In the line of fire

Guest Post by Simon of Four Minute Drill(@headedforhades)


There are a lot of demands on an NFL Head Coach’s attention, even now. Off-season workouts are getting under way, the Draft is looming large, and there are new playing and coaching staff to get up to speed with your philosophies and ideas.

Training camp follows shortly thereafter, tough decisions need to be made to thin the herd for the final 53-man roster, and then a few pre-season games to assess progress. All of this before the first ball is thrown in anger and the regular season gets underway.

For some Head Coaches, however, their attention (at least in part) will be drawn even further down the road that is the 2015 season.

All the way to Black Monday.

It has become something of a tradition in the NFL that, on the first Monday after the conclusion of Week 17, team owners make their franchise’s first personnel change of the off-season – by firing the Head Coach.

Whilst we’re still a long way from the 2016 rendition of Black Monday, I think there are already a number of Head Coaches who will (or at least should) be glancing over their shoulder:

Joe Philbin – Miami Dolphins

This isn’t a surprise. That came after Week 16 of the 2014 regular season when Dolphins owner Stephen Ross announced another year in charge for the man many had earmarked to be the first casualty of the season (Jim Harbaugh aside).

Already eliminated from Play-Off contention, and needing a win in their last game just to record a winning season (the first of Philbin’s 3 year tenure and Miami’s first in 6), I don’t think anyone saw the extension coming, least of all Joe himself.

Whilst you could argue the Dolphins have improved in each of the three years he’s presided, it would be fair to say little of that is down to Philbin. Several games were lost last season on the back of some bizarre decisions and his understanding of game situations seems to be almost non-existent.

I do have the Dolphins as a candidate to record a winning season in 2015, but that alone probably won’t be enough to save Philbin his job. Come December, I think everyone in Miami will want the extension to be to their season this time around.

Jeff Fisher – St. Louis Rams

The highest paid coach in Rams history isn’t having the best of times. Once the NFL’s longest tenured Head Coach during his time with the Tennessee Titans (’97 to ’10), Jeff Fisher could shortly be on the move again.

After making initial strides in his first year in charge, taking a 2-14 team to 7-8-1, the Rams’ record hasn’t improved since. In fact, last season saw the worst finish under Fisher since his arrival – 6-10 and dead last in the NFC West. In a division that has become one of the toughest in the League in that time, it’s a record that stands out even more as a result.

The loss of Sam Bradford to an ACL injury in pre-season certainly won’t have helped the Rams’ cause last year, but with one of the better defenses in the League they should have been able to win more than 6. The now trademark offensive frailties of a Jeff Fisher team made sure that didn’t happen.

Next season will be the fourth of Fisher’s five year contract in St. Louis. I think it could well be his last, too.

Marvin Lewis – Cincinnati Bengals

It’s not often a Head Coach who has made six visits to the Play-Offs during their reign would be a prime candidate for the job market but, having failed to win a single game on any of those visits, I think Marvin Lewis might fit the bill.

Although his most recent 2-year contract extension was set to expire at the end of the 2014 campaign, Lewis was handed another extension by Bengals owner Mike Brown before the season began. This one, however, was only for a year (taking Lewis through 2015). That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of faith in your Head Coach to break the Play-Off curse. It’s also unlikely to be a coincidence that the Bengals can also part ways with perennial under-achiever Andy Dalton after 2015 without having to take a financial hit.

The Bengals want, nee need, to win in the post-season and, on the surface at least, it seems as though the axe will be swung if that doesn’t happen in 2015. The first to feel it will likely be Lewis.

Gus Bradley – Jacksonville Jaguars

Gus Bradley had a lot working against him when he took over at the Jaguars. A roster largely devoid of talent, and a need to rebuild through the Draft, it was never going to be an immediate transformation. A second year presiding over the youngest roster in the NFL, and one where over half the offensive starters were Rookies, and there’s reason to see why progress would be slow.

Whilst there has been progress, it has come in too specific a set of areas to have an overall impact and left Bradley with a combined record of 7-25 in his two seasons as Head Coach. The one key area where the improvement needs to be seen, however, is in the results themselves. A nondescript roster and a young offense finding their way are both arguments as to why it’s hard to be competitive in the NFL to date, but it is wins that are needed.

The question is, for how many more years can Bradley find realistic justification for a losing record?

Chuck Pagano – Indianapolis Colts

33-15 in the three years in charge. Two Divisional titles. Three Play-Off appearances. Quite a record for a Head Coach to stick on his resume. Just as well, as Chuck Pagano may need to update his at the end of the year.

The Colts look to be in “win it now” mode headed in to the 2015 season, and whilst Pagano’s model consistency of 11-5 records in each of his three seasons in Indy would have other teams in the League offering bodily appendages, it would appear the Colts owners wouldn’t be overly happy with a fourth.

For a long time during (and after) the 2014 season, there was no news of an extension for Pagano, whose current contract expires at the end of 2015. Eventually, there was talk of a one year extension at a moderate figure, which never saw ink.

As with the Bengals and Marvin Lewis, that decision is no endorsement for a Coach who has consistently taken you to the Play-Offs and one that smacks of a franchise desperate to make the big dance again next season.

Jim Tomsula – San Francisco 49ers

Yes, I know, poor Jim hasn’t even made himself comfortable in his new office in Santa Clara yet, but I think the seat is already rather warm.

After the ignominious parting of the ways between the 49ers and Jim Harbaugh following a disappointing 2014 season, Tomsula was a surprise choice as the man to take up the challenge of returning the team to winning ways, and one that I think was more about regaining some harmony within the organisation itself rather than getting the right Head Coach for the job.

There is no doubt Tomsula is liked by the players and is clearly liked by the 49ers for them to elect to promote him over bringing in a different coach, especially when you consider some of the other candidates, but it is hard to believe his appointment was based on solid footballing reasons.

Factor in that his contract is (reportedly) one of the cheapest in the League for a Head Coach, and I can’t help but think it is a win-win for owner Jed York. If Tomsula manages to galvanise the roster and take the 49ers back to the Play-Offs, a lot of the dissenting voices will be silenced.

If they end up in the basement of the NFC West, as many predict, it won’t cost York a great deal to part ways with a second Jim in as many years.


Like this post? Give Simon some love, hit him up on twitter: @headedforhades and check out Four Minute Drill