It's been, all in all, a good year for NFL coaches.
In an era of limited-to-no-job security for them, not a single head coach was let go in-season, and only three coordinators were fired (Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, Tennessee offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and Philadelphia defensive coordinator Juan Castillo). Given just how awful some of these units have been to watch in 2012, that has to pass as restraint in this day and age.
But make no mistake, more changes are coming. And I'm not even talking about the inevitable carnage that comes when head coaches begin to get fired, which leads to their entire staffs being let go in most instances. From what I am hearing, it sounds like a half dozen are probably going to be let go during Black Monday, and another handful will trickle out throughout the following days and weeks
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There are also several teams that will be inevitably making changes at coordinator regardless of whether the head coach goes. Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano might be the poster boy of this group. He has been shredded on national television with great regularity for the lack of direction in New York's offense, and indeed the Jets have seemed rudderless and devoid of an identity much of the season. Add in the Tim Tebow circus and Sparano's support for Mark Sanchez following Greg McElroy's win over Arizona, and there is no doubt that whatever happens to head coach Rex Ryan, and whatever happens to general manager Mike Tannenbaum -- who could very well be let go, sources say -- Sparano looks like a one-and-done in the Big Apple (Tannenbaum is his biggest supporter, sources said).
The wildcat has been the mildcat (though even that is probably over-stating its prowess), Sanchez has sunk to new lows and another season of that Jets defense being stout enough has been wasted. The Jets are stuck with Sanchez given his contract, but a second straight coordinator change on offense is imminent, and Sunday's offensive display was just another indictment of that side of the ball.
Sparano won't be alone. Here's a list of other coordinators likely to get pink slips.
Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray: The Titans have been a wreck all season and it was a toss-up to whether Gray or Palmer would be fired first. Sources said Gray's departure is certain to come at the end of the season, and league sources indicated that if former Titans coordinator Gregg Williams is reinstated from his suspension in short enough order, he could be an option there. The Titans have suffered against the run and pass, have been on the wrong end of blowouts, the latest a 55-7 drubbing from the Packers on Sunday. Even if head coach Mike Munchak survives, as expected, more staff changes are to come.
Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave: It's been a dream season for the Vikings, and running back Adrian Peterson, but Minnesota's offense has been tough to watch. Quarterback Christian Ponder has not made strides, and with such a powerful running game it's been shocking to see the lack of explosive plays or vertical play-action threats it should trigger. Head coach Leslie Frazier has been advised by some to find a new coordinator even if AP breaks the rushing record, and I'd be very surprised if Ponder does not have a different voice in his ear come 2013.
Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan: The yardage is still there for the Lions, but the touchdowns have dried up, Matt Stafford has taken steps backward and the running game remains an enigma. Much like with AP in Minnesota, even Calvin Johnson's record yardage for the Lions is not expected to be enough to stave off this change. Stafford's ability alone is enough to attract top candidates and when Browns head coach Pat Shurmur is let go by the Browns, league sources would not be surprised to see him get consideration in Detroit (Shurmur is a Detroit native and worked well with another former No. 1 draft pick, Sam Bradford, in St. Louis).
Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice: Chicago's offense has lacked vision and creativity, and essentially has been a one-man gang with receiver Brandon Marshall carrying the load. Lovie Smith likely needs to get in the playoffs to save his job, and even if he does there will be calls for another man taking charge of Jay Cutler. That could end up meaning nothing more than a promotion for Jeremy Bates, who is already on staff there. The lack of scoring from this unit has been staggering at times, and Tice has been unable to right Chicago's substantial personnel woes on the offensive line.
Arizona offensive coordinator Mike Miller: Last year, Arizona's ownership went to bat for Todd Haley, pushing coach Ken Whisenhunt to get him back on staff, preferably as the offensive play caller. Sunday was another game, another quarterback for the Cards in another defeat, with Brian Hoyer the latest victim. Scouts have pointed to the scheme, especially in terms of protections, as part of the problem, while the lack of an offensive line has hurt, too. Whisenhunt committed to Miller, but a year later, with the offense horrible and lacking any sort of production from quarterback, change is coming. The Cardinals prevented teams from talking to quarterback coach John McNulty a year ago, and he could end up as their coordinator this year whether Whisenhunt stays or goes (if Arizona does let him go, then Haley could return as head coach).
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp: Knapp has many friends in the coaching ranks, he is very well liked and he has been the ultimate survivor in the West Coast offense ... but this looks like the last stop as a coordinator. Oakland has been awful, Carson Palmer has probably played his way out of town (or at least into a greatly-reduced contract) and rookie head coach Dennis Allen is going to have to shake up his staff some. Sunday, with Carson Palmer leaving the game and Matt Leinart entering, was just another sign of impending doom.
Bills defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt: This was supposed to be a breakthrough year for this defense after owner Ralph Wilson went out of character and sunk tens of millions of dollars into that side of the ball, and it hasn't worked. Not close. They got all kinds of carved up by Reggie Bush in another loss Sunday. The Bills have been thoroughly dominated far too often and the bang for the buck has not been there. Things improved marginally at times, but this is yet another case where even if an embattled head coach (Chan Gailey) manages to keep his job, he is going to have to tinker with his staff.
Houston, we have a problemIf I am a Texans fan I am definitely disconcerted by what I watched Sunday. I had held off on the prevailing sentiment that the Texans were looking like paper tigers, and recent slip ups did not bode well for them.
And certainly they have not been clicking on either side of the ball the way they were early in the season. But until Sunday's pedestrian showing against the Vikings, I was still feeling pretty good about my summer Super Bowl prediction of Packers-Texans. I know the Texans didn't have much beyond the top seed on the line, but still I expected more in terms of fight and passion.
Matt Schaub isn't scaring anyone right now. The defense is not nearly as menacing as it appeared to be earlier in the season. In a league where being a hot team and carrying some momentum into the postseason has been so vital in recent years, this team has the look of one that might be vulnerable, and conversations with several AFC execs made it clear teams would prefer a route that goes through the Colts and then the Texans in the divisional round, rather than getting the Patriots or Broncos in that round.
Ex-Broncos GM deserves some credit
With the Broncos surging, it seems like a good time to remind people of the superb drafts that former general manager Brian Xanders oversaw there before being unceremoniously let go before this season. That team that is surging now is doing so loaded with young talent brought in on his watch. And he managed to do so with very tight budgetary restraints. He was also had a hand in hiring John Fox, which looks genius now, and in helping put a strong staff together despite those financial constraints.
I'm not sure that Xanders will get a general manager gig this offseason, though he has a background in coaching, worked the business side of things and then also served in scouting and has general manager experience. If nothing else, he'd make a strong addition to a front office in a role as an assistant general manager. (Along those lines, I hear that Brian Heimerdinger, son of the late Mike Heimerdinger -- the longtime successful offensive coordinator -- is doing quality work for the Rams as a player personnel analyst and I have a feeling he works his way up the ranks).
• Eagles quarterback Nick Foles keeps showing something every week. There is enough to work with at least for this offseason, and it will be very interesting to see what the next coach in Philadelphia thinks of him. You could do a whole lot worse, seems to me, and I am not sure you are going to be able to do much better in what looks like a watered-down draft class and given the limited options in free agency. Get that offensive line improved (maybe Jason Peters is back at left tackle), stick with a more balanced offensive approach and give the kid a full 2013 to show what more he can do.
• Tampa Bay, as we noted a week ago, is now very much in line to finish back at the bottom of the NFC South, and all of their manic tendencies are embodied by the quarterback. Josh Freeman has to be one of the most wildly inconsistent quarterbacks in the NFL. After another multiple-pick game, it makes you doubt whether he can ever stay at the lofty level he frequently attains in spurts. It looks like he will end up pulling a Joe Flacco and playing out the finality of his rookie deal (which expires after the 2013 season) before either getting franchised or securing an extension.
• The Vikings' Kyle Rudolph isn't the liveliest tight end in the league and seems downright lumbering at times by today's standards, but he quietly has emerged as a legit red zone threat and could end up with double-digit touchdown receptions this season.
• Rams corner Janoris Jenkins gets my vote for defensive rookie of the year. He is a natural-born playmaker, he got in the end zone again yesterday (this time at Freeman's expense), and kudos to the Rams for having the guts to draft him as he was slipping down other draft boards due to off-field concerns. Just too much talent not to look at when you are the youngest team in the league and so starved for wins as St. Louis has been.
• I could not figure out what Mike Tomlin and Marvin Lewis were doing in the late stages of their game. Neither team could score nor move the ball and field position carried the day, yet both guys were trying 52-yard plus field goals in the final minutes and seemingly trying to hand the game back to the other guy. Lewis ended up getting bailed out by another Big Ben pick with the game on the line, but why he would hand the ball back to the Steelers around midfield in the first place with an attempt out of his kicker's range was baffling. Lewis's in-game decisions have been called into question before, but give the Bengals credit for rising above, finally finding a way to beat an AFC North big dog and getting back in the playoffs for a second straight year. Heady stuff for that franchise.