Sports | Analysis
January 1, 2018 at 4:48 PM
John Fox and Jim Caldwell were the latest head coaches to go as the firing-and-hiring season for NFL head coaches began in earnest with the close of the regular season. And, by mid-day Monday, Bruce Arians was stepping down as coach of the Cardinals.
The Chicago Bears parted with Fox after a 5-11 season and the Lions dropped Caldwell after a 9-7 finish, marking two changes in the NFC North’s four teams. Those firings came early on New Year’s Day and followed the dismissals of Jack Del Rio by the Raiders and Chuck Pagano by the Colts on New Year’s Eve.
Arians, 65, told members of the Cardinals organization that he would retire as coach, according to a person familiar with the situation, after his fifth season. He previously was the interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts while Chuck Pagano battled cancer. The Cardinals went 8-8 this season and were 15-16-1 over the past two seasons after three straight seasons with 10 or more victories.
One NFL coach — Ben McAdoo of the New York Giants — had already been fired before Sunday’s regular season finales and another, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, remains in limbo despite meeting with owner Mike Brown on Monday.
Here is a look at all the moves, the likely moves and the top candidates to fill the vacancies. We’ll be adding the latest news and coaching rumors to the top throughout the weekend and beyond. You can jump down to the candidates by using the nav link below.
John Fox: The record will show that Fox leaves with only 14 victories in 48 games over three seasons. Although Fox had success elsewhere, he could never duplicate that in with the Bears, who now may seek an offensive-minded coach rather than someone focused on defense, as Fox, who has one year left on a four-year contract, was. With Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback, a change in philosophy most likely is in order.
“Thank you to all the players, coaches, the city of Chicago and Bears fans everywhere,” Fox said in a midmorning statement. “Your passion for the game and this team is unmatched in the NFL. Today is the tough part of our results-oriented business, but I wish the Bears organization the best for years to come.”
Jim Caldwell: A 9-7 finish nonetheless brought the end of Caldwell’s time in Detroit. Like Fox, Caldwell could never duplicate his previous success in four seasons with the Lions, despite the presence of a quarterback like Matthew Stafford. Caldwell, unlike Fox, has had winning seasons in three of his four years with the teams, although the Lions (36-28 under Caldwell) have missed the playoffs twice in the past three years.
“Have you ever heard me defend or anything,” Caldwell said Sunday after the Lions swept the Packers for the first time since 1991. “Not to anybody. It’s not just to you. It’s not to anybody. I don’t make any excuses. It’s just not the way I live my life. We go out and we do what we do and let everybody make an assessment from there.
“What’s the real assessment is wins, wins and losses. That’s the key.”
The Lions reportedly have requested permission to speak to Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel. They’re also expected to interview Caldwell’s defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin.
Jack Del Rio: Shortly after the Raiders’ 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Del Rio stepped to the podium and did something coaches rarely do: he announced that Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis had told him he was fired. Del Rio, who received a four-year contract extension earlier this year, finished with an 25-23 record as head coach in Oakland — with the lion’s share of the losses (10) coming in 2017.
“He told me he loved me and appreciated all I did to get this program going in the right direction, but that he felt the need to change,” an emotional Del Rio said (via ESPN). “I told him how much I appreciated the opportunity he gave me; very grateful, my childhood team.
“But it’s a results business. I understand that.”
The Raiders are expected to quickly move to sign Jon Gruden, who won Super Bowl XXXVII while head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Gruden has not coached in the NFL since 2009 when he was fired by the Bucs and has been an analyst with ESPN since then.
Chuck Pagano: The first firing of a coach this offseason was unsurprising. The announcement officially came soon after Indianapolis’s 22-13 win Sunday over the Texans, which gave the team a 4-12 record.
“Chuck Pagano provided Colts fans with many exciting wins and memories as head coach of the Colts,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement. “Throughout his tenure in Indianapolis, he impacted the lives of the players he coached, those who he worked with in the organization and Colts fans across the globe. Chuck’s first season was one of the more inspirational stories in NFL history as he courageously battled and overcame leukemia. As a result, his CHUCKSTRONG Foundation has raised millions for cancer research. We are thankful for Chuck’s contributions to our franchise and community and we wish him, Tina and the entire Pagano family nothing but the best moving forward.”
In six seasons with the Colts, Pagano compiled a 53-43 record, plus a 3-3 mark in the playoffs, including a loss to the Patriots in the 2015 AFC championship game whence Deflategate emerged. After starting with three straight 11-5 campaigns though, Pagano’s Colts went 8-8 in both 2015 and 2016, while Andrew Luck was hampered with injuries, including a shoulder problem that required surgery and kept him out of this season altogether.
Dom Capers: The Green Bay Packers made an expected move, firing the defensive coordinator who had been with the team since 2009.
Hot seat index
Expected to be gone
Marvin Lewis, Bengals: There has been speculation that Lewis and the Bengals will agree to part ways. If that happens, Lewis could end up in a front office somewhere, maybe even in Cincinnati. The Bengals could try to land one of Lewis’s former offensive coordinators who left to become head coaches, the Redskins’ Jay Gruden or the Browns’ Hue Jackson, or they could promote defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Lewis and owner Mike Brown met Monday morning, but there was no word on whether there had been a resolution of Lewis’s status.
Could go either way
Bill O’Brien, Texans: O’Brien, who had three straight 9-7 seasons before this season’s unraveling with injuries to J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Deshaun Watson, reportedly will be retained. But don’t forget that O’Brien chose Tom Savage, not Watson, to be the Texans’ season-opening starter at quarterback.
Hue Jackson, Browns: Owner Jimmy Haslam has said that Jackson will be retained for next season. But the Browns are 1-30 since the start of last season. They could complete a winless season Sunday. What if John Dorsey, the new GM hired by Haslam, lobbies for a new coach? The possibility that Cincinnati could be a landing spot for Jackson further complicates any internal politics that might be at work in Cleveland.
Jason Garrett, Cowboys: Owner Jerry Jones said this week that he’s not considering a coaching change. Will that remain the case following Sunday’s season finale in Philadelphia? A season that began with seemingly legitimate Super Bowl aspirations ends with the Cowboys missing the playoffs. Jones seems to be directing most of his ire at the league and at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for the six-game suspension of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott under the personal conduct policy. But does Garrett deserve some of that blame?
Jay Gruden, Redskins: Gruden’s contract runs through 2020, and he has done reasonably well this season to keep the Redskins within a game of .500 entering Sunday’s finale against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. Gruden probably should stay. But there’s always that “you never know” element at this time of the year, particularly with the Redskins’ traditional impatience with coaches. What if the Redskins don’t have to pay the remainder of Gruden’s contract because he lands immediately in Cincinnati? What if the Bengals were willing to sweeten the deal just a bit by throwing in, say, a draft choice? Where would Gruden be better off: remaining in Washington, probably without Kirk Cousins at quarterback, or going back to Cincinnati and working with Andy Dalton or A.J. McCarron at quarterback, with Guenther as his defensive coordinator and maybe with Lewis in the front office?
A vote of confidence
Vance Joseph, Broncos: It won’t be one-and-done for Joseph, even though it wasn’t a promising sign when front office executive John Elway called the team soft. It has been a swift descent for the Broncos in the two seasons since they won the Super Bowl in Peyton Manning’s farewell, and Elway clearly deserves his share of the blame for failing to put a quarterback in place to succeed Manning. But Elway wasn’t going to fire himself and, on Monday morning, he said he isn’t going to fire Joseph, either.
“Vance and I had a great talk this morning about our plan to attack this offseason and get better as a team,” Elway tweeted. “We believe in Vance as our head coach. Together, we’ll put in the work to improve in all areas and win in 2018.”
Should be fine, unless . . .
Mike Mularkey, Titans: All seemed well with the Titans’ rebuilding plan until they lost the last three games to put their playoff chances in peril. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has taken a step backward in his third season with just 12 touchdown passes to go along with 15 interceptions. The Titans still can get into the AFC playoffs as a wild card with a victory Sunday over the Jaguars or losses by both the Bills and Los Angeles Chargers. But if they lose and miss the playoffs, will the Titans still believe they’re headed in the right direction under Mularkey?
John Harbaugh, Ravens: If the Ravens beat the Bengals on Sunday in Baltimore, they return to the AFC playoffs after a two-season absence. It would be the team’s seventh trip to the postseason in 10 seasons under Harbaugh, and pressure would ease on Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco. But a defeat to the Bengals and a third straight non-playoff season, particularly under such disappointing circumstances, could turn up the heat on Harbaugh and Flacco.
The coaches who get to decide for themselves
Pete Carroll, Seahawks: The Seahawks won in improbable fashion last week in Dallas, with more penalty yards than total offense, in a playoff elimination game and still have postseason possibilities this weekend if they beat the Cardinals and the Falcons lose to the Panthers. Either way, the Seahawks are likely to undergo an offseason roster retooling that could involve defensive standouts Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Even if the Seahawks no longer resemble the Seahawks as everyone has come to know them, the NFL’s oldest coach makes it sound like he isn’t ready to quit, tweeting Sunday: “People talking about retirement . . . I ain’t old enough to think about retiring!”
Not going anywhere
Todd Bowles, Jets: The Jets’ five victories are roughly five more than many observers expected them to manage this season, and that apparently was plenty good enough: On Friday, Bowles and General Manager Mike Maccagnan had their contracts extended, the Jets announced.
Dirk Koetter, Buccaneers: The Buccaneers are among the league’s most disappointing teams, and it has been reported that Koetter and quarterback Jameis Winston have a strained relationship. But on Friday, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Koetter will be retained for a third season, ending the Jon Gruden rumors (at least as far as the Bucs are concerned).
Top coaching candidates
So, clearly, the Giants soon will have plenty of company in looking for a new head coach. A just-fired coach or two could be recycled immediately. But there is a sizable group of head coaching candidates from among NFL assistants, prominent college coaches and former Super Bowl winners turned broadcasters.
Here’s a rundown . . .
NFL assistant coaches
Josh McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator: He will get a head coaching job somewhere if he wants one. Now that Dave Gettleman is in place as general manager, the Giants reportedly have requested permission to speak with McDaniels and Matt Patricia, the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, during New England’s bye week.
Teryl Austin, Lions defensive coordinator: Austin’s time to be a head coach perhaps has come, and the Lions being out of the playoffs actually could work in his favor. He can focus completely on pursuing a head coaching job.
Steve Wilks, Panthers defensive coordinator: Wilks is regarded as a rising star within the coaching ranks. But he has been a coordinator for only one season, having been elevated when Sean McDermott left Carolina for the head coaching job in Buffalo.
Frank Reich, Eagles offensive coordinator: The former NFL quarterback helped to turn second-year quarterback Carson Wentz into a league MVP candidate before his injury and has played a role in the Eagles’ rise to the top seed in the NFC playoffs.
Dave Toub, Chiefs special teams coordinator: Special teams coaches usually don’t receive much head coaching consideration. But Toub is a notable exception. He is regarded within the league as a brilliant coach and as a head coach in waiting. It wouldn’t be a major surprise within the league if he lands a head coaching job during this hiring cycle.
Matt Patricia, Patriots defensive coordinator: He gets plenty of attention for being an actual rocket scientist, with a degree in aeronautical engineering. But he’s also a very good defensive coordinator. The issue, as always, in New England is: To what degree is it Matt Patricia’s defense and to what degree is it Bill Belichick’s? The Lions, Giants and Cardinals reportedly want to interview him. And the Cardinals also would like to interview the Patriots’ linebackers coach, Brian Flores. He is considered to have the inside track on replacing Patricia if he leaves New England.
Jim Schwartz, Eagles defensive coordinator: The former Lions coach has put together a very good defense in Philadelphia and deserves his share of the credit for what the Eagles have accomplished. Although Schwartz is on tap to interview with the Giants, Gary Myers of the New York Daily News reports that McDaniels and Patricia are the clear favorites for the Giants’ job and, should he be fired, O’Brien would rise, too. Schwartz, according to Myers, is not near the top of Dave Gettleman’s list.
Mike Vrabel, Texans defensive coordinator: The former NFL linebacker will be a head coach someday, whether it’s this offseason or in the near future.
Mike Smith, Buccaneers defensive coordinator: The former coach of the Falcons could receive strong consideration by the Giants.
Pat Shurmur, Vikings offensive coordinator: Helping to turn Case Keenum from a journeyman quarterback into a league MVP candidate has to count for something, doesn’t it? Is that enough for teams to put aside Shurmur’s 9-23 record as head coach of the Browns in 2011 and 2012? (Actually, nine victories in two seasons with the Browns might count as a major accomplishment.) In fact, sources tell Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press that Shurmur will be the most coveted of the offensive-oriented assistants this offseason.
Todd Haley, Steelers offensive coordinator: He’s done well in Pittsburgh. But, then again, he probably should do well with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. There again are reports of Haley being at odds with Roethlisberger. And his 19-26 record as the Chiefs’ head coach could work against him.
Harold Goodwin, Cardinals offensive coordinator: Goodwin could be a candidate to succeed Arians in Arizona.
Jim Bob Cooter, Lions offensive coordinator: Great name, promising coach. But he’s a relative newcomer to the process of being considered for head coaching jobs, so the Lions’ lack of success this season may have dimmed his prospects a bit. Still, Breer says the possibility exists of Cooter staying put as Detroit’s offensive coordinator even if the team fires Caldwell.
George Edwards, Vikings defensive coordinator: The Vikings just had a shutout in Green Bay and probably have as good a chance as any NFC team to reach the Super Bowl. But is it his defense or Mike Zimmer’s?
John DeFilippo, Eagles quarterbacks coach: He doesn’t turn 40 until April. But if NFL teams are looking for the next Sean McVay this offseason, he could be it.
Matt Nagy, Chiefs offensive coordinator: The Chiefs saved their season around the time that Coach Andy Reid handed the offensive play-calling duties to Nagy. He, like DeFilippo, could benefit from the McVay factor. Nagy also is 39.
Dan Campbell, Saints tight ends coach: The former interim coach of the Dolphins is working his way back toward another NFL head coaching opportunity.
Paul Guenther, Bengals defensive coordinator: He could be a viable candidate to replace Lewis with the Bengals if they can’t get Jay Gruden or Hue Jackson.
Steve Spagnuolo, Giants interim coach: He’ll be a candidate for the full-time job with the Giants.
Kris Richard, Seahawks defensive coordinator: Richard joined Austin, Wilks, Goodwin, Edwards and Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie on the list of head coaching candidates recommended to the league and to teams by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the diversity group that works closely with the NFL on its hiring practices. Richard succeeded Dan Quinn, now Atlanta’s head coach, as the defensive coordinator in Seattle and has done well, especially with this season’s injuries.
Nick Saban, Alabama: He has rebuilt a college football kingdom in Tuscaloosa. Why would he ever leave? Maybe, just maybe, he wants to right the wrong from his NFL failure in Miami, where he went 15-17 as the Dolphins’ coach in 2005 and 2006 after getting Daunte Culpepper instead of Drew Brees to be his quarterback. The Giants and every other NFL franchise with a coaching vacancy would be wise to offer Saban whatever he wants (within something approaching reason), both financially and in terms of control over the roster. At least make him say no.
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan: Perhaps Michigan really is his dream job and he’ll never leave it. But it hasn’t been quite as dreamy so far, and his coaching history suggests he never stays anywhere for all that long. He was very, very good in San Francisco at everything other than coexisting with his bosses and he is a proven NFL commodity for a team willing to live with his abrasive ways and tendency to move on after a few years.
After Michigan’s 26-19 loss to South Carolina in the Outlook Bowl on Monday, he was asked whether he had coached his last game with the Wolverines and his answer was short: “No.”
David Shaw, Stanford: He is very good and he is very well regarded within the NFL. But does he want to be an NFL head coach?
Former NFL coaches
Jon Gruden, former Buccaneers and Raiders coach: He last coached in the NFL in 2008. He is paid well by ESPN, and there are no losses to be endured in the broadcast booth. He reportedly is unhappy there, however, and is only 54. Although early reports had him interested in returning to Tampa Bay, ESPN reported over the weekend that Gruden might return to the Raiders, the team that traded him as a coach to Tampa Bay, and could get an ownership stake in the team that’s headed to Vegas.
Bill Cowher, former Steelers coach: Cowher has been away from the sideline even longer than Gruden. He last coached in 2006. But his name has been connected to the Giants in the past. Perhaps it will be connected to them again.
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