Earlier today I mused briefly about the glee of Friday, and some of my favorite Friday activities, none of which involve signing a contract worth $40 million.
But there’s one Friday activity I truly cherish: forecasting when rich men paid to lead football teams will be fired. I do this every Friday, but just happened to write about it today. Last season 32 coaches started the NFL season–because that’s how many teams there are in the NFL–and eight didn’t finish.
That’s 25 percent of the league, which isn’t necessarily indicative of a trend we can expect to continue as losing seasons begin on Sunday. The coaching carousel is a fickle beast from year-to-year, so the rate of change after any one season is unpredictable.
But with patience thin and the window for winning brief, change is a comin’. Between 2007 and 2009 18 teams changed head coaches, giving the profession of coaching in the NFL only moderately more job security than a used car salesman.
So, who are the most likely candidates to join the ranks of the unemployed this year?
1. Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars
It doesn’t seem fair that the two coaches leading this list are also leading two of the shakiest quarterback situations in the league. But contrary to what Al Pacino would have you believe, winning or losing like a man isn’t all that matters. It’s mostly just winning that matters, and Del Rio’s success in Jacksonville has been fleeting. The Jaguars have made the playoffs twice during his eight-year tenure, and have a 20-28 record over the last three years.
Two years ago Del Rio was rumored to be considering the vacant head coaching gig at USC before he had a nice heart-to-heart with Jags owner Wayne Weaver. Del Rio was kept on board to continue a rebuilding process that’s now led to Luke McCown making his eighth career start Sunday. If the Jaguars don’t make the playoffs, and if the additions of Paul Posluszny and Dawan Landry aren’t enough to improve a poor run defense, then Del Rio will have the final two years of his contract ripped up.
2. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
Guns don’t hurt people, hollow promises hurt people. When a coach is given a two-year contract extension it’s like inviting the in-laws over, but making them sleep in the garage. Their presence is tolerated, but only from a distance.
After Mike Brown lingered over his 2011 coaching direction for several days Lewis was given a two-year deal worth $6.5 million last January. Now Lewis is left with Carson Palmer still playing Mr. Mom at home, inexperience at quarterback and wide receiver, and a running back who takes breaks from football to serve jail time.
But he’ll stick around despite this impending disaster and his recent record, because Brown is stubborn like that.
3. Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
Albert Haynesworth was a giant, sleeping, locker room mess, and now he’s gone elsewhere to wake up from his two-year slumber. But Shanahan’s mishandling of Haynesworth showed his willingness to allow a player conflict to grow into a very public squabble, an exercise that was repeated during Donovan McNabb’s exit.
Shanahan signed a five-year contract worth roughly $7 million annually before the 2010 season, and after making a poor decision to acquire McNabb and then later sign him to an extension, he’s now left with Rex Grossman leading his offense.
4. Tony Sparano, Miami Dolphins
Sparano is another coach who’s been given the two-year hollow promise, a pact made last winter after Dolphins owner Stephen Ross missed out on the hot supermodel during the head coaching carousel, and settled for the moderately attractive girl he brought to the bar. Ross wanted Jim Harbaugh, and met with the eventual 49ers coach before re-signing his current bumbling sideline leader.
Sparano is woefully unorganized during games and during the offseason. His mistakes are glaring enough that he doesn’t deserve to be an NFL head coach, yet somehow he’s still employed under that title.
5. Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans
The Texans should make the playoffs, and they should have an improved secondary after the additions of Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning, and they should win the AFC South with Peyton Manning gone for likely the entire season.
If they’re not playing during the second weekend in January, Kubiak is gone.
6. Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
Firing a head coach who’s won his division in three out of his four seasons with a team seems like a ludicrous idea. But eventually a team that’s loaded with talent on both sides of the ball every year has to demonstrate the mental moxie to become elite and rise to a championship level.
The Chargers have come close and whiffed several times under Turner, and their habitual slow start (San Diego is 7-12 during the first seven weeks over the last three seasons) reflects a lack of preparedness. Last year Turner’s boys watched the playoffs from home despite having the top-rated offense and defense.