Usually, this is the time of the week when we talk about who's playing and who's not. But that changes here because I'm more interested in who's coaching and who's not -- and I'm not talking about next weekend. I'm talking about next year.
Let's face it, there are casualties out there waiting to happen, and you know it, I know it and these head coaches know it. Some of them can't be avoided. Some might. And some have already occurred.
So I compiled a list of what we're likely to see in the weeks ahead, with the conditions of the wounded -- as well as those most likely to get hit -– noted. This is what I found:
Jim Zorn, Washington: The past month the Redskins have demonstrated they have a pulse that had been missing earlier. So now everyone wants to know: Can Jim Zorn save himself? No. The S.S. Minnow had a better chance of being rescued. But he will make it to the finish line, which is something of an achievement considering what he's been through.
The loss to Detroit was bad. The Lions hadn't won in 19 games. The loss to Kansas City was worse. It happened three weeks after Detroit, and it brought Washington's record against winless opponents to 2-4. Outraged fans wanted something done, and something was. Sherm Lewis was hired as the team's play-caller. Since then, the offense has perked up, and the Redskins have come to life -- looking the last four weeks like the team we thought they could be. They should've beaten Dallas. They should've beaten Philadelphia. They should've beaten New Orleans. But they didn't, and that's why the countdown has begun on Jim Zorn. Bad teams find ways to lose, and the Redskins blew fourth-quarter leads in all three of those games.
But give the guy this: He has his club playing hard, with Washington now a difficult out on anybody's schedule. I feel for Zorn. Good quarterback. Good man. Good assistant coach. Not so good head coach.
John Fox, Carolina: Fox has one more year left on his contract, so, naturally, this is when you'd expect talks to begin regarding an extension. Only there are no talks. Nothing. Zippety-do-da. And that tells you one of two things: 1) Either Fox is a walking dead man, playing out the string until the Panthers fire him, or 2) he gets one more chance to prove himself, only because owner Jerry Richardson is loath to pony up millions for a coach who isn't coaching. Me? I think it's Door No. 1.
Fox was on notice before the season that he had to win or else, and the Panthers haven't won. In fact, they're headed to their fifth non-winning season in eight years under Fox, and, I'm sorry, it happens. You win some. You lose some. Then you get fired.
But Fox took this team to the Super Bowl, three playoff appearances and two NFC championship games and had them poised to make a run at the top last year. Only the run stopped one game into the playoffs, with Carolina shredded as Jake Delhomme self-immolated. They haven't been the same since. The Panthers are due for a makeover, and Fox's dismissal could be just the beginning. He finishes with Minnesota, the Giants and New Orleans, and tell me how he can save himself.
Wade Phillips, Dallas: If the Super Bowl were in November, this guy would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, football extends through December, and that's not good for Wade or his future. He's 3-7 with Dallas in December -- 27-8 the rest of the time -- and he's been put on notice by owner Jerry Jones that he will be judged on how he finishes the season. Uh-oh. That's like telling Bill Belichick he will be judged on his sartorial splendor. Phillips is not exactly the Mariano Rivera of the NFL, failing to win a game in December this season and failing to win a playoff game in his career anywhere.
Make no mistake, the Cowboys still have a shot at the playoffs, but they go to New Orleans this weekend with DeMarcus Ware doubtful, and I can't imagine them doing anything other than what they've done already -- which is lose. Then it's on to Washington, a team that should've beaten them three weeks ago. Finally, it's NFC East-leader Philadelphia, and fortunately for Phillips that's in January. Oh, wait a minute, he's 0-4 that month, including 0-1 with the Cowboys. Egad.
The team has an option to renew his contract at the end of the season, and it won't be based on Phillips' overall record; it will be based on this year's stretch drive. Someone send out for a defibrillator.
Gary Kubiak, Houston: The Texans were supposed to be a playoff team, and they sure looked like one when they destroyed Seattle last Sunday. Only it might have been one week too late. Remember when they played Jacksonville Dec. 6? And remember what owner Bob McNair said before that game? I do. He said he considered it a "must-win" if the Texans were going to make the playoffs. He also said he "wanted to have a winning team" while pledging allegiance to Kubiak. Great. Only Houston lost the "must-win" game, and the Texans are within a loss of another non-winning season -- which would make it four straight for Kubiak.
I know they've had close calls, but they had undefeated Indianapolis down 17-0 and blew it ... at home, no less. Personally, I think that finished Kubiak. Of course, then they lost to Jacksonville, and dropping four straight within your division (they lost to Tennessee and Indianapolis earlier) is not how you restore the faith of your employer. McNair is a fair man, and Kubiak has had a fair chance. But if he can't get the Texans winning after four years, why should McNair -- or any Texans fan -- believe it can ever happen?
Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay: Everywhere I go I hear the same refrain: This guy is in over his head. Well, no clue, Sherlock. He was a 32-year-old secondary coach one year, a head coach the next. Jim Zorn couldn't make the jump, and now it looks as if Morris can't, either.
All I know is the guy opened the season by firing his offensive coordinator. OK, a little odd, but it happened in Buffalo and Kansas City, too. But then he fires his defensive coordinator during the season. Wait a minute. A coach fires both coordinators in his first year on the job ... and in their first years on the job?
What in the name of John McKay is going on? Trust me, the Glazers would like an answer, too. Reportedly, they're embarrassed by the way Morris is handling the club, and I can't imagine they were all that enthralled when one of his players said he thought Morris was "a little bored" with the job. Hmmmm, imagine how bored Tampa Bay fans are.
In nine games this year the Bucs produced no more than seven points in the first half, and last week they not only didn't score in the first two quarters, they produced 15 yards. Pathetic. If Sominex needs a spokesman I know a head coach it can contact.
I always wondered how you fire someone after only one year on the job, but Morris is making a convincing case.
Tom Cable, Oakland: I'll be honest, I don't know what happens with the Raiders, and neither do you or anyone else outside of Al Davis' office. Maybe he stays. Maybe he goes. Once, there was a feeling he couldn't make it because of off-the-field behavior, but that was awhile ago, and the Raiders seemed to steady the ship under backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. Only Gradkowski hurt both his knees last weekend and may miss the rest of the season, which means the Raiders might turn to the greatness of ... drum roll, please ... Charlie Frye? Don't laugh. It's possible. I feel for the coaches in Oakland because they're the guys who must try to make mistakes like JaMarcus Russell and Darrius Heyward-Bey into legitimate players. Turning the Kansas City Royals into a pennant contender would be easier.
Despite a rocky start, Cable may make it. Of course, he may not, too. Only Al Davis knows. Cable's reputation took some direct hits, and the Raiders are stuck where they've been stuck since returning from Super Bowl XXXVII -- at or near the bottom of the AFC. There's a reason they call it the Black Hole, Tom.
Eric Mangini, Cleveland: Once upon a time I thought Mangini was safe for next year; that owner Randy Lerner would give him the chance he deserved to make a mark with the Browns. Now I'm not so sure, and the reason is Mike Holmgren. The Browns clearly are interested in hiring him as their next GM or team president, and if that happens Mangini almost probably is gone. All I know is that Lerner's fascination with Holmgren has gone on for some time and that Holmgren on Monday met with Mangini -- to discuss what I'm not sure. But Holmgren may look at Cleveland as he did Green Bay when he went there in 1992, full of possibility in an environment starved for a winner.
Mangini's first season has been fraught with turmoil, but the Browns lately have started to look like a club coming together -- nearly beating Detroit, then knocking off Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh win should've won Mangini votes with management -- after all, Cleveland had dropped 12 straight and 18 of the previous 19 to the Steelers -- but it may not matter if Holmgren takes over. This one is a coin toss, and it hinges not on what the Browns do but on what Mike Holmgren does.
Lovie Smith, Chicago: It's not that the Bears are getting better. They aren't. They're dreadful. But Smith's chances of going aren't, and I'll tell you why: He's too expensive to fire. Smith has two more years left on his contract, which means the Bears are on the hook for another $11 million, and I can't see them swallowing that deal, then hiring a new guy for, say, $35 million or $40 million. That's not what you call being fiscally responsible, and this is an era where everyone -- not just Virginia McCaskey -- obeys the bottom line.
Nice-guy Smith probably has one more year, but if it looks anything like this season I have a realtor in Winnetka he can contact. It's not just that the Bears are unwatchable; it's that their defense -- the hallmark of the franchise -- has more holes than Lake Shore Drive.
Smith is responsible for that defense, and its failures have been catastrophic. The Bengals scored touchdowns the first four times they had the ball. So did Arizona. That is not Chicago Bears football. Smith better rectify that soon, otherwise he starts next year at or near the top of this list.
Photos by Getty Images.