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Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
At least six NFL head coaches will be fired during the 2019 league year.
How can anyone be certain the league will experience so much turnover seven months before the regular season even begins?
The last time fewer than six new head coaches entered a season was 14 years ago. Patience runs thin among NFL owners, and the coaching churn is constant.
Of the seven head coaches hired just three years ago, only one—the Philadelphia Eagles’ Doug Pederson—is still with his team.
As a result, it’s never too early to see how hot certain seats are around the league, even though the previous season ended just over a week ago.
Seven coaches are in need of turnarounds and already know the 2019 campaign is vital to their long-term futures with their organizations.
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A picture of the Washington Redskins’ Jay Gruden should appear when viewing the definition of a mediocre head coach. Since he took over a 3-13 team and went 4-12 in his first season, Washington is 31-32-1. The franchise hasn’t made the playoffs or finished better than third in the NFC East since 2015.
“If I’m fortunate enough to be here, I feel good about the nucleus of the players that we have,” Gruden said after the 2018 regular season, per NFL.coms’ Austin Knoblauch. “We have to adjust some things without a doubt; when you’re 7-9, with injuries or not, it’s not good enough for this franchise.”
To be fair, there was a built-in excuse, as Gruden mentioned.
Washington was atop the division with a 6-3 record, but quarterback Alex Smith suffered a devastating knee injury Nov. 18 against the Houston Texans, which started the team’s skid to a 1-6 finish.
Gruden got another season thanks to the extenuating circumstances. Next season will be a make-or-break campaign.
“I know Mr. Snyder demands greatness from his staff and his players, and we didn’t do enough this year, so we have to figure out ways to get better—from the coaching staff standpoint first and then from a players standpoint,” he said.
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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
An NFL head coach is only as good as his quarterback.
Poor Doug Marrone.
Right now, the Jacksonville Jaguars don’t have a starting-caliber signal-caller. Marrone benched Blake Bortles for Cody Kessler only to bench Kessler for Bortles. The Jags are expected to move on from Bortles this offseason, but the damage has been done.
This started during the 2018 AFC Championship Game, in which Marrone decided an ultra-conservative approach was enough to milk his team’s way into a Super Bowl appearance. Instead, the New England Patriots roared back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to claim another AFC crown.
Despite the talent on the Jacksonville roster, the organization is deficient at the game’s most important position. Meanwhile, running back T.J. Yeldon, right guard A.J. Cann, wide receiver Donte Moncrief and kicker Kai Forbath are pending free agents. Defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Malik Jackson are potential salary-cap casualties. Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey may even talk his way off the team.
A 5-11 campaign and the No. 7 draft pick aren’t good enough. If the Jaguars don’t get better play from their starting quarterback, it’s hard to imagine them doing much better this fall.
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A Super Bowl appearance usually provides a head coach with a few years of leeway. Dan Quinn’s wiggle room appears to be waning after the Atlanta Falcons’ memorable meltdown during Super Bowl LI.
The team started slowly in each of the last two seasons. A 2017 turnaround allowed the Falcons to make the playoffs, but they lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Last season, Atlanta stumbled to a 7-9 record in the highly competitive NFC South.
“We’re nowhere near the identity we want to be,” Quinn said after the team fell to 4-9, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Mark Bradley.
The Falcons won their final three games, but that streak shouldn’t absolve a poor performance by Quinn and his staff. Atlanta’s final three opponents owned a combined 15-33 record.
Quinn’s decision to ax all three of the team’s coordinators after a sloppy, mistake-filled campaign said everything about his status. The next step will be obvious if the Falcons continue to falter: Quinn will be replaced, because there’s no one else left to take the blame.
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The Carolina Panthers have missed the playoffs as many times as they’ve made them during Ron Rivera’s eight seasons as head coach.
A 7-9 effort in 2018 landed them third in the NFC South. But a 6-2 start devolved into a seven-game losing streak, and Rivera became trapped in the moment and didn’t address the team’s faults.
“I have to evolve, I have to change,” Rivera said, per the Charlotte Observer‘s Jourdan Rodrigue. “This team has to evolve, this team has to change. … I’ve got to step up. I’ve got to set the standard.”
More of the onus will fall on the head coach since he’s decided to remain the defensive play-caller after taking over duties in Week 13. If Carolina doesn’t improve last year’s 15th-ranked unit, Rivera will endure the brunt of the blame.
And the defense will play a vital part since Cam Newton‘s status remains in question. The quarterback is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
Another missed postseason in 2019 will be the third in four years. Rivera acknowledged his shortcomings, but self-scouting may not be enough to realize organizational improvement.
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San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York made a long-term commitment to head coach Kyle Shanahan, signing him to a six-year deal to turn the franchise around after a tumultuous period.
Two years later, Shanahan’s standing seems less stable. A 5-22 record sandwiched around the team’s end-of-2017 five-game winning streak doesn’t have the 49ers trending in the right direction.
“I think we came here knowing that it was going to take some time,” Shanahan said in December, per the Associated Press’ Josh Dubow. “I think the way we finished last year definitely excels everyone’s feeling and what they thought. But by no means did I think we were coming into it this year and it was just going to be easy. I knew it was going to be extremely hard.”
The difficulty level rose to unexpected levels when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 3. His return to the lineup could have major ramifications for the 49ers and how they operate.
But what if Garoppolo’s return isn’t the elixir that makes everything right?
York will then have to question the team’s approach with Shanahan leading the way—even if the coach’s contract doesn’t include offset language, per Michael Lombardi of The Ringer NFL Show (via David Bonilla of 49ers Webzone).
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Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
The Pittsburgh Steelers had been the league’s standard for stability. Now, they’re something else: an organization beset with internal strife.
“It does seem very dramatic,” Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, whose brother, T.J., plays for the Steelers, said on Late Night with Seth Meyers. “It’s like somebody that’s watching the Kardashians…and I can call one of the Kardashians. I’ll call my brother—I’ll see everything on TV—and I’m like, ‘OK, give me the real story.’ And it’s pretty wild. It’s pretty wild.”
Pittsburgh slipped to 9-6-1 last season and didn’t make the playoffs after four straight appearances. One down season isn’t enough to shake the organization’s faith in longtime head coach Mike Tomlin, but continued dysfunction could be a catalyst for change.
“I think that only changes when you start from the top. You got to start from the top, and that starts with your head coach,” former Steelers great James Harrison said on Super Bowl Live (via NFL.com’s Nick Shook). “… And I think right now it’s a combination of [favoritism] going on and maybe a little bit of a lack of actual leadership.”
Ten years without a Super Bowl championship is a lifetime to the Steelers. Another nonproductive campaign could signal Tomlin’s end.
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Jim Mone/Associated Press
The Minnesota Vikings’ Mike Zimmer will enter the 2019 campaign in the final year of his contract.
“Sure, I’ve got no problem with that,” Zimmer said, per Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. “Free agent after that, right?”
That comment was made in jest, but uncertainty follows the 62-year-old coach after last year’s disappointing 8-7-1 campaign. The Vikings went from 13-3 and an NFC Championship Game appearance to missing the postseason despite the addition of Kirk Cousins.
“It’s disappointing we end up finishing that way, but there are a lot of good, positive things,” Zimmer said, per NFL.com’s Herbie Teope. “We finished in top five on defense again, we finished No. 1 in red-zone defense, finished No. 1 in third-down defense again.”
Notice: Zimmer didn’t mention the offense. After the season, Kevin Stefanski was moved from interim offensive coordinator to the permanent role after being considered for the Cleveland Browns’ head coaching vacancy, which may be crucial to the franchise’s long-term plans.