December already is turning out to be a frigid time for NFL coaches.
On Tuesday, the Carolina Panthers fired Ron Rivera, making him the second in the league to be dismissed this season after Jay Gruden was sent packing by the Washington Redskins in October. In explaining the move, Panthers owner David Tepper seemed to signal an expectation that a flurry of similar moves could be forthcoming.
“I wanted to tell him, this is what is going on,” Tepper said. “I want to make this change. I would hope to wait until the end of the year. I don’t want to go and start doing searches beforehand, but I can’t be put at a competitive disadvantage.”
With four weeks left in the regular season, several other teams could be joining the fray of coaching searches in short order.
Here’s our look at the coaches currently on the hot seat, ranked by which ones are most likely to be let go:
1. Doug Marrone, Jaguars — Owner Shad Khan put his leadership group on notice after last year’s 5-11 campaign, and the discord and defeats have followed the organization into 2019. Nearly two years removed from its AFC Championship Game appearance, Jacksonville is the only losing team in its division at 4-8. An $88 million investment in quarterback Nick Foles has already gone bust, and a once-promising defensive core has fractured with the departures of cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Telvin Smith. Executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell, among others, should also bear some of the blame, but Marrone doesn’t look to have much of a case for a fifth year.
2. Dan Quinn, Falcons — No one can justifiably accuse him of folding up shop, as Atlanta showed impressive late-season resolve by toppling the Saints and Panthers on the road in November. Yet the Falcons were the second-earliest NFC team to be eliminated from the playoffs as their spiral continued for a third year. After firing all three coordinators prior to this season, Quinn didn’t help his cause by leading a defense that ranks 27th in points allowed with 26.9 per game. Owner Arthur Blank fought off questions of a midseason firing, but it seems like a long shot he’ll show the same mercy once the campaign is complete.
3. Jason Garrett, Cowboys — Never a ringing endorsement when an owner says his coach will be “in the NFL” next season without stating which team his current employee will be leading, as Jerry Jones did Tuesday when asked about Garrett. Through his barely veiled haranguing against the Cowboys’ play, Jones had made it clear he believes the roster is in top form but the execution is not. Falling to the likes of the Vikings, Patriots and Bills seemingly has trained Jones’ focus to his 10th-year leader, who’s tied for the fifth-longest tenured coach and the longest of any without a Super Bowl win. Being the current leader in the NFC East could buy Garrett more time and opportunity than others on this list will be afforded, but he’ll remain under fire if the franchise doesn’t reach the NFC Championship Game that has eluded the franchise since 1995.
4. Pat Shurmur, Giants — Co-owner Steve Tisch’s pledge to make an “honest’ evaluation at the end of the season sounds like an ominous sign for Shurmur, who will be responsible for tying the longest losing streak in franchise history if the Giants drop their ninth consecutive game Sunday. Beyond a 7-21 record in New York, Shurmur has to answer for the limited development of rookie quarterback Daniel Jones and his 21 turnovers in 10 starts. Even if the Giants don’t pursue a new offensive mind, maybe Dave Gettleman would be tempted by a possible reunion with Rivera, who served as head coach in Carolina for all four seasons that the GM was with the Panthers.
5. Matt Patricia, Lions — Hardly the Patriot Way to hold the lead in every game yet end up 3-8-1, including an ongoing five-game losing streak. Though Patricia has been vague about his exact role in shaping the defense, it’s clear the unit he was brought in to build up is responsible for many of those blown leads, as the Lions rank 30th against the pass with 280.1 yards allowed per game. It would be very against brand for GM Bob Quinn to pull the ripcord on his fellow former New England colleague after just two seasons, but preaching patience will be a difficult sell for an organization that fired Jim Caldwell two years ago after a 9-7 finish.
6. Freddie Kitchens, Browns — It’s not just the “Pittsburgh started it” T-shirt that has many questioning the first-year coach’s decision-making. Time and again throughout the 5-7 campaign, Kitchens’ group has succumbed to self-inflicted errors, including a league-worst rate of 77.1 penalty yards per game. Cleveland is one of the league’s youngest teams, and the organization can’t afford to wait for Kitchens to mature into his position as well.
7. Zac Taylor, Bengals — Not a great time to be a rookie head coach in Ohio. Though Taylor no longer has to worry about securing his first win, he attracted serious scrutiny by benching veteran quarterback Andy Dalton for rookie Ryan Finley at the trade deadline only to perform an about-face three games later. The shortage of hope is evident in the stands, as the attendance for Sunday’s game against the Jets (39,804) was the lowest for the franchise since 1995. With the Bengals primed to pick first and possibly tab their quarterback of the future, Taylor still has to prove he’s the right person to lead the new era.
Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
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