The NFL’s annual coaching carousel has been spinning for close to a month, with three teams having declined to wait until the end of the season to fire their coaches.
But the firing and hiring season for coaches intensifies next week, after the regular season wraps up Sunday. People within the sport say they expect a number of teams — perhaps as many as five — to join the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins in searching for new head coaches. They will all be jockeying for position with a pool of candidates that includes the former coach of the Tennessee Titans, Jeff Fisher, and perhaps a few previous Super Bowl winners.
Several executives and agents said they anticipate changes to be made in St. Louis, San Diego and probably Tampa. That comes as no surprise since there has been widespread media speculation that the Rams’ Steve Spagnuolo, the Chargers’ Norv Turner and the Buccaneers’ Raheem Morris are in jeopardy of being fired.
The Chargers take a record of 7-8 into their regular season finale and are ensured of missing the playoffs for a second straight season after Turner took them to the postseason in each of his first three years in San Diego.
“Obviously, you know, there’s speculation, uncertainty,” Turner said at a news conference Monday. “But the only thing we can control is obviously getting these guys ready to play, and we’re going to do that this week.”
The Buccaneers have lost nine straight games and are 4-11 this season, a year after going 10-6 and just missing the playoffs in Morris’s second season since taking over for former Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden. Morris said Monday he wants to continue to oversee the franchise’s progression from youthful team to consistent winner.
“I think I answered this question a couple of weeks ago: I will never fire myself. . . . You don’t go from being a coach of the year candidate to being the worst coach in the league and getting fired within a year,” Morris said.
The Rams have two wins this season after going 7-9 last season, when they narrowly missed winning the NFC West title in quarterback Sam Bradford’s rookie year.
“I think in a lot of ways you learn more in times like this than you do when it’s going good,” Spagnuolo said at a news conference Monday.
People within the sport say they consider coaching moves by other teams less likely but still possible. The Indianapolis Colts have only two victories, but Coach Jim Caldwell has won in the past and has had to play this season without quarterback Peyton Manning, the only four-time most valuable player in league history.
Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf has said he intends to retain his coach, Leslie Frazier, for next season, even with the Vikings now 3-12. The Philadelphia Eagles have been eliminated from playoff contention, a major disappointment after their post-NFL-lockout shopping spree, and fans at Lincoln Financial Field chanted at one point this season for the franchise’s longtime coach, Andy Reid, to be fired. But Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and club president Joe Banner always have preached stability and have been extremely loyal to Reid over the years.
The Dallas Cowboys’ Jason Garrett and the New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin have been under scrutiny this season. Their teams will play Sunday night at the Meadowlands for the NFC East title, and the losing coach probably will face questions about his job security. But several people within the league said they think the odds are against either of those teams making a move.
Any team that makes a coaching switch will be looking for the same sort of boost that the San Francisco 49ers got this season from their first-year coach, Jim Harbaugh, who has the team at 12-3 and poised to secure a first-round playoff bye on the heels of a 6-10 record last season. Four teams with coaches in their first full season have 8-7 records. But overall, the eight teams with new coaches this season have a combined record of just 57-63.
Some within the league believe the interim coach of the Chiefs, Romeo Crennel, has a good chance to land the job on a more permanent basis, with his candidacy boosted by his victory over the otherwise-unbeaten Green Bay Packers. Several teams with coaching vacancies could be interested in Fisher.
“Jeff is planning and preparing to be an NFL head coach in 2012,” agent Marvin Demoff, who represents Fisher, said in an e-mail.
Some within the sport also regard former Super Bowl winners Gruden, Bill Cowher and Brian Billick as potential candidates during this hiring cycle. All three have been mentioned in recent media speculation about current and potential coaching vacancies.
But some within the sport wonder if Gruden is willing and contractually able to leave ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” broadcasting booth to return to an NFL sideline, and others question if Cowher wants to resume coaching after leaving the Pittsburgh Steelers following the 2006 season.