Hot Seat Watch for NFL Players, Head Coaches After Week 15
As the NFL season is nearing its close and an increasing number of teams are seeing their playoff hopes fall apart, the number of NFL head coaches in jeopardy of losing their jobs is predictably rising.
After a one-week hiatus, Bleacher Report’s Hot Seat Watch is back this week, and there are no shortage of head coaches, many of whom were not on the list in previous weeks, on this week’s list.
From controversial quarterback decisions to costly mistakes and crippling losses, recent events have left the NFL futures of each of these eight men up in the air with just two regular-season games to go.
Mike Shanahan, Coach, Washington Redskins
What a difference a year has made in Washington. After coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Robert Griffin III led the Redskins to a 10-6 season and a playoff berth in Griffin’s rookie year in 2012, Washington is 3-11 this year. Prior to the team’s Week 15 game against the Atlanta Falcons, Shanahan made the decision to bench Griffin, which, at the least, drew more attention to Shanahan.
Though Griffin may be out of a starting job for the last three weeks of this regular season, it is Shanahan whose job is truly in jeopardy going forward to 2014. The Redskins have the worst record among the NFL teams who have not yet fired their head coach this season, and Shanahan is likely to be a scapegoat of the team’s failure.
Shanahan may be a two-time Super Bowl champion head coach from his tenure with the Denver Broncos, but he can no longer ride the coattails of that success. He is 24-38 as the head coach in Washington, a record that should be considered unacceptable four seasons into his tenure.
Multiple controversial handlings of Washington’s quarterback situation, nonetheless, may ultimately be what do him in. Shanahan first met criticism in last year’s divisional round playoff game versus the Seattle Seahawks when he continued to play Griffin despite a knee injury, which eventually led to Griffin suffering a torn ACL.
Though Griffin made it back in time to start Week 1, he has not been nearly as successful this season as he was as a rookie. But Griffin should still be considered the franchise quarterback going into 2014, and Shanahan’s decision to bench him now might not only create a rift within the team, but also with ownership and with Washington fans.
As the Redskins have lost one game after another, it is has become clear that the situation in Washington is a damaged one.
Firing Shanahan might not be an easy move for Washington to make, as it will still have to pay him $7 million next season, according to National Football Post’s Aaron Wilson. That said, it seems as though irreparable damage has been done in Washington, and a new coaching structure is needed to turn Griffin and his teammates back to their winning ways of last season.
Jason Garrett, Coach, Dallas Cowboys
Though neither of their owners have ever made their decisions predictable, two coaches in the NFC East should be on the hot seat. The second is Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, whose team could be in the midst of another December collapse with a two-game losing streak that has put it one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East with just two regular-season games left to play.
While the pink slip should already be prepared for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin as the Cowboys defense continues to get embarrassed by its opponents, the pressure should also be on Garrett after his team blew a 26-3 halftime lead Sunday to ultimately lose 37-36 to the Green Bay Packers.
Sunday’s collapse was a bad chapter in Garrett’s fourth season as Cowboys head coach, and while Kiffin’s unit had a horrible second half in the collapse, Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan were also at fault for questionable offensive play-calling. Tthe Cowboys should have been running the ball with a lead and with DeMarco Murray coming off a 102-yard first half. Instead, they ran the ball only six times in the second half.
Making matters worse, Garrett threw his quarterback under the bus following the game when he told the media that it was Tony Romo’s decision, not the play originally called, to throw the ball on the interception that ultimately led to Green Bay's go-ahead touchdown.
"I think (Romo) will be the first one to tell you he probably should have run the ball in that situation,” Garrett said postgame, according to NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal.
While that might have been true, deflecting blame to his quarterback is not going to help a quickly faltering situation in Dallas.
But Garrett won’t lose his job because of one bad collapse. He could lose it because of a history of collapses in his four-year head coaching tenure. Though Garrett has a 28-26 coaching record in Dallas, he has yet to lead the Cowboys to a playoff appearance, in part due to a 7-10 record in December/January games.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears
Mike Shanahan wasn’t the only coach who had to make a tough decision at the quarterback position prior to Week 15. So did Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman, who returned a healthy Jay Cutler to the starting lineup even though Josh McCown had thrown for more than 340 yards in three consecutive games and has an overall completion percentage of 66.8 with 13 touchdowns and one interception in relief of Cutler this season.
This decision probably should not be considered controversial, as Cutler was the rightful starter before an ankle injury and remains a top-15 NFL quarterback. Still, McCown’s play had put Cutler on the hot seat, both to remain the starter down the stretch this season and to convince Chicago to re-sign him when his contract expires this offseason, going into Chicago’s Week 15 game against the Cleveland Browns.
When Cutler threw two interceptions in the first 22 minutes of Sunday’s game, one of which was returned by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson for a touchdown, some were calling for the Bears to go back to McCown. Cutler, however, bounced back to finish the game with 265 passing yards and three touchdown passes while leading Chicago to a 38-31 victory.
Calls for a quarterback change could come up again if Cutler struggles in the national spotlight on Sunday Night Football against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16, but with only two games left in the regular season, a performance-based quarterback change would be unlikely now.
That said, what Cutler might truly be playing for over the next two weeks, and in the playoffs if he can lead the Bears there, is a new contract. Staying committed to Cutler as the starting quarterback indicates the Bears have some interest in keeping him around, but he is slated to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Considering how well McCown was able to fill in for him while he was injured, he might still need to prove to Chicago that he is worth making another long-term investment in.
Matt McGloin, QB, Oakland Raiders
For an undrafted rookie, Matt McGloin has performed relatively well in starting quarterback duty for the Oakland Raiders in their past five games. Forgetting that relativity, however, the Raiders have lost four straight games and McGloin’s struggles have been a factor in the team’s losing streak.
McGloin has thrown at least one interception in each of his last four games but was at his worst Sunday. Though he threw for two touchdowns and a career-high 297 passing yards against the Kansas City Chiefs, he also threw four interceptions (and lost a fumble) while completing just 51.4 percent of his passing attempts in Oakland’s 56-31 loss.
At least publicly, Raiders coach Dennis Allen has deferred considerations that he should make a quarterback change back to Terrelle Pryor, who began the season as the starter.
“Matt’s our starting quarterback,” Allen said Monday, according to Raiders.com. “I think he’s earned that right and he’s gone in and played well.”
Typically, however, throwing four interceptions is not the definition of “played well.” McGloin has been impressive enough as a passer to get another shot in Week 16, and making another quarterback change may not be of much benefit at this point in the season for the 4-10 Raiders.
He needs to improve his play considerably, however, to inspire any confidence that he should be Oakland’s starting quarterback in 2014.
Dennis Allen, Coach, Oakland Raiders
While McGloin might not be on the hot seat in Allen’s mind, Allen himself might be on the hot seat.
The Raiders have gone just 8-22 in his coaching tenure and appear to be going nowhere fast coming off a 25-point loss that extended their losing streak to four games. To be fair to Allen, that probably has more to do with the lack of talent on his roster than it does his coaching, but NFL.com’s Michael Silver reported Monday that “a source familiar with the mindset of ownership said that the season's final few games will be crucial toward determining the coach's fate.”
If the Raiders are competitive and appear to be getting better, Allen likely will return. But if they get embarrassed, appear to be regressing and don't look like they have a plan, Allen likely will be fired. The 56-31 defeat to the Chiefs was not a promising sign.
The Raiders have been notoriously quick to pull the plug on head coaches in recent years—no head coach since Jon Gruden (1998-2001), whom the Raiders received trade compensation for when he left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has lasted more than three seasons.
If the Raiders cannot bounce back to win or at least stay competitive in their final two games against the San Diego Chargers or Denver Broncos, it would come as little surprise if Allen was fired.
If Allen retains his job, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver could still be on the chopping block. Tarver’s contract is set to expire at the end of the season, according to Silver. His defense allowing 56 points is not going to help his cause, though that point number was highly inflated by the seven turnovers Oakland’s offense had.
Either way, there are usually coaching scapegoats when a team finishes near the bottom of the NFL standings and on a long losing streak. Allen might be able to save his job in the next two weeks, but it is looking increasingly likely each week that he is losing it.
Mike Munchak, Coach, Tennessee Titans
Another coach whose team might be losing its way to his firing is Mike Munchak of the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans went 9-7 in Munchak’s first season as coach but are in the midst of their second consecutive losing season since. According to NFL.com’s Michael Silver, there was already “a lot of dissatisfaction” with his coaching performance prior to Tennessee’s Week 14 game against the Denver Broncos.
The Titans have lost back-to-back games since, dropping their season record to 5-9. Munchak’s job could very well be determined by whether the Titans bounce back to beat two teams they should be expected to win against, the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) and Houston Texans (2-12), in their final two games of the season.
Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reported Sunday that Titans CEO Tommy Smith said he will evaluate Munchak’s fate with the team following the season. Finishing the season on a two-game winning streak could certainly help that evaluation in his favor. Losing even one of the Titans’ last two games, especially considering Tennessee lost to both Houston and Jacksonville earlier this season, would not help Munchak’s cause.
Jim Schwartz, Coach, Detroit Lions
Things were looking good for Jim Schwartz when he led the Detroit Lions to their first playoff berth since 1999 with a 10-6 season in 2011, but if he is unable to lead Detroit back to the postseason in 2013, he might not get another chance in 2014.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted Monday that the “view from inside (the Lions organization) is they must make the playoffs for Jim Schwartz to keep his job.”
An 18-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football, which dropped Detroit’s season record to 7-7 and took control of the NFC North divisional race out of its hands, did not help Schwartz’s cause.
Schwartz has been considered one of the league’s better coaches at times, and the team’s struggles should not necessarily be blamed on him. Monday’s loss had far more to do with the poor play of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who completed just 18 of 34 passing attempts and threw three interceptions, than it had to do with any coaching decisions or lack of preparation on Schwartz’s behalf.
Nonetheless, Schwartz’s overall record would match that of a coach deserving to be fired if Detroit fails to make the playoffs. The Lions have gone just 29-48, with a 0-1 playoff record, in his five seasons as coach.
Garrett Hartley, K, New Orleans Saints
UPDATE: Wednesday, Dec. 18, at 8 p.m. ET
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton announced that kicker Garrett Hartley has been released.
The Saints are replacing him with Shayne Graham, who played in all 16 games for the Houston Texans in 2012.
---End of Update---
While most of the players and coaches on this list are at risk of losing their jobs because their teams have either been eliminated from the playoffs or are sliding back in a postseason race, one player whose job could be at stake because of his team’s need for postseason reliability is New Orleans Saints kicker Garrett Hartley.
Though Hartley has a career field-goal percentage of 81.2, he has been notoriously streaky throughout his career, and he has been shaky this season. He has missed eight field goals in total, but it was his missed kick from 26 yards out and blocked kick from 36 yards out in a loss to the St. Louis Rams Sunday that have the Saints considering an immediate change.
The Saints are still in good position to make the playoffs, but Sunday’s loss makes their upcoming Week 16 game against the Carolina Panthers one that could decide the NFC South. Therefore, New Orleans needs to be sure that its filing on all cylinders for one of its biggest road games of the season, and that might mean making a change from a kicker who missed two kicks within 40 yards on Sunday.
Though Saints coach Sean Payton was noncommittal Monday about whether a kicker change would be made, he said New Orleans is “looking closely at every element,” according to Terrance Harris of The Times-Picayune.
The Saints previously considered a kicker change in mid-November after a three-game stretch in which he missed four of six attempted field goals but stuck with Hartley after trying out Shayne Graham, Neil Rackers and Derek Dimke, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. But continued unreliability from Hartley, whose eight misses have all come within 50 yards, could be enough to at least prompt another round of tryouts.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.