means a lot to Tomlin. But the Steelers offense feels lifeless — four offensive touchdowns in three games — and struggling against the Jets could expedite change. Maybe it’s Canada — who didn’t see eye-to-eye with retired quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in their two years together, either — who is let go first.
Ryan Tannehill, Titans quarterback: It feels like a setup to fail. None of the top four pass-catchers from Tannehill’s two breakthrough seasons (2019-20) are still with the Titans, and only rookie receiver Treylon Burks was added in return. Rookie third-round pick Malik Willis is sitting on the bench and needs to be evaluated before the Titans consider using a 2023 first-round pick on Tannehill’s successor.
Carson Wentz, Commanders quarterback: It becomes a little tiring hearing about athletes fueled by their haters. Until you see someone such as Wentz — who should have been out for the last laugh against the Eagles — come up small with no shortage of motivation. Against a team that he essentially quit on when times got tough, Wentz failed to lead the Commanders to any points on their first 11 possessions. Last year’s make-the-most-of-his-talent starter Taylor Heinicke is just idling on the bench. Wentz won’t get another starting job if he loses this one — unless he wants to go to the CFL.
Twenty-eight and great (or hate)
Take away undefeated Eagles, the Dolphins (3-1) and the two winless teams, and the rest of the NFL is a jumbled mess of 13 teams with 2-1 records, the Bengals at 2-2 and 14 teams with 1-2 (or 1-1-1) records. Let’s try to make sense of the logjam after three games of evidence changed some preseason forecasts. The 28 middling teams are split into four categories using famous NFL quotes:
“You play to win the game.” — Herman Edwards
Championship contenders (6): Bills (2-1), Chiefs (2-1), Packers (2-1), Buccaneers (2-1), Rams (2-1), Ravens (2-1)
With all due respect to the Eagles and Dolphins, both conferences’ eventual No. 1 seed in the playoffs probably is on this list. Three teams have quarterbacks with a Super Bowl ring and an NFL MVP. Two others have quarterbacks with a ring or an MVP. Then there’s the loaded Bills.
“We’re talking about playoffs?” — Jim Mora Sr.
Serious playoff contenders (8): Jaguars (2-1), Browns (2-1), Cowboys (2-1), Vikings (2-1), Bengals (2-2), Chargers (1-2), 49ers (1-2), Cardinals (1-2)
The biggest surprise here is the Jaguars, who have the NFL’s second-highest point differential (+46), usually a sign of a good team. A close second is the Browns, who should be 3-0 if not for a disastrous 60 seconds of defense and special teams against the Jets and will get Deshaun Watson back after 11 games.
The Bengals just need to stop shooting themselves in the foot, but the 49ers and Chargers are in more trouble than people care to admit.
“Cannot play with them, cannot win with them, cannot coach with them.” — Mike Singletary
Not quite ready for contention (9): Broncos (2-1), Giants (2-1), Bears (2-1), Patriots (1-2), Jets (1-2), Steelers (1-2), Colts (1-1-1), Lions (1-2), Saints (1-2)
A mix of overachievers (Giants and Bears) and underachievers (Colts and Saints) who look as if they will be held back by an underwhelming roster, questionable coaching or both. There’s an adage in scouting: Evaluate the player, not the helmet. The same thing applies here. Forget what the last decade has told you about the Patriots and Steelers — or on the flip side about the Lions and Jets. They are all in the same boat now.
“Consider yourself sucked.” — Bill Parcells
Start looking ahead to the 2023 NFL Draft (5): Seahawks (1-2), Falcons (1-2), Commanders (1-2), Panthers (1-2), Titans (1-2)
The Southeast is great for college football. But the NFC South and AFC South are the worst two divisions in the NFL. The Titans have fallen the furthest.
College football game to watch
No. 10 North Carolina State at No. 5 Clemson, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, ABC
Here’s a chance for North Carolina State quarterback Devin Leary (completing 64 percent of his passes for 890 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions in four games) to elevate from a mid-round prospect into the upper echelon of a deep quarterback draft class.
“Devin is being typecast as that guy who is a good-to-really-good college quarterback who doesn’t really have the size or the arm to be a great NFL quarterback,” said Matt Miller, publisher of thedraftscout.com. “He’s somebody you think could rise to the level of, ‘He may be able to start somewhere.’ There’s not a lot of mechanical deficiencies, but there’s not a lot of physical superlatives when it comes to the play. Sees the field well, accurate, and I do like him.”
Clemson owns the longest active winning streak in college football (nine, dating to last season) in large part because of a defense anchored by three potential first-rounders: defensive tackle Bryan Bresee, defensive end Myles Murphy and linebacker Trent Simpson.
“Week 1 is a résumé game, and Bresee was so damn good that week [against Georgia Tech] to where you are like, ‘That is everything,’” Miller said. “He’s playing almost every snap with a relentless motor, making extra-effort plays. He looks like a guy who has figured it out.”
A scout told Miller before the season that Simpson is the “Micah Parsons of college” from a versatility standpoint.
“We haven’t seen a lot from him, but I do think that will change now that they are playing [better] teams,” Miller said. “What we saw last year was he can rush off the edge, he can drop into coverage, he can play stack ‘backer and he’s 6-foot-3, 240 [pounds] and a phenomenal athlete. There’s not a limit to what he can be asked to do.”
1. Because the Giants played Monday instead of Sunday, they were one of three undefeated teams, along with the Dolphins and Eagles, after last weekend. Maybe we should’ve seen that coming on Jan. 8, 2018, when Alabama won the College Football Playoff national championship on an overtime touchdown pass.
Jalen Hurts (Eagles quarterback) started the game for Alabama, but was pulled in the second half in favor of Tua Tagovailoa (Dolphins quarterback), who threw the walk-off 41-yard strike to Devonta Smith (Eagles receiver) on a play called by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (Giants head coach). Daboll reportedly pushed to make the quarterback change late in the regular season to no avail.
The winning play — four verticals against Cover-2 defense — was called “Seattle,” and the 13-point second-half comeback “took some years of my life,” Daboll told AL.com that night. He left to become Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator about a week later.
2. Curses don’t sit in traffic. The curse of the Chargers had no trouble making its way from San Diego to Los Angeles when the franchise moved in 2017.
The Chargers lost their first playoff game in 2004 after a 14-2 regular season. Two of their three will-be Hall of Famers (tight end Antonio Gates is the other) were hurt the week before the 2007 AFC Championship Game: Running back LaDainian Tomlinson was held to two carries, and quarterback Philip Rivers struggled through a torn ACL.
Since then, there have been stunning collapses fueled by a botched kneel-down, allowing a fourth-and-29 conversion, poorly used timeouts that turned a playoff-spot-clinching tie into a loss on the final play of the regular season, and other ways to turn a 99 percent win probability into a loss.
The Chargers still emerged as this year’s trendy preseason Super Bowl pick for the foolish (me), however. And it looks about to crumble because of a more old-fashioned reason: Six of the Chargers’ top nine players — eight of whom have been All-Pros or Pro Bowlers or Rookie of the Year — are dealing with serious injuries.
Just a sampling: Quarterback Justin Herbert is playing through fractured rib cartilage, right tackle Rashawn Slater (torn biceps tendon) is out for the season, defensive end Joey Bosa (groin) is out at least four games and likely much longer, wide receiver Keenan Allen (hamstring) has missed the past two games and cornerback J.C. Jackson (ankle surgery on Aug. 23) has missed two of the first three games.
3. There’s a chance for the Seahawks fans who booed Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson in his return to Seattle with the Broncos in Week 1 to be let off the hook this week as the most tone-deaf fans of the season. Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson is returning to Philadelphia, where they booed Santa Claus and cheered Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin leaving on a stretcher.
After one season with the Eagles as a quarterback (1999) and four as an assistant coach, Pederson delivered the Eagles’ only Super Bowl title as head coach on Feb. 4, 2018. He was fired 1,072 days later in the midst of the quarterback change from Carson Wentz to Hurts that now looks brilliant. Pederson said he is “looking forward to hopefully the welcome,” but acknowledged, “It’s Philly. Anything can happen.”