Legendary orator and former head coach Jerry Glanville once coined the National Football League acronym as standing for “Not For Long,” and he wasn’t lying.
The first Monday following the NFL regular season is known as “Black Monday” for a reason. That’s when head coaches get fired – and sometimes scapegoated – for his team’s inefficiencies. Whether it’s a neophyte like former San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Tomsula, who only got one year on the job, or a legendary two-time Super Bowl champion like Tom Coughlin, who “retired” after a couple of down seasons, no head coach is beyond getting canned.
Leeway is not a luxury afforded to a majority of NFL coaches. The what-have-you-done-for-me-lately environment is too real. And it doesn’t matter if you’re stewarding a team with a plethora of holes, a young roster on the come-up, a veteran team that just can’t get over the hump, or even a perennial Super Bowl contender – like Marty Schottenheimer’s 14-win San Diego Chargers from the 2006-07 season – there’s a tipping point for management when deciding to go in a different direction.
This upcoming season will be no different, as there are a handful of coaches who will be walking that tightrope.
Salute takes a look at which head coaches are seemingly running on borrowed time, as the 2017-18 NFL season is nearly upon us.
#1 Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns: It’s probably not fair to include Jackson since he inherited a train wreck of a team, but his Browns did just miss a winless campaign, last season, as they didn’t pick up their first win until Week 16. Jackson is a well-respected coach and leader of men who, if fired, would get another job almost immediately. But in a town that’s starving for a winner – especially after seeing the recent success of their National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball brethren – Browns fans will be calling for Jackson’s job should they not see any progress. Even a six-win season should save his job, but if the Browns put forth another one-two-or-three-win season, Jackson will have to start packing his bags. Cleveland is a massive rebuild, but that won’t stop often-impatient team owner Jimmy Haslam from casting a doubting eye towards Jackson.
#2 Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints: To novice football fans this may seem like a shocker considering Payton’s popularity, his success that’s tied to quarterback Drew Brees, and the fact he owns the only Super Bowl ring in franchise history. But to those that closely follow the league, the seat is getting quite warm. The frustration is simmering and may boil over soon in N’awlins following back-to-back-to-back 7–9 finishes.
Payton is indeed tied to Brees, but the future Hall of Famer is 38 and on the back-nine of his career – and there’s no surefire successor at the position to carry the Saints and Payton forward. The pressure is certainly on for Payton, especially when considering that hated National Football Conference South Division rivals the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons have represented the NFC in consecutive Super Bowls. Saints owner Tom Benson is certainly aware.
#3 John Fox, Chicago Bears: The NFL Draft displayed just how out of sync Fox is with management when the Bears were the victim of a robbery for the right to move up just one spot and select University of North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Depending on who’s asked, Fox was reportedly unaware of the back-room dealings to give up so much for a relative unknown. And if Fox was kept out of the loop, that’s never a good sign. But even if he was kept abreast, the pressure is on the affable coach. He’s entering this season in a tough spot, regardless, as he’ll either have the rookie under center or the uninspiring and high-priced Mike Glennon calling the shots. Chicago has finished a combined 9–23 in Fox’s two seasons there, which is actually four wins worse than his successor, Marc Trestman. The Bears have a promising defense, which is Fox’s calling card, but in an NFC North featuring teams that can score some points, he lacks the firepower to keep up offensively. That could be his undoing. That, and another three-win season.
#4 Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals: Lewis has nine lives – at the very least – as he joins New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick as the longest-tenured coaches in the league, which is where the comparisons end. He’s never won a playoff game and finished a disappointing 6-9-1, last season, so maybe the end is near. In all fairness, Lewis is a solid coach and a great mentor to many troubled players, which is seemingly the Bengals’ modus operandi in building a roster. And he does win, delivering 118 wins, seven playoff trips, and four division titles since taking over in 2003. And his coaching tree is solid, as he’s spawned the head coaching careers of Jay Gruden (Washington Redskins), Mike Zimmer (Minnesota Vikings), and Jackson (Browns). But that may also mean team owner Mike Brown missed the boat on finding a qualified successor should the Bengals flame out and Brown relieve Lewis of his duties.
#5 Todd Bowles, New York Jets: Is there any more obvious choice than Bowles? It is the Jets, after all, arguably the most impatient ownership in the NFL. This is a franchise that fires general managers after just two years on the job – continuity be damned! Bowles is in a tough bind, mainly because of the quarterback position being in shambles, and general manager Mike Maccagnan purging the roster of veterans – some who were still productive. The Jets have the look of a five-win team, which would be the second-straight time that would happen since Bowles’s maiden season in 2015-16 when the Jets went 10-6 and barely missed the playoffs. Maybe the team has a lightning-in-a-bottle season, but it’s more likely to see a duplication of last season – or worse — especially if second-year quarterback Christian Hackenberg is under center.