As we hurtle toward the 2015 NFL season, most teams are optimistic about their chances. Some coaches should keep an eye on their back, though, as a poor record could send them packing by the end of the season.
Who are the guys chewing on their fingernails as the season begins? We’ve got a list of the most likely on the dreaded hot seat or be handed pink slips on Monday, January 4th, 2016 (the Monday after Week 17) We expect you’ll be nodding your head, but there are a few surprises.
Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins
Early Season Hot Seat Requirements: Team comes up with two wins or less in the first six games.
Black Monday Scenario: 4-12 and/or last place in the NFC East for a third straight year.
To be completely honest, I was not a fan of this hiring decision from the moment it happened. Of the two Cincinnati Bengals coordinators hired as head coaches in 2014 — the other being Mike Zimmer, now head coach of the Minnesota Vikings — Gruden is the one with the shorter and shakier track record. Gruden’s style when he worked with Andy Dalton in Cincinnati doesn’t match Robert Griffin III’s strengths for the Redskins. That’s something you would think would be key when hiring a guy, especially since friction between Griffin and the previous coach, Mike Shanahan, was a big factor in Shanahan’s departure.
It’s no shock that rumors have surfaced several times that Gruden would like to be rid of Griffin — something that could be for the best for the quarterback due to his injuries. Griffin needs to find a team willing to build around his abilities, like the Seattle Seahawks did with Russell Wilson.
What’s most frustrating is that Washington has some great parts, especially on offense. DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are good wide receivers, Alfred Morris is a great running back and the offensive line should be improved this year. If the secondary continues to be an issue, at least it might be masked with a solid pass rush.
Some, such as CSN’s Rich Tandler, believe Gruden has two more years. I don’t believe he has that long, though. At the end of the day, if the quarterback and head coach are on wildly different pages, someone has to go. In that case, and based on past evidence, Gruden might want to watch his back.
Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams
Early Season Hot Seat Requirements: Going 1-4 (or worse) heading into the Week 6 break.
Black Monday Scenario: 4-12 or worse, defense continues to be in the bottom half of the league.
In three years, Jeff Fisher has led the St. Louis Rams to a 20-27 record, never finishing higher than third in the NFC West. How he still has a job is baffling in many ways, and that might change next off-season if the Rams roll out another sub-.500 record.
The front office has put a lot of talent on the field for him, especially on defense, but Fisher has never been able to get all of it to fire off at once. Having quarterback Sam Bradford constantly out with injuries certainly factored into the difficulties this team has had. The Rams traded Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles in March. Foles, coming off an injury himself, is a decent starting quarterback. What he lacks for in upside he seems to make up with consistency, with 46 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions in three seasons.
Still, Foles has some risk associated with him. And the rest of the offense is filled out by a shaky offensive line and uninspiring wide receivers, which is a step down from what Foles had in Philadelphia.
Drafting Todd Gurley at tenth wasn’t the safest move either. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports the rookie running back is likely to miss the start of the season. Tre Mason looked good last year, but Fisher and general manager Les Snead have invested heavily in the running game and defense, and not the passing game. A stumble early in the season could result in some real problems.
So Fisher, a coach who has not yet had a winning season in St. Louis (and not at all since 2008 in Tennessee) better hope his team can avoid that stumble. Because if the Rams move back to Los Angeles, he might be left behind.
Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins
Early Season Hot Seat Requirements: Losing to both the Bills and the Jets, or anything less than three wins coming out of Week 6.
Black Monday Scenario: Any losing record and ending up third or fourth place in the AFC East.
It seems like Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin has been on the hot seat for two years straight. Since arriving in Miami, he’s yet to have a winning record, going 7-9 in 2012 and 8-8 during the 2013 and 2014 campaigns.
Even though he was given a vote of confidence and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross shot down rumors he had pursued Jim Harbaugh when the then-San Francisco 49ers coach became available, per Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press, Philbin is still far from safe.
Ross and the front office added a ton of talent to the offensive side of the ball to help quarterback Ryan Tannehill finally fulfill his promise, while also offering Ndamukong Suh a large contract to shore up the middle of the defense. All that talent has to perform. And if it doesn’t, the blame will fall on the head coach. Ross has danced around replacing him before, and he might finally pull the trigger if Philbin’s Dolphins fall short of the playoffs again.
Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles
Early Season Hot Seat Requirements: Going 1-2 or worse in the first three games of division play.
Black Monday Scenario: Third place or worse in the division, less than eight wins.
It seems crazy to think that a guy who has gone 10-6 in back-to-back years could get fired. And maybe it is. It might be too soon, even with a down year.
However, there’s a lot on Kelly’s shoulders this year. To start with, he was given “control over all football-related decisions,” reports Martin Frank of The News Journal. Kelly proceeded to strip the roster of many players who apparently didn’t fit within his program. He traded LeSean McCoy and allowed Trent Cole and Jeremy Maclin (among others) to leave for other teams with minimal effort to sign them.
As mentioned, he also traded Nick Foles for oft-injured Sam Bradford, a move which had some saying Kelly was either crazy or the smartest guy in the NFL. Kelly also signed DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews — two players who have often had injury issues, but have a lot of upside.
Kelly does things his way, and he shaped this roster into exactly what he wants. However, he also has loaded the roster with some risks. McCoy might have been a bit of a problem child, but he was normally healthy. Meanwhile, Murray was healthy for 16 games for the first time in 2014, and he ran the ball just short of 400 times. Backs who do that tend to have a drop off in production, and the wear and tear is massive.
In short, Kelly may have a roster full of guys he loves, but they are also a roster of injury risks. Although you can’t predict injuries, these three key figures have spent an awful lot of time on the trainer’s table. And if they can’t stay healthy and effective, Kelly could be in a lot of trouble. You have to respect how he has taken control, but Kelly runs the risk of either making it to the Super Bowl or busting very soon.