The 2013 season will end for 20 teams after Sunday’s games. But several will have major decisions to make on Black Monday, the day after the regular season when teams often choose to fire their coaching staffs. Each year, the NFL typically turns over five or six head coaches, with as many as 10 teams facing tough decisions this weekend. Only the Texans have fired their coach so far, parting ways with Gary Kubiak nearly three weeks ago.
The hottest name available this year appears to be Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, formerly the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, who has already reportedly drawn interest from the Vikings and Texans. One AFC front office executive also expects “the usual suspects” to be top candidates: Jon Gruden, Lovie Smith, Mike Shanahan (if he is fired by the Redskins), as well as up-and-coming assistants such as Ray Horton, Mike Zimmer, Darrell Bevell, Jay Gruden, and Mike Pettine.
Often there is a surprise team in the coaching market, and perhaps the 49ers could join those ranks if Jim Harbaugh decides to go back to college football (it appears he is leaning toward coming back to San Francisco). But here is a look at the 10 teams who could be looking for a new coach come Monday:
1. Detroit Lions. Current coach: Jim Schwartz.
This job is viewed in league circles as arguably the most attractive that could become available — the Lions have talented playmakers on offense (Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, Joique Bell), a stout defensive line (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ziggy Ansah), and a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford, who despite being a fifth-year veteran is only 25 years old.
Don’t be surprised if the Lions switch from the brash, defensive-minded Schwartz to a coach with an offensive background who can whip the undisciplined Lions into shape and help develop Stafford, who struggled with mechanics and interceptions down the stretch. One NFL source believes O’Brien would be a great fit.
2. Houston Texans. Current coach: Wade Phillips.
This job should also be one of the most attractive, with a championship-caliber defense led by J.J. Watt, legitimate playmakers on offense (although Andre Johnson and Arian Foster are getting up in age), and either the No. 1 or 2 overall draft pick to use on a franchise quarterback.
Phillips, the team’s defensive coordinator and interim head coach, will likely get a shot to retain the job on a full-time basis. But the Texans have already reached out to Smith, the former Bears coach, and O’Brien, who according to a report from ESPN on Saturday, is the favorite to land the job.
3. Oakland Raiders. Current coach: Dennis Allen.
If Allen is let go, it will go down as the most unfair firing of 2013. Allen is only 8-23 in two seasons, but is playing against a stacked deck — the Raiders whiffed on myriad draft picks before he arrived, and they have been in salary cap hell the past two seasons, with general manager Reggie McKenzie unable to provide Allen enough talent to be competitive in a tough division.
But believe it or not, Oakland would be an attractive job. The cap purge is finally complete, and the Raiders will have more than $60 million in cap space this offseason, giving a potential new coach flexibility in rebuilding the roster to his liking. It just might be enough to coax Gruden away from his cushy ESPN gig and back to his old stomping grounds.
4. New York Giants. Current coach: Tom Coughlin.
This wouldn’t be a firing so much as an admission that 10 years under one coach is long enough, and that a new voice is needed. The Mara family will forever be grateful to Coughlin for winning two Super Bowls and restoring glory to the franchise, but a six-win season could be the impetus to make wholesale changes.
We think the problem with the Giants is their defense, not with Coughlin. That said, they shouldn’t have a problem finding a top-notch coach to work with Eli Manning if they so choose.
5. New York Jets. Current coach: Rex Ryan.
Ryan reportedly told his players last week that the “buzz on the street” was that he was going to get fired after this season. The AFC executive, whose team faced the Jets this year, said Ryan did a good job with a team with little talent at the offensive skill positions, with a nasty defense that was rebuilt on the fly after trading Darrelle Revis. Few observers expected the Jets to win more than four or five games this year, but they enter Sunday 7-8 despite weak quarterback play.
In our view, the Jets would be crazy to fire Ryan, and he’d possibly get another head coaching job this offseason. But Ryan clearly doesn’t mesh well with new GM John Idzik, and it will be interesting to see who wins the power struggle.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Current coach: Greg Schiano.
Schiano’s two-year tenure has been marred by several controversies and too many losses (20). Last year, the Buccaneers had the league’s worst defense, this year the worst offense. A three-game winning streak may have earned Schiano a brief respite, but the 0-8 start, combined with the handling of the Josh Freeman situation, have made it tough for the Bucs to keep Schiano for a third season. But this team has a solid defense and good playmakers on offense, and could be an attractive job for an offensive coach who can develop Mike Glennon (Jay Gruden, a Tampa native, makes some sense here).
7. Washington Redskins. Current coach: Shanahan.
It’s clear that this relationship is heading toward a divorce, like it did with the other six coaches previously employed by Daniel Snyder. Robert Griffin III could make this an attractive opening, but Snyder’s reputation as a meddling owner could prevent him from landing the top prospects. The Redskins, ranked 31st in points allowed, badly need a defensive-minded coach.
8. Dallas Cowboys. Current coach: Jason Garrett.
If the Cowboys lose on Sunday and miss the playoffs, many around the league expect them to fire Garrett, who came to Dallas with a lot of hype but would have only produced three 8-8 seasons. The Cowboys badly need a coach to shore up the defense, but Jerry Jones will probably throw money at the biggest names available.
9. Tennessee Titans. Current coach: Mike Munchak.
The Titans are just 6-9 in Year 3 under Munchak, and that could be enough to get him fired after last year’s 6-10 finish. The Titans do have some young talent on both sides, and could target an offensive-minded coach to try to salvage Jake Locker, who has shown flashes of talent but only played in 23 games in three seasons because of injuries.
10. Minnesota Vikings. Current coach: Leslie Frazier.
Three-plus seasons under Frazier have produced one playoff appearance (zero wins) and the Vikings seem to be going nowhere with a 4-10-1 record and Christian Ponder likely not the answer at quarterback. The Vikings reportedly have interest in O’Brien, but could have a hard time landing him.
Belichick is against new offseason rules
Bill Belichick doesn’t state his opinions often, but when he does, he certainly makes headlines. Belichick complained on a conference call with Buffalo media this past week about the offseason practice rules under the new collective bargaining agreement, which since 2011 have eliminated two-a-day practices in training camp and full-contact hitting in offseason workouts.
The coaches weren’t consulted when the owners signed off on the new rules with the Players Association, and many coaches and ex-players believe the limitations have led to more injuries and worse execution on the field.
“I’m in favor of total preparation for the players for the season,” Belichick said. “And I think that’s been changed significantly and, I would say, not necessarily for the better when you look at the injury numbers.
“You have a gap between preparation and competition level. And I think that’s where you see a lot of injuries occurring. We get a lot of breakdowns. We get a lot of situations that players just aren’t as prepared as they were in previous years, in my experience anyway.”
Belichick certainly has a point about preparation and execution, but the injury effect may be more myth than reality.
According to Stats Inc., there have been 288 players placed on injured reserve this season, the fewest since 287 in 2008, before the new practice rules took effect. In 2010, the last season under the old CBA, 353 players ended the season on IR. And according to the Associated Press, the NFL sent a memo to its Health and Safety Committee this past week that anterior cruciate ligament tears are down this year, despite claims stating otherwise.
While the Patriots have been hit hard by injuries, losing key starters Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer, and Tommy Kelly, it’s not necessarily a league-wide problem.
There’s no better proof than Sunday’s opponent. Buffalo has had remarkable health this year, placing only kicker Dustin Hopkins, backup quarterback Kevin Kolb, and defensive end Alex Carrington on IR.
The reality is that teams want to protect their investments, and there’s nothing worse than losing a player to injury in the offseason or training camp. The new rules may make life more difficult for coaches, but are necessary to save wear and tear on players.
Going to great lengths in search of talent
The Lions already signed one unconventional athlete this season, Norwegian trick-shot artist Havard Rugland (a.k.a. “Kickalicious”), during the preseason to compete for the kicking job, which he lost.
Now the Lions have done it again, signing to their practice squad running back/receiver Carlin Isles, also known as “the fastest rugby player in the world.”
Isles, 24, has no football experience other than briefly returning kickoffs at Ashland (Ohio) University. But Isles was an NCAA Division 2 All-American sprinter and reportedly ran a blazing 4.22 in the 40-yard dash in his tryout with the Lions. He took up rugby in 2012 and quickly earned attention for his speed, gaining a spot on the US national sevens team.
Isles is listed at 5 feet 8 inches and 160 pounds but isn’t worried about taking NFL hits.
“You see rugby?” he said. “I can take the pounding for football without a doubt. I am tough and tenacious, the pounding will be no problem.”
Born-again media darling Randy Moss was a guest on a weekly podcast with Peter Schrager of Fox Sports, and in addition to saying this past week that he still thinks he can put up “15 or 16 touchdowns” (he had three last year for the 49ers), Moss was asked which three receivers he has enjoyed watching this year.
He chose Josh Gordon, Dez Bryant, and, surprisingly, Julian Edelman, who has 96 catches for 991 yards in his first year as a featured receiver.
“That transition from a quarterback to a wide receiver position, that’s a hard thing to do,” Moss said of Edelman, who played quarterback at Kent State and was drafted in the seventh round as a kick returner and potential Wildcat quarterback. “When guys are able to come from the bottom and work their way to the top, and when all odds and everything are stacked against you and you’re able to overcome that, that’s what makes Julian Edelman’s story so sweet.”
The NFL has announced its 2014 calendar. Some important dates this offseason:
Feb. 19-25 — Scouting Combine, Indianapolis.
March 3 (prior to 4 p.m.) — Deadline for teams to designate franchise and transition players.
March 8 — Teams can begin negotiating with their own free agents.
March 11 (4 p.m.) — New league year begins. Free agents may officially sign with any team, and player trading begins again. Top 51 rule of the salary cap takes effect.
March 23-26 — Owners’ annual meeting.
April 7 — Teams with new head coaches may open the offseason workout program.
April 21 — Teams with returning head coaches may open the offseason workout program.
May 8-10 — Draft, New York.
July 15 (4 p.m.) — Deadline for any player given a franchise tag to sign a long-term contract extension.
Former All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha called it quits this past week, and Sunday’s games will be the last for several veterans, including tight end Tony Gonzalez (if he doesn’t change his mind about retiring).
Some noteworthy veterans who could be salary cap cuts next year, with their cap number in parentheses:
Champ Bailey ($10 million), Julius Peppers ($9.8 million), Santonio Holmes ($8.25 million), Troy Polamalu ($8.25 million), Ike Taylor ($7 million), Chris Snee ($7.25 million), Roddy White ($5 million), Chris Johnson ($4 million), Cortland Finnegan ($4 million).
Vince Wilfork, coming off a season-ending Achilles’ injury and with a 2014 cap number of $8 million, may be asked to restructure his contract.
Several coaches deserve serious consideration for Coach of the Year — Bill Belichick, Ron Rivera, Andy Reid, Bruce Arians, Pete Carroll, and Chip Kelly among them.
Reid appears to be the early favorite based on his instant turnaround of the Chiefs, who went 2-14 last year, but it doesn’t sound like he’d get a vote from Jerry Angelo, the Bears’ GM from 2001-12 who had an interesting perspective on the situation.
“Anyone who knew the Chiefs’ situation could say whoever got the job was going to win eight games,” Angelo wrote on Twitter this past week. “It was the best job of the eight that opened last year. The best thing they did was trade for an established quarterback, and it was the right move. And instead of winning eight games, they became a playoff team. They played one of the most favorable schedules the first half of the season. They were undefeated going into their ninth game vs. Denver. They were 9-0. Of those wins, only one team [Dallas] had a winning record when they played them. My point, the pieces were in place and the schedule worked in their favor.”