Last season was somewhat friendly to NFL head coaches with only three being given the ax during the year. That’s a rarity in what has increasingly become a win-now league.
The same likely won’t be said this upcoming season. It might be pure conjecture here, but there could be as many as eight head coaches on the chopping block entering the 2016 campaign.
From a coach in Detroit that survived an organization-wide overhaul to a still young defensive-minded head man in Jacksonville facing expectations for the first time, here are five NFL head coaches that could be fired this upcoming season.
Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions
There were some who believed Caldwell would be fired following a disastrous seven-win 2015 campaign. But somehow he was able to avoid being a casualty in what was a drama-filled front office shake up.
Now, with two years remaining on his deal in Detroit, Lions president Ron Wood avoided placing the hot seat under Caldwell during the spring.
“I don’t know that anybody’s on any leash, short or long,” Wood said. “Everybody’s expected to win and perform in this league,” Wood said back in February, via the Detroit Free Press. “Myself included, in my role — Bob (Quinn) in his role and Coach in his role. So I think everybody’s going to be evaluated based upon the results on the field and, in some cases, my case, off the field.”
That’s all fine and dandy. But as Wood indicated, it’s all about results on the field. Following the abrupt retirement of Calvin Johnson, it’s not too ridiculous to assume Detroit is the least-talented team in the NFC North.
After all, both the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers earned playoff spots a season ago. Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears appear to be on the upswing after a spring filled with solid additions.
With three of their first four games on the road, there’s a distinct possibility that Detroit might start the season out slowly. If so, Caldwell’s seat will become hotter by the week. That’s the reality of the situation, no matter what the team’s new president says.
Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
We can give Garrett a pass for last season. Dallas lost the previous season’s NFL Player of the Year in DeMarco Murray to a division rival in free agency.
It then saw franchise quarterback Tony Romo miss all but four games to a multitude of injuries. If that weren’t bad enough, the Cowboys were without star receiver Dez Bryant for seven games.
When putting all that together, it’s not necessarily too surprising that Dallas followed up a division-winning 2014 campaign with a 4-12 record. That’s only magnified by the fact that the Boys went 3-1 with Romo under center.
None of this matters in the grand scheme of things. Dallas has the talent to compete for a division title this season. If it were to fall flat early in the year and find itself out of contention, not a single person would be surprised to see Jerry Jones pull the plug on his head coach.
The only thing really working in Garrett’s favor here should Dallas struggle early is just how mediocre the NFC East has been recently.
Remember, the Cowboys found themselves in playoff contention into mid December last season. This is an astonishing realization to come to considering they won a total of four games.
It’s also important to note that Jones has fired only one head coach in the middle of the season during his quarter-century long run as the team’s owner.
Despite this, there’s definitely a scenario in play here that could lead to Garrett getting the ax should the Cowboys continue their struggles this upcoming season.
Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars
Expectations haven’t been incredibly high for the Jaguars during Bradley’s first three seasons as the team’s head coach. Considering he posted 12 wins in those three seasons, that’s probably a good thing.
Now, following a solid off-season performance that saw the squad acquire top-end talent on both sides of the ball, that’s no longer the case. The Jaguars’ brass expects to contend here soon.
“We should have ambitions for the postseason now,” team owner Shahid Khan said earlier this month. “I think we’ve suffered long enough. It’s been painful.”
The expectations here are real. They also should put Bradley on notice. Any sort of repeat of the past three seasons won’t be considered acceptable by those writing his checks.
Last season saw the Jaguars rank in the top 10 in the NFL in total offense while scoring the 14th-most points in the league. It was, however, the defense — Bradley’s specialty — that failed the team.
Jacksonville yielded the second-most points in the NFL while finishing in the bottom fourth of the league in total defense.
In an attempt to rectify this, general manager David Caldwell and Co. pretty much focused solely on the defense during the spring.
They added veteran defensive end Malik Jackson and former Pro Bowl safety Tashaun Gipson in free agency before picking up two of the best defensive prospects in the draft.
With the AFC South pretty much up for grabs after a nine-win Houston Texans team won the division last season, Jacksonville should find itself in contention this year. If that doesn’t happen, Bradley’s job won’t be secure.
Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
There was reportedly some thought given to firing McCoy following an utterly disastrous four-win 2015 season. Though, that likely would have been nothing more than a reactionary measure from an organization that needs some sort of stability.
After all, San Diego’s starting offensive line missed over 60 percent of the team’s games in 2015. In addition to this, the likes of Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen — the team’s leading receivers from the previous season — missed a combined 13 games.
Much like Garrett in Dallas, it made sense for the Chargers to give McCoy a pass last season. After all, he did finish with winning records in each of his first two years as their head coach.
Unfortunately for McCoy, the Chargers exist in an AFC West division with two vastly improved teams in the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders as well as the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.
Short of the Chargers competing for a playoff spot in a competitive division, any sort of a leash that the team gave McCoy will vanish — potentially setting into motion his ousting.
Jeff Fisher, Los Angeles Rams
In a vacuum, it makes sense that the Rams would retain Fisher to help maintain stability during their move from St. Louis. That’s likely what the thought process was among those in power within the organization. In fact, that has to be the reasoning.
On the field, there’s absolutely no other coach in the NFL less deserving of remaining a head man on the sideline.
Fisher-led teams have failed to finish with a winning record in each of the past six seasons. In reality, it’s been mediocrity after mediocrity — first in Tennessee, then in St. Louis.
If this were to happen again in 2016, there’s absolutely no reason why those in charge in Southern California should even consider retaining Fisher.
Unfortunately for the head coach, it’s highly unlikely this latest version of the Rams is going to contend.
Los Angeles will likely be trotting out a rookie quarterback in Jared Goff while playing in a division with two of the top defenses in the NFL. It will do so with no real receiving threats on the outside and a makeshift offensive line.
It’s possible Fisher might be able to keep his job with yet another mediocre performance from his team. Even then, it seems unlikely the Rams will even reach that plateau during the 2016 campaign.