When the calendar hits late December, Bill Belichick starts preparing his team for its annual Super Bowl run.
For a quarter of the coaches in the league, it’s time to start updating the résumé.
The NFL’s hiring and firing season is upon us with only two weeks left in the regular season. The Rams and Jaguars already have fired Jeff Fisher and Gus Bradley this month. History tells us that several more teams will dump their head coaches following the last game of the season on Jan. 1. The NFL has had eight new head coaches in three of the last four seasons, and seven new head coaches in 2014.
Which coaches and general managers are on the hot seat? Who are this year’s top candidates? For insight, we picked the brains of a couple of closely connected league sources:
■ The 49ers are in line for a full house cleaning. Trent Baalke has been the 49ers’ GM since 2011, but the roster is a mess and the Niners are expected to find new leadership at the top. The new GM will have say over the next head coach, and it’s unlikely that Chip Kelly returns.
■ Rams GM Les Snead has survived for now, but our sources expect the Rams to make a change there, as well. Snead has had five years to build a winner, but the Rams have the worst offense in the NFL. And it would be hard for Stan Kroenke to sell excitement and premium seats for his new football stadium by keeping the architect of some lousy Rams teams.
■ Rex Ryan’s firing in Buffalo is viewed as a near-certainty, even though Ryan might become the first Bills head coach to string together two consecutive eight-plus-win seasons since Wade Phillips in 1999 and 2000. But the Bills haven’t taken the leap that new ownership expected when they hired Ryan before the 2015 season, and the Bills’ defense has fallen back to the middle of the pack. The real question is whether the Bills also fire Doug Whaley, who has been GM since 2013 and hasn’t been able to find a consistent quarterback.
■ Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has maintained that he won’t fire Hue Jackson after one season, but all bets are off. Jackson was put in a horrible situation as the Browns punted on the offseason and began a total rebuilding process. But with Jackson calling flea-flickers from his own goal line (which was intercepted, of course), and with the success of the Cavaliers and Indians this year, this season is a really tough sell for Browns fans.
■ There are two health situations that bear monitoring — Denver coach Gary Kubiak and Arizona coach Bruce Arians. Kubiak suffered a mini-stroke in 2013 while on the field with the Texans, and this year had to be hospitalized for precautionary reasons after a game against Atlanta. With a Super Bowl win on his résumé, Kubiak might prioritize his health over coaching. Arians was hospitalized twice this year — for stomach pains in August and for chest pains in November. He’s 64 years old and his family is concerned about his health.
■ Mike McCoy has had a rough year in San Diego, but he is expected to survive. The Chargers have placed 17 guys on injured reserve this year, including key players such as Keenan Allen and Manti Te’o, yet McCoy has kept the Chargers competitive.
■ The Bengals bottomed out after an impressive five-year run of playoff appearances, and Marvin Lewis’s time as head coach is in jeopardy after 14 seasons. We hear the Bengals might move Lewis to a position upstairs and promote defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who has been with the Bengals since 2005, to head coach.
■ The Bears are a mess at 3-12. John Fox is 9-22 in his two years as head coach and might not get a third.
■ Jim Irsay gave contract extensions to coach Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson last offseason but neither is safe, especially if the Colts miss the playoffs again.
■ The three big coaching names are the three we know well: Jon Gruden, Jim Harbaugh, and Nick Saban. Gruden is at the top of most teams’ wish lists, and the Rams would love to get him to bring buzz to LA. But while Gruden has been open about missing the competition and being on the sidelines, we hear he’s very much content with his life at ESPN and would only return to coaching if he believes he has a legitimate shot of winning a Super Bowl. The Rams probably don’t qualify on that front.
Harbaugh has been adamant that he’s remaining at Michigan, and we have a hard time seeing him bail on the Wolverines after two seasons. Saban is the one to watch, especially if Irsay shows up with a big pile of money and total authority over the Colts’ operation. Saban appears happy at Alabama, but his lack of success in the NFL has to eat at him, and the Colts have the franchise quarterback that could make a jump back to the NFL attractive.
■ Josh McDaniels should have his choice of jobs this year and he is likely to take one. There’s talk about McDaniels going somewhere in a package deal with Jimmy Garoppolo, but that’s not as high on McDaniels’s priorities as are the team’s ownership, organizational structure, and talent on the roster. The Jaguars and Cardinals, should that job come open, look to be the best fits for McDaniels. Don’t expect him to take a job in the AFC East or with any of the Patriots’ rivals (such as the Colts).
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is expected to be a candidate but isn’t as hot a name as McDaniels right now.
■ Two others with previous head coaching experience should get serious attention this year, too: Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Spagnuolo helped turn the Giants from the 30th-ranked scoring defense to third this year, while Haley has done great work with Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense. Two other former coaches should get interviews, as well — Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
The Jaguars have also spoken with Tom Coughlin, but at 70 years old an overseer type position in the front office is probably more realistic.
■ The Fritz Pollard Alliance has recommended a crop of minority coaches: Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie, Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards, Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, and Falcons assistant head coach Raheem Morris. Austin appears to have the best shot of the bunch.
The alliance also recommended three GM candidates: the Giants’ Martin Mayhew, the Cowboys’ Will McClay, and the Dolphins’ Chris Grier.
■ Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott almost took the Browns job last year and should be a hot candidate again this year. Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has done a tremendous job this year but is still dealing with the fallout from some bad years in Washington and Cleveland. Players and coaches swear by Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub, who has interviewed for head coaching jobs in the past, but a special teams coach hasn’t been hired for a head job since John Harbaugh in 2008. Washington offensive coordinator Sean McVay and Green Bay offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett are two names generating a lot of buzz, but they might be a year or two away from landing a head job. And, of course, there’s the yearly possibility that the Saints will trade Sean Payton, although he signed a five-year contract extension last offseason.
■ As for GMs, Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf, the 34-year-old son of Hall of Famer Ron Wolf, is a hot name. The Packers wouldn’t give him permission last year to interview with the Lions, a job that went to former Patriots exec Bob Quinn. Chiefs director of personnel Chris Ballard, Jaguars director of player personnel Chris Polian, and Texans assistant GM Brian Gaine are other names that will generate interest.
misery doesn’t like company
Lions were on the Browns’ side
The members of the 2008 Detroit Lions had reason to celebrate on Saturday. And not because they’re still the only team in NFL history to go 0-16.
The Browns finally won a game, defeating the Chargers, 20-17, on Saturday in the Browns’ home finale. Some players from the 2008 Lions were actively rooting for the Browns to win, just so they didn’t have to share in the ignominy.
“I don’t want to have anyone have to go through that,” Lions long snapper Don Muhlbach, one of two remaining players from the 2008 team, told the Detroit Free Press. “I just remember how rough that was. Just every week, having to just — it just kept building and building. That’s not football, in my mind. There’s too much other stuff going on, too. I hope they get one.”
The 2008 Lions aren’t the 1972 Dolphins, who pop champagne bottles every year when the last unbeaten NFL team finally wins a game.
“That’s not company that you want to share,” former Lions linebacker Ryan Nece said. “We want these guys to win. We’re not hoping that they’re sharing our record or sharing what we went through. That’s not something that you wish on anybody.”
The Browns are now 1-14, and will simply go down as another forgettably awful team. The Browns could be just the 10th team to finish a season 1-15 if they lose next week at Pittsburgh, and the first since the 2009 Rams.
Belichick overdue for league award
Bill Belichick hasn’t won the Associated Press Coach of the Year award since 2010, and probably won’t again this year, as voters tend to like fresh names and Adam Gase, Ben McAdoo, Andy Reid, Jason Garrett, and Jack Del Rio are all worthy candidates. But once again we’ll make the case for Belichick to win the Executive of the Year award, which he has never won.
Between trading for Martellus Bennett, trading Chandler Jones, signing Chris Hogan and Chris Long, drafting Joe Thuney and Malcolm Mitchell, and making several in-season trades that have all panned out to various degrees (Jamie Collins, Eric Rowe, Kyle Van Noy), Belichick once again has pushed all the right buttons.
■ That was quite a big number for the Patriots Saturday, favored by 17 points over the Jets. But it doesn’t qualify in the top 10 largest pointspreads in modern NFL history, nor even in the recent Patriots-Jets rivalry. The Patriots were favored by 20½ points in a December 2007 matchup they won, 20-10. The largest NFL pointspread since 2000 is 24 points by the Patriots against the Eagles, also in 2007. The Patriots needed a late touchdown from Laurence Maroney to squeak by with a 31-28 win.
■ Per former sports agent and current CBS analyst Joel Corry, the Patriots get the best bang for their bucks. Their average yearly salary for starters is a little over $3.825 million per player, 30th-highest in the league. And if you haven’t heard, the Patriots just clinched their eighth straight division title. No wonder the other owners hate the Patriots.
The Jets are at the other end of the spectrum, paying $5.2 million per starter, fourth-most in the NFL.
■ Per numberFire, Logan Ryan’s interception of Trevor Siemian inside the red zone last Sunday was the fifth-most-impactful play in the NFL last week. They calculate that Ryan’s pick increased the Patriots’ odds of winning by 14.29 percent.
■ Jets receiver Brandon Marshall, a potential salary cap casualty, didn’t take the bait when asked by the New York Daily News about joining the Patriots next year so he can finally make the playoffs and chase a Super Bowl.
“That’s intriguing, but that wouldn’t be my team,” Marshall said in a candid discussion about his future. “I would be a rental player.”
But here’s doubting that relationship would ever work. Marshall would have trouble adapting to the all-work, no-play environment of the Patriots, and would also have to drop his lucrative “Inside the NFL” gig. The Patriots also have Julian Edelman, Hogan, and Mitchell for next year, and might try to bring back Michael Floyd, too.
League examines game broadcasts
NFL leadership has spoken openly about the need to examine all aspects of game broadcasts and the speed of the game as viewer habits continue to change. This weekend’s games served as a test pilot of sorts as the NFL tinkers with the number of commercial breaks, per a league e-mail obtained by the Globe.
In 13 of the 16 games this weekend, the NFL removed one commercial break per half, and added slightly more time to other commercial breaks. NFL broadcasts normally have 11 commercial breaks per half — five breaks per quarter and one between quarters, with flexibility to move breaks around. But this weekend’s games only had 10 breaks per half, with longer breaks at the end of the first and third quarters and at the two-minute warning in each half.
The tinkering trimmed about 1 minute, 50 seconds in each half, and it’s good to see the NFL trying to improve its product. But to really speed up the games, the NFL needs to improve its instant replay system, which often takes several tedious minutes.
St. Louis lost the Rams to Los Angeles, but the team still might be more popular in its former home. St. Louis beat Los Angeles in TV ratings for last week’s Rams-Seahawks game, 10.6 to 10.2. Of course, 10.2 percent of Los Angeles’s population is still a lot more than 10.6 percent of St. Louis’s population. But the Rams’ initial struggles in LA, both on the field and in capturing the fans, should give the NFL pause about adding a second team to LA, most notably the Chargers . . . Nice year off the field for the Giants — getting caught up in a domestic violence scandal with kicker Josh Brown, then getting punished last week for illegally using walkie-talkies on the sideline. Not to mention, they really shouldn’t have been testing the Steelers’ footballs on their sideline a few weeks ago, as we all know that is against league rules . . . Dak Prescott was an incredible 32-of-36 passing last Sunday against Tampa Bay for an 88.9 completion percentage. It was the second-highest completion percentage in NFL history (minimum 30 attempts), behind Oakland’s Rich Gannon in a 2002 game against Denver (34 of 38, 89.5 percent).
The goals of defensive linemen are to clog running lanes and pressure the quarterback. Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap has added another element — batting down passes. The sevenyear veteran has defended 15 passes, one off the record for a defensive lineman. (The NFL began recording passes defensed in 2001.)