- Welcome to the hot seat, Joe Judge.
- Win over the Raiders means nothing for Matt Nagy.
- Mike McCarthy is finally off the hot seat.
Mike Zimmer and Minnesota Vikings’ general manager Rick Spielman spent part of the offseason overhauling a “bad defense,” the worst one Zimmer has “ever had,” as the Vikings’ head coach proclaimed after the unit allowed 52 points in a Week 16 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Zimmer and Spielman spent the rest of the offseason gushing over the overhaul, effectively raising expectations for a team with two playoff wins in seven seasons under Zimmer.
While Spielman is widely regarded as one of the better executives in the NFL, Zimmer has more 10-win seasons (three) than his three predecessors combined, and ownership hasn’t hinted at mounting pressure, the inability to stack good seasons and, among other personnel shortcomings, build any semblance of a competent offensive line, can’t be ignored.
A strong second-half against the Seattle Seahawks might be a step in the right direction – even if Zimmer’s defense has been underwhelming for most of the first three games – but if the Vikings stumble and whiff on the playoffs for the third time in the last four years, might Mark and Zygi Wilf fire Zimmer?
If so, whom might they hire?
As noted for the college football hot seat, any real hot-seat conversation must be followed by a replacement conversation that includes the suggestion of a realistic replacement. If you’re gonna fire a guy, you gotta hire a guy.
In replacing the seventh-longest-tenured head coach in the NFL, they might cast the net wide and consider Eric Bienemy, target midwesterner Matt Campbell, or roll the dice with a young assistant like New York Jets’ offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur or Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator Brian Callahan.
Here are other coaches who might be on the NFL hot seat after Week 4:
Mike Tomlin – Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Tomlin hasn’t won a playoff game since 2016, has won nine or fewer games in two of the last three seasons, hasn’t reached a Super Bowl since 2010, and entered the season with arguably his worst roster in 14 years as head coach.
Tomlin might’ve saved his job with last year’s 11-0 start en route to a 12-win season and seventh AFC North title. The manner in which the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to win a 13th game – by allowing 28 first-quarter points in a 48-37 loss to the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card Game – might’ve put him back on the hot seat for 2021.
While Tomlin remains young (49), capable of leading an on-the-fly rebuild, and is in the good graces of stability-obsessed ownership, repeated bouts of mediocrity and postseason failures are notable. And if team president Art Rooney II makes a coaching change, albeit unexpectedly, for the first time in 15 years, there are several names he could target, among them Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, a former Steelers’ backup quarterback who could leverage a Tom Brady-led offense into an opportunity.
Vic Fangio – Denver Broncos
In introducing Vic Fangio as the Denver Broncos’ head coach in January 2019, general manager and executive VP of football operations John Elway called the 60-year-old longtime NFL assistant an “old-school, fundamentals-first” head coach.
Two years later, now only holding the title of president of football operations, will Elway and a real general manager, George Paton, use old-school patience in determining the fate of Fangio after 12 total wins in two seasons?
In 16 seasons as a player in Denver, Elway had three head coaches, one of whom – Dan Reeves – arrived two years before Elway and one of whom – Mike Shanahan – departed 10 years after Elway. From 1981-2008, the Broncos had three coaches.
Fangio is the team’s fifth head coach since Shanahan was fired. His four predecessors coached an average of 34.5 games, three of whom were fired: John Fox after 46 games, Vance Joseph after 32 games, and Josh McDaniels after 28 games.
With his return in 2021, which NFL Network’s James Palmer reported was determined long before the end of a five-win season, Fangio can become the Broncos’ longest-tenured head coach since Shanahan if he coaches at least 14 more games this season.
“No offseason with a new OC and surrounded by rookies and young players was going to be rough and it was,” Palmer tweeted in late December. “But blowing everything up again wasn’t the plan. Next year improvements need to be seen across the board from the top on down.”
While neither Elway nor Paton have publicly – or privately to the public’s knowledge – issued a win-total or playoff-berth ultimatum to Fangio, it appears another sub-.500 season will make his first head-coaching opportunity a brief one. And while two wins over bad teams to open the 2021 season are a step in the right direction, it shouldn’t move the needle yet.
Bienemy is the obvious potential replacement in Denver. The Broncos could be an appealing destination and fit for the former Colorado Buffaloes’ running back and assistant coach who’s been passed over for several openings in the last three years.
Matt Nagy – Chicago Bears
Matt Nagy has shown nothing during the Bears’ 2-2 start to warrant optimism for his future.
Nagy’s debut season in 2018 was an aberration, clearly. And for most of the last three years, as the Chicago Bears played 34 games of remarkably uninspiring football, we’ve been wondering how much time the former New York Dragons’ star bought himself with those 12 wins.
“I was impressed with both of them,” Bears’ chairman George McCaskey said while announcing the return of Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace in 2021. “The decisions we’re announcing today may not be the easiest or the most popular. But we believe they’re the best decisions for the Bears.”
Both Pace and Nagy have said they’re fortunate for another year – Pace’s seventh and Nagy’s fourth – and understand this is an opportunity to “prove them right.” While we don’t know what’s expected of the pair in 2021, it appears they’re a package deal, one that relies upon the future of Justin Fields.
If a third straight eight-win season and non-encouraging signs of Fields’ development lead to a dual dismissal, conventional wisdom says the Bears will call Bienemy, Daboll, or Carolina Panthers’ offensive coordinator Joe Brady to pair with Fields. Or maybe they finally get Josh McDaniels out of New England.
David Culley – Houston Texans
David Culley is back after a two-week reprieve. And while the Houston Texans’ ineptitude isn’t (entirely) Culley’s fault, this team has no direction, no optimism, and no life just four weeks into the season.
Eradicating the stench of the Bill O’Brien oligarchy will take years. And as ownership and new general manager Nick Caserio are repeatedly pounded with that stench throughout the 2021 season, it’s fair to wonder if a journeyman positional coach is the right guy for long-haul player development.
If Culley is unfortunately fired after one season, Caserio could call an old friend, Brian Daboll. Daboll was the New England Patriots’ tight ends coach from 2013-16, during which Caserio worked in the front office. And after his work as the Buffalo Bills’ offensive coordinator the last two years, Daboll is an attractive and potentially interested – after reportedly being a front-runner for the Los Angeles Chargers’ job last year – candidate.
Urban Meyer – Jacksonville Jaguars
This is going well.
From reports of low morale and a lost locker room to outbursts and pathetic leadership, Urban Meyer’s NFL debut has been a joke.
“There is a disconnect at times between the members of the staff with extensive pro experience and those who lack it, and morale has suffered as the outbursts have continued,” CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported in September. “His fiery remarks to players and coaches after games have already struck many as bizarre.”
While there’s been no indication the Jaguars’ power brokers, i.e., owner Shad Kahn, are frustrated with Meyer’s failures in his first NFL stop, it’s fair to wonder if they’ll pull the plug if things snowball out of control. And if they do, perhaps the Jaguars would take a shot on the other end of the spectrum with an experienced NFL coach like Bienemy or Baltimore Ravens’ offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Joe Judge – New York Giants
When the New York Giants lost the Matt Rhule sweepstakes, they passed on several experienced offensive and defensive coordinators with a strong history of player development and leadership and hired a career special teams coach.
It’s not working, and Judge could fail to reach a third season like his two predecessors. And with John Mara and Dave Gettleman driving the Astrovan, it’s anyone’s guess whom they might hire as Judge’s replacement.
Also: Check out the updated college football hot seat.