Remember a few weeks back when we chronicled the growing chatter around the NFL – among owners, front office execs and agents – about the possibility of a number of clubs that hired new coaches in 2019 perhaps being ready to do so yet again in 2020? Well, it's only growing louder and being yakked about more openly. By January, it may turn into a scream.
In a league that tends to be overly reactionary, and where the pendulum can swing widely in terms of trends, I'm bracing for some unusual, if not unprecedented decisions by the start of the new year. The concept of a "one-and-done" in the NFL for a head coach has been seen as extreme and rare, but with each week other owners are having uncomfortable conversations both within their organizations and among their peers about the need to make drastic decisions a year after just doing so.
There was understandably grumbling last January when the Cardinals made Steve Wilks the scapegoat in many respects for their organizational failings, firing him after one season on the job after largely picking his staff for him and handing him an overmatched roster. It was the 10th time since 2000 that a head coach was fired a year after being hired; we may see it occur three times come this January, maybe even more. It is not going unnoticed by any stretch, and becoming an increasing talking point.
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With half of the season complete, teams who hired a first-time head coach in 2019 – the Dolphins, Bengals, Cardinals, Packers, Broncos, Browns – are a combined 16-34-1 (.320), with nearly half those wins coming from Matt LeFleur in Green Bay (7-2), the only newcomer with a winning record. Add in the Jets (1-7) and Bucs (2-6), who hired new coaches with prior experience in Adam Gase and Bruce Arians, and the situation is pretty bleak.
That's a .284 winning percentage, folks. In the words of Steve Spurrier: Not very good, not very good.
It could lead to an overwhelming number of overall coaching hires come 2020 – factor in multiple teams going "one-and-done" along with all of the other teams inevitably in the market for a new boss (Washington, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Dallas, Carolina, Tennessee and the New York Giants all bear monitoring in the second half of the season). And the market may put quite a premium on those who have already done this job before when it comes to that upcoming hiring cycle.
With that in mind, figured it might be time to check in on some of those situations, in order of record:
Cincinnati Bengals (0-8)
It's difficult to think like this front office does, since they just ignored a trade deadline that could have drastically reshaped the franchise. But we do know that owner Mike Brown doesn't care what anyone else thinks and runs the team the way he wants to. He isn't in the practice of paying coaches to leave, he was incredibly loyal to former coach Marvin Lewis, and rookie head coach Zac Taylor hasn't had a shot, given the state of the offensive line and injuries to receivers there. Even if they go 0-16 – and I don't rule that out – the people I talk to figure Brown wouldn't entertain the concept of a "one-and-done." They'd better get busy at the combine trading a half dozen or so veterans, though.
Miami Dolphins (1-7)
Everyone understands it was never about 2019 for Miami. And rightfully so. Brian Flores has had plenty of bumps in the road, but owner Stephen Ross seems locked-in on the big picture here and Miami probably won't even end up as the worst team in the NFL, anyway. I don't see this being much of an issue with the Dolphins. If Jim Harbaugh is not back in Ann Arbor for any reason, given his connections to Ross through Michigan, I guess you can't entirely rule that out ... but this plan was hatched for the long-view and the focus is on the roster.
New York Jets (1-7)
Nothing has gone right for them, and the biggest issue is potential franchise quarterback Sam Darnold's struggles. Gase has had a very bumpy time of it with the media and the fanbase, and, unfortunately for him, this has been an always-toxic organization that has suffered repeatedly from unusual decisions by ownership. It gets even weirder with new GM Joe Douglas, who is close to Gase, coming in so late in the offseason. The Jamal Adams circus only makes things worse. Every week it is something else, it seems, and owners don't fire themselves. Jets fans are sick of being patient, especially with so many young QBs prospering around the league. Should they manage to be the first team the Bengals beat next month, and/or get swept by the Dolphins the following week, this might come to a head.
Cleveland Browns (2-6)
Freddie Kitchens has done himself no favors, looking overmatched at times, making strange in-game decisions, clinging to play-calling duties, watching Baker Mayfield regress and having the most undisciplined team in the NFL. Throw in the high expectations for this season, and questions will be asked. Now, this is not a normal franchise and the Haslams kept Hue Jackson despite a recent 0-16 season … but no one was thinking playoffs with that bunch, either. Without some serious improvement in the second half – against a weaker schedule – you have to wonder if major changes are not in order.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)
Arians surprised many when he ended his retirement after one year, given his health issues in the past, and at this stage of his life and career he and his family have to assess the situation on a yearly basis. That is always and has to be first and foremost. Jameis Winston is fighting to prove he deserves another contract there, with turnovers a huge issue, and would Arians want to endure a rebuild in 2020 if this team cannot make strides? Arians is all about his staff and would love to help his assistants rise through the ranks to be head coaches themselves, but given the way this season is going there might not be upward possibilities in 2020. This situation is being watched closely around the league.
Denver Broncos (3-6)
John Elway at some point has to embrace a rebuild around rookie QB Drew Lock, with an aging roster and Joe Flacco done for the season. The proposition that 60-something rookie head coach Vic Fangio would ride this defense back to playoff contention was always flawed, and it's not happening. Is Fangio the guy to lead them with Lock? Elway has been super fickle with his coaches in general, and the identity of this team may be changing. Here are the Broncos' remaining opponents: at Vikings, at Bills, Chargers, at Texans, at Chiefs, Lions, Raiders. Might not be many Ws to come.
Arizona Cardinals (3-5-1)
They are better than a year ago and Kyler Murray is making enough plays every week to create optimism. Arizona going "one-and-done" two years in a row isn't in the Cards (get it?), but this team has a ways to go in the toughest division in football and there will be questions about GM Steve Keim from the media and fans, with holes all over the roster. Kliff Kingsbury as a long-term entity remains to be seen, but he and Kyler will have more time to figure it out.
Green Bay Packers (7-2)
LaFleur has made it work with Aaron Rodgers, and this team has had great fortune, overall, with officiating decisions and turnovers. I suspect that has a way of evening out, and the second half might not be as rosy as the first half, but this is going to be a playoff team and they already have the inside path to the NFC North title. This is, decidedly, an anomaly among the Class of 2019 coaches, and one situation that won't even raise a discussion as far as "one-and-done" goes. Nothing to see here.