Heavy Lies the Crown
Jack Nicholson was not lying when he said this in The Departed. Being a head coach in the NFL is the most high-pressure job you can have in football. No matter the situation on the field, the buck always stops at the HC. Because of this, we find a few coaches on the hot seat every year. Whether it is a lack of success in the post-season or a poor start in the regular season, we see turnover. It doesn’t always happen in the offseason either.
The Current State
Last year we saw 7 teams, nearly a fourth of the league, transition to new head coaches. Three coaches were fired mid-season last year. We saw the Lions, Texans, and Falcons all dismiss their head coaches early in the year. The other four coaches in Philly, Jacksonville, Los Angeles (Chargers), and New York (Jets) departed for various reasons in the offseason.
This season is a weird one in terms of HC transitions. Most of the league’s head coaches either have long track records of success, a brand new contract, or are on the rise with their team. All of that said, there is a group of coaches that could be on the move in 2021.
The Hot Seat
I do not like to see people lose their jobs and livelihood. However, it is a fact that the average head coaching gig lasts only four seasons. That is the highest average in American professional sports, but it also means that these things WILL happen. Even the new hires aren’t safe…
There are five candidates to look at. The first is David Culley of the Houston Texans. He did not inherit the best situation – unhappy and controversial star QB, new GM, no draft picks, total rebuild – but that does not mean he is safe from any poor performances on the field. Culley has never seen any action as a head coach. He is not a popular choice and I could see the Texans move on quickly. Seeing a coach fired in their first year is not common, but it happens. He is the least likely of the five coaches to get fired mid-season.
The next two coaches have achieved some post-season success in their careers and have a roster build for success. I am talking about Mike Zimmer of the Minnesota Vikings and Mike McCarthy of the Dallas Cowboys.
Zimmer has been under scrutiny due to missing the playoffs every other season. If he breaks that trend then he could see a mid-season exit. McCarthy was not a popular hire for the Cowboys. Even with a Super Bowl ring, NFL fans were surprised at Jerry Jones’ pick in the 2020 offseason. Even though Dak suffered a season-ending injury, the Cowboys still only managed to muster up a 2-3 start. Both wins by 3 points or less. A similar start could see McCarthy walk out the door.
Barely Hanging On
These next two coaches will be fired before the end of the 2021 season, it is just a matter of who can outlast the other the longest. First, I have to pick Denver’s Vic Fangio. The team hired the defensive specialist for the 2019 season and have amassed a 12-20 record over his two seasons. They failed to land a QB via trade. They did not draft one of the young QB’s in this year’s draft class, and they allowed almost 28 ppg last year on defense.
Next is Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor. They brought the young coach in before the start of the 2019 season. He was charged with turning around the franchise after the Bengals departed from longtime HC, Marvin Lewis. So far, he has not had much success.
He has thrown together a 6-25-1 record over the two seasons, ranked among the bottom four in offensive ppg over those two seasons (only the Jets are worse), and there are still holes in the Bengals roster this year.
So, Who Gets Canned?
The answer is Zac Taylor. Over the first eight games of the 2021 season, the Cincinnati Bengals play the Vikings, Bears, Steelers, Jags, Packers, Lions, Ravens, and Jets. Of those teams, four of them made the post-season last year. For a team that has won a collective six games in two seasons, they have a tough road to start the season. By the end of this stretch, the NFL will see its first head coach fired, my money is on Zac Taylor.