We’re 35 days away from Black Monday, the day after the regular season when coaches who’ve done a poor job of molding young, self-centered athletic minds are given pink pieces of paper. Some of the candidates to hit the unemployment line are blatantly obvious, while others are difficult to predict because of variables relating to their contracts and management situations.
It was only a few weeks ago when we didn’t even think Tony Sparano would make it to Black Monday. Now, after the Dolphins won three straight and nearly beat the Cowboys in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, there’s far more confidence that he’ll make it to the end of the season, and Matt Moore could even save Sparano’s job if he continues to look like a competent quarterback.
Everything’s fluid, with the outcome of each week influencing a coach’s future employment. So as we get set to watch the final game of November tonight, here’s our top five unemployment candidates.
1. Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers
The refrain remains the same. Mistakes and mental errors in the fourth quarter have repeatedly sunk a team that’s playing far below it’s talent level.
2. Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville’s results through 11 games reflect a team with little identity. The Jags were blown out in Week 2 by the far superior Jets, losing 32-3. But then they shocked the Ravens in Week 7, one week after nearly doing the same to the Steelers.
Now they’ve lost to the Browns, and then yesterday Del Rio’s team was defeated by the greatly depleted Texans.
3. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis Rams
There was hope in St. Louis after Sam Bradford’s quick emergence in 2010, and with hope comes the weight of expectations. At 2-9, the Rams have dramatically failed to live up to those expectations, and they’ll now have to win the rest of their games to even equal last year’s 7-9 finish.
In fairness, key offensive figures like Bradford and Steven Jackson have missed time, and prior to acquiring Brandon Lloyd the Rams were ravaged by injuries on their wide receiver depth chart, most notably losing Danny Amendola in Week 1. But Spags is now past the halfway point of his third season in St. Louis, and he’s sporting a record of 10-33.
This team is filled with his draft picks and his players, and this season has been his failure.
4. Tony Sparano, Miami Dolphins
Sparano still makes the list, and the odds of him being doomed by the Dolphins’ early-season losing streak when they lost seven straight games are still high. But the fact that he’s not No. 1 is now a Herculean accomplishment given the intense pressure he was facing earlier in the year. We went through a stretch where if Sparano was a bit tardy for a press conference, the Interwebs were instantly set ablaze.
5. Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles
It was between Reid and Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis for the final spot. Although the Colts’ shortcomings extend beyond the loss of Peyton Manning, team owner Jim Irsay could give Caldwell a grace period as he heads into the final year of his contract.
Reid, meanwhile, may not be given the same luxury in Philadelphia, where fans are doing more than just chanting for his dismissal. They left Sunday’s loss to New England about six minutes early in a mass exodus, an act fueled by both anger and apathy that should grab the attention of Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who’s been loyal to Reid.
Although Philly’s defense has recovered somewhat from it’s early-season crumble–and specifically, the run defense–Reid’s decision to put that star-studded unit in the hands of an inexperienced Juan Castillo could ultimately be his undoing.