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The NFL regular season is winding down, the playoff lineups are all but set, with only two spots left to be determined.  This season, like every year, has been a tumultuous one around the league, and unrealized expectations (no matter how unrealistic they were to begin with–I’m looking at you, Dallas Cowboys) have already cost four head coaches their jobs.  Brad Childress ran himself out of Minnesota by alienating everyone within earshot.  Same thing for Mike Singletary in San Francisco.  Wade Phillips, to almost no one’s surprise, was a lame duck with no voice in his own locker room who didn’t get past mid-season.  And Josh McDaniels in Denver may go down as one of the worst head coaching hires in history (although, frankly, I’m kinda partial to Rich Kotite’s two-year run with the Jets for that honor).

Even after those guys hit the unemployment line, there are a number of head coaches who are either dead men walking, in deep trouble or should be in trouble currently holding onto jobs.  Here are 10 guys who should have their coaching stints put down.  And if you happen to be a high-profile, out-of-work coach, this offseason is going to be a buyer’s market for you.  Congratulations!

10.  Ken Wisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals

Actually, I think Wisenhunt has done a fantastic job with Arizona.  He did take them to a Superbowl.  And before his arrival, the franchise had won two playoff games since 1947.  Wisenhunt’s won four in his brief tenure.  This past offseason, the Cardinals lost Hall of Fame QB (yes, I said it) Kurt Warner, multiple pro bowl receiver Anquan Boldin, pro bowl safety Antrelle Rolle and should-be pro bowl linebacker Karlos Dansby.  What did they replace them with?  Pretty much nothing.  The fact that Wisenhunt has even won five games with this gutted team is amazing, particularly considering he was saddled with Matt Leinart as his next franchise QB in training camp that morphed into the Derek Anderson debacle.  So, despite the bad year this season, why is Wisenhunt on this list?

He deserves better.  This should be a pity-firing.  Let this guy go to a real organization that actually wants to win something.  And while you’re at it, trade Larry Fitzgerald, too.  If you don’t want to do what it takes to win, then don’t hoard actual talented, winning coaches and players in a quagmire that has consistently made the Cardinals the NFL equivalent of the L.A. Clippers.

9.  Eric Mangini, Cleveland Browns

This isn’t last year, and there is no unexpected five game winning streak to save his job.  The Browns started horribly, but had a great six-game stretch where they blew out the Saints and the Patriots, lost in overtime to the Jets, lost a close game to Jacksonville and beat Carolina and Miami to get to 5-7.  They’ve since lost three in a row, two inexplicably to Cincinnati and Buffalo.  Pittsburgh playing for a division title and a bye next week is the end of the line for Mangini.

Mike Holmgren knows this team is close to being a legit contender in the AFC.  I also have to believe that he knows Mangini isn’t the guy to take them there.  There should be a new Browns’ coach on the sideline next year, be it a guy like Bill Cowher or even Holmgren himself.  Stranger things have happened.  Other than his first year with the Jets in 2006, where they were 10-6 and made the playoffs, Mangini’s team are 18-30 and haven’t sniffed post-season action.  Farewell to bad rubbish.

8.  Tony Sparano, Miami Dolphins

This year’s Dolphins team is 1-7 at home.  1-7!  That alone should be enough to get you fired.  Somehow, Miami has also managed to be 6-1 on the road.  They wrap up next week in New England against a Patriots team playing for absolutely nothing.  When you have a team that could conceivably be 7-1 on the road, you’d better be in the playoffs.  Miami’s not even close.

Sparano’s first season, a surprising 11-5 division title year, set expectations a little high for his tenure in Miami.  The last two seasons, however, have been disappointments.  The running game has regressed dramatically, young QB Chad Henne has talent but he may well have played his way out of Miami with the two mind-blowing interceptions against Detroit last week to cough up a 10 point lead with 5 minutes to play.  The Dolphins, like the Browns, aren’t that far away from being a player, but with Bill Parcells bolting before the season, and Sparano being a Parcells’ guy, Tony’s tenure may just about be up.

Certainly, they need help at skill positions, but the defense isn’t horrible and a little offensive line help could get them back into the playoffs.  I just don’t see Sparano being the guy to do it.  He could well be back next season, and in my mind, the great road record speaks volumes about Sparano’s preparation.  If he could have won half his home games this year, the Dolphins would likely be getting ready for the playoffs now.  But they didn’t.  They are 1-7 at home for a team that had big aspirations.  Sorry, Tony, that gets you fired.

7.  John Fox, Carolina Panthers

Carolina is another organization that really needs some work.  Everyone on the planet knew that John Fox was a lame duck who is simply playing out his contract.  Why the Panthers would allow that is beyond me.  Maybe they just really wanted the number one pick and knew that a coach with little to no leverage over his players was the best way to get there.  I don’t give them that much credit.

The Panthers have been somewhat competitive of late, but I’m always leery of late-season charges by bad teams.  It’s usually more indicative of collapses by other teams that any kind of corner turned.  This team hasn’t got a real QB on the roster.  Obviously, that’s where the number one pick comes in.  Andrew Luck is going to be a Panther, god help him.  To me, it just seems like the relationship between Fox and Carolina was up a couple years ago.  He did reach a Superbowl in just his second season, and an NFC Championship Game two years later, but has only had three winning seasons in nine years in Carolina.  He kept Jake Delhomme around too long and didn’t adequately build for the future.

Still, if I had to bet on one guy getting fired this season and immediately getting hired somewhere else, it’s Fox.  Don’t be surprised to see him still on the sidelines for another team next year like, say, San Francisco.

6.  Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals

Marvin Lewis seems like a nice guy.  It also seems like he’s on the hot seat every year, yet somehow he keeps coming back for more.  Well, this year has got to be the end of that roller coaster.  In eight seasons in Cincinnati, Lewis did at least make the Bengals respectable at times.  But his teams have only made the playoffs twice, and lost their first game both times.  Couple that with the reputation Cincinnati has garnered for trouble-making players under Lewis, and it’s past time for a change in Cincy.

The team has deeper problems that simply the head coach.  For one thing, their “franchise” QB Carson Palmer may well have finally been revealed as the single most over-rated QB in the league (yes, even more than Eli Manning).  Chad Ochocinco looks like he’s just about done, the running game has fallen off and the defense, which was supposed to be Lewis’ strength as a coach, has never been exceptional under his leadership.  Lewis hasn’t been a total train wreck as a coach, but he hasn’t been the savior he was thought to be, either.  He’s not Dave Shula, Bruce Coslet or Dick LeBeau, but he wasn’t exactly Tom Landry, either.

Sorry Marvin, it’s time to go.  And take Carson with you when you go.

5.  Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak has been the head coach of the Houston Texans for five years now, and he’s still more famous for being John Elway’s long-time backup in Denver.  Every year, we hear all about how this is the season the Texans will reach the playoffs.  Well, we’re still waiting.  Eventually, you have to be accountable as a head coach for the team’s failings.  Admittedly, it’s not totally his fault the defense is awful this year, but for a team with one of the top backs in the league in Arian Foster, one of the top receivers in Andre Johnson (injuries notwithstanding) and a good to very good QB in Matt Schaub, there is simply no excuse for putting up double-digit losses.

The defense has been the killer this year, particularly through the air.  Maybe they should have put a little more thought into letting Dunta Robinson walk, huh?  Or at least come up with a serviceable replacement?  Kubiak hasn’t been altogether awful, garnering the first .500 season in team history, as well as the first over .500 season last year.  But if you’ve spent half a decade with the talent this team has had and still haven’t played a post-season game, then it’s time to move on and give someone else a shot.

4.  Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans

Jeff Fisher is the longest tenured head coach in the NFL at 16 years and counting.  Well, I think, after this season, its time for Fisher and the Titans to move on.  Fisher has consistently feuded with QB Vince Young and formed a relationship with Young that, frankly, in untenable.  There is simply no way both will return to Tennessee next year.  It’s possible neither will.

For all Fisher has done (he took over as interim coach of the Houston Oilers in 1994 and has been the only Titans coach ever) his legacy is somewhat marked by disappointment.  His teams have only made the playoffs six times in 16 years.  He did reach a Superbowl, and that run netted three of his five career post-season wins, but that was 11 years ago now.  Fisher is an excellent coach, and his teams do have a tendency to over-achieve, but he has become a little too comfortable and set in his ways in Tennessee.

Fisher seems to be getting a little feistier as the years go on, and unwilling to compromise.  It can be a good thing to shake things up once in a while, and this could be a case where the best interests of both Fisher and Tennessee could be to go in different directions.  However, like Fox, if Fisher and the Titans part ways, I would not be surprised to see him land another job almost immediately if he wants one.  Particularly if his new team doesn’t trade for Vince Young.

3.  Tom Coughlin, New York Giants

In all respects, Tom Coughlin is a pretty good coach.  His teams in Jacksonville and and New York are almost always contenders, and he’s made the playoffs 8 times in 14 years, excluding this season, which could be the ninth time in 15 years if things go well for the Giants next week.  But things aren’t going well.  Blowing that game to the Eagles two weeks ago, then getting blown out by the Packers in what was likely a playoff game last week has the G Men in a spiral they might not pull out of.

Coughlin is high-strung, to put it mildly.  When he flipped on his punter on the field two weeks back, it really looks like the pressure is mounting.  Every year, the Giants have expectations that probably outstrip their actual talent, but they exist anyway.  If they miss the playoffs this year, particularly if they lose next week, it will be time for a new head man in New York.  Eli Manning isn’t necessarily a coach’s best friend, nor is a defense that still has a reputation for dominance that hasn’t really shown on the field for a couple years.  After the unlikely Superbowl win over the Patriots, and then earning the best record in the NFC the following regular season, it looked like New York could be a dynasty-type club.  Didn’t happen.

Coughlin’s Giants have made the playoffs four times in his tenure.  Three of those times, they lost their first playoff game, including two at home.  New York fans will love you when you over-achieve, but under-achieve and they will crucify you.  After looking like a lock for a deep playoff run this year, if they cough it up and have to sit home, Coughlin should be looking for a new job.  Fortunately for him, like Fox and Fisher, he’ll turn up sooner than later somewhere else.  I think San Diego would be kinda fun, watching him try and deal with that schizophrenic bunch.

2.  Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins

Has any coach in the league done more damage to his reputation this season than Mike Shanahan in Washington?  Be it the absurd, childish battle with Albert Haynesworth in training camp, his inexplicable treatment of Donovan McNabb, or his turning the offensive keys to the kingdom over to his son in a fit of nepotismic hubris, Shanahan really looks like a guy who’s head is jammed so far up his self-styled genius rear end that he can’t see right in front of him.  Washington this season has been a perfect cautionary tale of what happens when you give a man with an out-of-control ego some power and authority.  For the Redskins sake, they need to fire him now before he does lasting damage to this franchise.

I have always had my issues with McNabb, but honestly, getting pulled late in a game at a time when your team was in the running for a playoff spot to be replaced by Rex Grossman is absurd to the point of unreality.  If I was Dan Snyder, I would’ve fired Shanahan immediately following that game.  But things didn’t stop there.  The Shanahans, father and son, have repeatedly dumped on Donovan, culminating with his emergency status for the last two games so we can see how Grossman and Miami reject John Beck can play in meaningless situations.

Remember the big numbers Rex put in his first start?  Worthless.  His atrocious play in the first half led to the Skins trailing 27-7 in the third quarter before picking up his big numbers essentially in garbage time against a team playing for nothing.  This week, they beat Jacksonville with Rex throwing for under 200 yards, and completing fewer than half his passes.  That win likely has much more to do with a Jacksonville player named Maurice Jones-Drew not playing than anything else.  This makes no sense to me.  I can understand giving a guy like Beck a shot because you don’t really know what he could be, if anything, but Grossman?  We all know what he is.  Are the Shanahan boys actually arrogant enough that they think they can be the ones to make Rex a winner?  If so, they’re crazier than I thought.

If Snyder doesn’t end this now, it will get a lot uglier this offseason, too.  Just wait until the fighting in the media with McNabb as they try to move him.  No way they’ll simply do the classy thing and give Donovan his release.  They’ll try to shunt him off to some black hole somewhere.  With the Shanahan’s still in charge, it’ll be an offseason of bad press, followed by no significant free agent acquisitions who aren’t desperate for any job they can find (who in their right mind would want to play for this guy after how he’s treated his player’s this season?) and yet another wasted year next year.  Big name coaches aren’t always what you think they are.

1.  Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers

This is an interesting one because not only have I thought he should be fired after virtually every one of his San Diego seasons, he never should have been hired in the first place.  How often can a guy say, “My team has the number one offense and number one defense in the league this season, and we missed the playoffs”?  Honestly, I don’t know, it was a little more research than I felt like doing, but it can’t be too many.  Norv is a solid offensive coordinator who is simply not a good NFL head coach.  Never has been.  The success in San Diego has more to do with a large amount of talent (and a typically pitiful division) than it does with his coaching ability.

Even with Marty Schottenheimer before him, I think San Diego’s biggest problem is the oversized ego of GM A.J. Smith, but that still doesn’t excuse Turner’s failings.  Each of his four seasons, the Chargers have entered as possible Superbowl favorites.  They’ve started slow each year, but came back at the end to make the playoffs, except this year.  His first year, the played in the AFC Championship.  His second year, they won a wild card game but lost in the divisional round.  Last year, they had a bye but lost in the divisional round.  And this year, despite some gaudy stats and one of the best teams in the league, he’s missed the playoffs.  For those watching at home, that is a steady pattern of diminishing returns.  It is time for a change.

The Chargers have absolutely no excuse for not being among the top teams year after year.  If this season doesn’t get Turner fired, I’m not sure what will.  Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me if he does stay.  Smith would have to admit the hiring was a mistake in the first place, and we all know A.J. Smith has yet to do or say anything wrong, ever.

  1. rvnmaniak says:

    I’m obviously, so you would expect me to be critical of Marvin Lewis. But let me point out that the Ravens have only won the AFC North once in 15 years, while the Bengals have won it TWICE in the eight years Marvin has been head coach. I personally think he has done a good job in Cincy, considering he has to play The Ravens and Steelers a total of four times each year. If he was in any other division he wouldn’t be worried about his job.

    • editor says:

      True, but they also haven’t won a playoff game either. Really, my issue with Lewis is that he hasn’t been able to get over the hump. It’s a lot easier in the NFL to get from 4-12 to 8-8 than it is to get from 8-8 to 12-4. In truth, the injury suffered by Carson Palmer on the opening play of the playoff game with Pittsburgh a few years ago is what has doomed him. Palmer was on the upswing as a true franchise QB to that point. Hell, he even threw a long touchdown on the very play he went down. Ever since, however, he’s been a shell of what he could have been. Lewis’ most impressive job was winning the division last season despite Palmer’s play. Still, in eight years, Lewis has two playoff appearances, zero playoff wins, and an overall losing record. Eventually, it comes down to wins. But look at the bright side, he could be available to end up on Bill Cowher’s staff with the Giants next season.

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