With Urban Meyer gone, which NFL coaches are now on the hottest seat?
By virtue of two of the most catastrophic head coaching departures in NFL history, the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars can start tracing their finger around a silver lining on Monday.
That’s when both franchises can officially get a jump on the rest of the league in vetting their next head coaching hire, thanks to a significant rule change that will allow teams to open their interview process with some prospective head coaches earlier than ever. It impacts candidates who are currently employed with teams, like coordinators and positional assistants, and opens a window for virtual interviews with two weeks left in the season.
There’s a catch: The interviewing team either has to have changed its coach since the start of the season, or it has to have informed the current head coach that it won’t be moving forward with the franchise next season.
Thanks to the resignation of Jon Gruden and the firing of Urban Meyer, the Raiders and Jaguars both meet that criteria. So starting Monday, they can reach out to other NFL teams and ask permission to interview assistant coaches.
That’s a sizable edge for both those franchises, effectively giving them a two-week head start on any franchises that are inclined to drag their feet on a decision.
But there’s also a flip side to the change, motivating some teams to pull the rug out on their head coach sooner rather than later, in hopes of eliminating the edge that the Raiders and Jaguars now have. It means ownership is now faced with a simple tactical decision: If a franchise is leaning toward a firing, what’s the point in waiting two more weeks if it means potentially falling behind for some of the league’s hottest candidates?
With that in mind, here are the teams that could be staring at head coaching changes, and whether some might be mulling over an early jump on a firing next week.
Raiders and Jaguars
Don’t expect Rich Bisaccia in Las Vegas or Darrell Bevell in Jacksonville to have the interim tag removed. Depending on how the general manager situations are handled, both will be prime open jobs and field a significant number of candidates. Top-tier candidates will want input on their viability with Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and Jaguars GM Trent Baalke.
JOBS LIKELY TO OPEN
Head coach Matt Nagy has been under fire for much of the season. Now that Urban Meyer is gone in Jacksonville, he shuffles to the top of the heap. It’s not that Nagy has been a total failure in Chicago; he is 32-30 and he’ll have made two playoff trips in four seasons with the Bears. But his offense has been in a state of regression and he has had no shortage of quarterback shuffling and issues with play-calling duties. Nagy’s scoring offense overall has averaged out into the bottom quarter of the NFL. That’s nowhere near what the Bears thought they were getting when he was plucked from the Kansas City Chiefs' staff.
Ultimately, the key for Nagy was always going to be the development of Justin Fields this season, and it has been a very mixed set of results. Chicago can’t let this turn into another Mitchell Trubisky situation and there hasn’t been enough progress on the field to roll the dice on a second season of Fields’ development.
JOBS UNDER REVIEW
Two weeks ago, it looked like Mike Zimmer was heading for the end. But back-to-back wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears have kept the mob at bay. Now 7-7, Zimmer has a chance to win out and secure a wild-card playoff spot, which would likely be enough to keep the gang together in Minnesota for one more year.
That said, if Zimmer falls out of the postseason picture, it will be the first time his team has missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons. Given eight seasons in the velvet rut of never turning a corner and becoming a consistent NFC title contender, it might be enough to finally end the Zimmer regime, especially given all the money that has been invested in quarterback Kirk Cousins, other offensive cornerstones and the defense. At some point, the capital and continuity has to lead to a breakthrough. If it doesn’t happen now, a big shakeup may finally be in the cards.
New York Giants
The Giants could fire Joe Judge after only two seasons, which would be the franchise again playing the hits. If Judge goes, it will be the third straight coach out the door after his second season. That’s a screaming red flag of indictment on ownership — and it may end up helping Judge.
The lack of patience certainly didn’t work in the previous two firings, which should prompt the Giants to consider measuring this regime longer. He also gets the mitigating factor of general manager Dave Gettleman piling up one personnel mistake after another in both the draft and free agency. Firing offensive coordinator Jason Garrett seemed like a move made to spark change. It didn’t, but it’s worth wondering if that was ever going to be possible with New York's injuries.
Judge has gone 10-20, but there’s a fair argument that failures in personnel and injuries have been stacked against him since the start. And if he goes, there’s a legitimate question about who’s next. It would likely have to be a big name with gravitas and a strong head coaching resume, given that the past two fliers have not gone remotely well.
Beyond a 3-11 season that has gone about as poorly as expected, there are two slightly odd developments raising concern about the future of head coach David Culley.
First, the franchise hasn’t given any indication that he’s safe for 2022, which stands in contrast to other struggling first-year situations with the Detroit Lions and New York Jets — where both Dan Campbell and Robert Saleh continue to have the full backing of ownership and their general managers. Meanwhile, Culley has been left twisting a bit, with general manager Nick Caserio saying he’s going to evaluate his head coach after the season. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence. And that approach exists either because the Texans are keeping options open, or because they’re doing their best to replicate the New England Patriots model of an informational dead zone.
The other weird moment: Culley expounded on Caserio’s in-game involvement this week, describing his general manager as being an active participant in play-calling. It has long been known that Caserio wears a headset during Houston games, but the fact that he’s playing a part in the calls on the field in real time was a jaw-dropping revelation. That’s highly unusual and appears to speak to either a lack of trust in Culley’s game management or a willingness of the GM to step across unusual boundaries. Historically, neither of those have been good for a head coach’s future.
Matt Rhule is in that same 10-20 column as Joe Judge — not to mention also firing his offensive coordinator, Joe Brady. The offensive scheme was a problem, both in balance and creativity. A month before he was fired, it was getting around the league that there could be a change at OC after the season. That it happened with five games left on the schedule says the same thing it did with Garrett in New York: The head coach is desperate to get something positive going heading into the offseason. Maybe because Rhule is nervous about the evaluation from ownership, or maybe because he was frustrated and didn’t want to wait to make a change.
Whatever the case, the 2-9 slide after the 3-0 start has weighed on the coaching staff. There was no shortage of hope after that start, particularly with a defense that looked like it could be one of the best in the league. Now ownership is staring at another offseason trying to find a centerpiece at quarterback.
Rhule still has five years left on his seven-year deal, which should help him get another run in 2022. But owner David Tepper has been more aggressively involved than we thought he would be, so it’s fair to wonder if he can showcase the requisite patience in this situation.
The Broncos are still competing for the playoffs at 7-7 under Vic Fangio this season and that could matter for general manager George Paton, who is still in measurement stage with a large part of the roster. The team has also curved into Fangio’s strength as a defensive head coach, suggesting that Paton might be willing to take another year to see if changes to the offensive staff and quarterback can make the difference.
Three things Fangio has going for him: Denver is a better team than it was one season ago; the roster didn’t cash out after the trade of team leader Von Miller; and Paton and his head coach have been on the same wavelength as far as building and developing youth. The flux of Broncos ownership could also help Fangio survive another season, as there are bigger fish to fry in the franchise at the moment and there isn’t one single team owner like a David Tepper in Carolina staring over the coach’s shoulder.
Making the playoffs would certainly go a long way for Fangio, but he has his work cut out for him with road games against the Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers, then a season finale hosting a Kansas City Chiefs team that may be fighting to hold on to the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.