NFL coaching hot seat rankings: Freddie Kitchens escapes imminent danger, Jason Garrett remains bulletproof
While some improved their standing at the season's midway point, others simply added reasons to see them fired
With the second half of the NFL season in full swing, we know who the contenders are, and who were nothing more than pretenders heading into September.
There are lots of reasons teams fail over the course of the regular season, and injuries play a key role in how things unfold across the league, but every loss suffered by a club can't be excused away with an injury report -- as some of the better coaches usually scheme to adjust for such absences, which includes building a roster and coaching staff that can withstand the inevitable bite of the injury bug itself. Additionally, there are clubs who are faring better than most others in that regard, and yet still find themselves sliding into oblivion as the weeks roll along.
In the end, the onus will always fall back onto the lap of the respective head coach, and several find themselves on the hot seat heading into Week 13, many being familiar to having a heated bottom. There's been movement, however, with some seeing their chair cooled a bit, while others simply poured more gasoline on the embers beneath them. And then there's Mike Tomlin, who I've decided to finally remove from the list altogether, considering he's still winning games despite everything that's occurred at the quarterback position in Pittsburgh.
Seriously, Tomlin is amazing, and his seat could not be more ice cold.
No one else has earned such a respite from the hot seat rankings, though, so using the U.S. military DEFCON readiness scale -- in honor of NFL's "Salute to Service" -- let's take a look who sits where.
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DEFCON 5: Safe ... for now
11. Jason Garrett - Cowboys
Faced with a 3-3 start after dropping three straight games that included a loss to the hapless New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, and enjoyed further cooling by climbing back from a slow start to pick apart another rival in the New York Giants, garnering two needed wins in two weeks that also happened to be against division foes. Things seemed back on track, but then came the Minnesota Vikings and, after scraping past the Detroit Lions, a mistake-laden loss to the New England Patriots led to owner Jerry Jones railing against his own special teams and coaching staff.. He went on to helicopter drop volumes of water onto it when he led the Cowboys to a dismantling of the
and Jones confirmed two days later, however, there will be no firing of Garrett right now.
At best, there could be an eventual shuffling of the staff beneath him -- i.e., special teams coordinator Keith O'Quinn -- but even that won't occur prior to the Thanksgiving battle with the Buffalo Bills, and not at all if the special teams unit can bounce back in that game. When it comes to Garrett, it's the same song I've been singing all season, and it will continue to carry a tune over the next few weeks. As long as the Cowboys are atop the NFC East and in the playoff picture, Jones will not fire him, but what the team does in January will determine if Garrett lands a new contract in 2020.
So, why's he on this list? It's because he deserves to be, and it's not totally impossible he gets the ax this season. If the Cowboys outright collapse in December, it's game over.
10. Brian Flores - Dolphins
In the previous iteration of this list, Flores was in more danger than he is currently. It wasn't that Flores was in jeopardy of being shoved out of the door in the middle of his first season because he wasn't, but more so because he can't be eliminated from the list when considering all things relevant to his situation. The tank has been on for Miami all season, mostly, with the evidence including their decision to trade away Minkah Fitzpatrick and a frequent shuffle at the quarterback position.
After starting the year 0-7, though? They've pieced together two consecutive wins, and Flores has the unique distinction of being able to tank for the future, while convincing ownership that he can win games when he puts his mind to it. Having now lost two straight going into Week 13, they're right back to ensure themselves a top-3 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
It makes for a very intriguing situation in South Florida, because if Flores is indeed the man for the job -- which won't be known for the most part until 2020 -- then what we're watching him pull off is masterful, even if it's to the chagrin of fans and those who demand competitive football week in, week out. If the tank blows up in 2020, ownership will not hesitate to throw him under the bus, and pronto.
He's safe ... for now.
DEFCON 4: Danger is present
9. Freddie Kitchens - Browns
If you want a lesson in how to escape a minefield, Kitchens could probably teach you, as he lands the honor of my biggest mover and shaker on this list. The Browns were on a six-game losing streak and again the laughingstock of the entire NFL, leading to Kitchens initially being as high as DEFCON 2, considering how massively underwhelming his high-powered stable of talent had become in his first season as head coach in Cleveland.
Now winners of three straight -- including a defeat of the Buffalo Bills -- it feels like the tide is beginning to turn for Kitchens and Co. That presumption will be tested in a big way over the course of their remaining few games, as they sit at 5-6 on the season and not yet eliminated from playoff contention. If Kitchens can continue to mount the forces, the Browns will go on to deliver the biggest turnaround in the NFL this season, and his job will be safer than money in a mob vault.
If they/he can't, those calling for his head will again have fuel to pick up their pitchforks, and rightfully so, when considering the expectations for the club entering the season -- having fired longtime coach Hue Jackson and brought in elite talent like Odell Beckham, Jr. via trade. With so much salary and draft capital tied up in this Browns roster, it's incumbent upon the organization to find a coach that can piece it all together, and quickly.
He'll have to do it, and that will only make things more challenging but, at least for the moment, Kitchens has his critics taking pause. The ground he stands on remains filled with land mines, though.
8. Kliff Kingsbury - Cardinals
Things got fun for a little bit in Arizona, when the team went on a three-game win streak after beginning the year 0-3-1, but they're back to their losing ways and Kingsbury finds himself still fighting to figure out what type of team the Cardinals need to be to become contenders. That won't happen in 2019 though, after losing four straight -- their second-longest losing streak of 2019 -- to fall to 3-7-1 and far out of the playoff picture. The Cardinals are struggling to stop anyone defensively, and while they've averaged 26 points per game offensively in their last three games, they've also scored 20 or less at four different points of the season.
That's not what the Cardinals envisioned when they wooed Kingsbury to the NFL and shipped away Josh Rosen to select Kyler Murray with the first-overall pick, and although Kingsbury will likely be given space to make errors in 2019 -- which is why he won't find himself unemployed in the next few minutes -- a continued collapse could change his fate once the season concludes.
Just ask Nick Saban, a Hall of Fame collegiate coach that found out the NFL doesn't play nice simply because you're a god in the NCAA.
7. Matt Nagy - Bears
Nagy can exhale a bit at the moment, with the Bears ending their four-game losing streak and having now won two of their last three games. However, the fact remains the Bears are still below .500 with a 5-6 record, and it took a lot for them to dispatch with a Lions team that didn't have Matthew Stafford on the field. The offense continues to struggle under Mitchell Trubisky, and Nagy continues to hitch his wagon to the former first-round pick, in a tale that may see them both go down in flames.
Trubisky returned from what was described as a hip injury many viewed as an outright benching in Week 11, and threw two interceptions to barely squeak out a win over the hapless New York Giants.
All told, things could truly fall apart for the Bears going forward unless Nagy can figure things out. Their remaining schedule is brutal and includes matchups with the Packers, Cowboys, Chiefs and Vikings -- with no guarantee that Trubisky will again outduel Jeff Driskel and the Lions in Week 13. This was supposed to be a season that saw the Bears make a run at the Super Bowl after a stellar 2018 that ended in field goal heartbreak against the Eagles in the playoffs, but it's instead become something else entirely.
As rabid as fans in Chicago are to regain the swagger of their wonder years, Nagy may find himself understanding how Kevin Arnold felt when he got dumped by Winnie Cooper.
DEFCON 3: At the ready
6. Anthony Lynn - Chargers
Just when you thought the Chargers were ready to mount a run in the second half of the season, they remind you they're not. Lynn has done a great job of overcoming the loss of several star players in recent weeks, going so far as to galvanize the team into defeating the Bears in Chicago and flat out knocking the teeth out of the Packers in Week 9. That's a testament to the grit and leadership of Lynn, which was on full display when he opted to not re-attempt a field goal against Green Bay with the opportunity to extend the lead by three points; but instead deciding to run it down their throats for a touchdown that sealed the coffin closed.
That now feels like forever ago, as poor play from, and the Chargers with one to make on Lynn -- if he can't turn things around in Year 3.
Lynn battled back from a 3-5 start in 2017 to finish 9-7, but didn't make the playoffs that year. Even if he can mount another rally and finish above .500, if it doesn't come equipped with a second playoff appearance, the aging Rivers might lobby for a coaching change, or Lynn might lobby for a QB change to save his own rear end. No matter how you slice it, there's trouble in Los Angeles, and Lynn's seat is blazing hot because of it.
but without that scapegoat, it might be Lynn now put out to pasture.
5. Vic Fangio - Broncos
The Broncos were hoping to come out of their bye week firing, and they should've done so -- with the head coach.
Things have gone from promising before the season, to worrisome at the outset, to an absolute tailspin with only five regular season games left to play. Fangio was brought in this year to replace Vance Joseph, who himself was fired after a short stint as head coach, and the hiring came attached to a decision by John Elway to trade for Joe Flacco; and that was supposed to finally resolve the ongoing uncertainty at quarterback while providing a steady and fiery hand at the helm in Fangio. Instead, the Broncos are 3-8 and the usually stone-faced Flacco publicly railed against the coaching staff's decisions on the field before being placed on injured reserve with curious timing, citing them as "being afraid to lose" when that's mostly all the team has done this year.
Flacco's time in Denver is likely done, and Fangio doesn't yet know who the future at the position will be, or if he'll be around to see that unfold anyway. Currently, on a two-game losing streak following their bye, Fangio is seeing continued failure with Brandon Allen at the helm and maybe rookie Drew Lock is the answer -- whenever he's ready to return from injured reserve -- and maybe he isn't. It's a lost season for the Broncos either way, and Fangio is definitely on the hook.
He probably should've never unpacked his luggage, to be honest.
4. Adam Gase - Jets
Apparently all it took was a defeat of the also unimpressive New York Giants to secure Gase's job, with team owner Christopher Johnson stating unequivocally there would be no changes at the head coach position in 2019. Johnson is clear that Gase will return for 2020 and, knowing that, you're now wondering why the first-year Jets head coach is still on my list. Well, it's because owners can say whatever they like on Wednesday, and do the exact opposite on Saturday.
Wade Phillips can certainly attest to that, having been ousted midseason by Jerry Jones in 2010, after Jones stated unequivocally he would never fire a head coach in the middle of a season. All things considered, Phillips was light years beyond Gase as a head coach, and the latter has a 2-7 record on the year with added turmoil in the locker room -- including the fallout from the failed attempt to successfully trade away Jamal Adams, as one example.
Sam Darnold has regressed mightily in 2019, and Gase even dropped a game to the then-winless Dolphins and Flores, while he leads an offense that struggles to score more than 14 points weekly and a defense that can't consistently stop a team from hanging 30 or more on them. Kudos to Gase for stringing together three wins in a row, which moved him to a more "safe" place on this list, but let's not pretend he's suddenly no longer in danger.
He's bought himself more time with Mr. Johnson, but don't go pulling him out of the fire yet.
DEFCON 2: Mobilize the forces
3. Dan Quinn - Falcons
Although he didn't enjoy as much movement on this list as Kitchens, it's the first time Quinn has not been named in DEFCON 1, and that's saying something. Yes, he recently lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he also coached a masterful performance in Louisiana to down the New Orleans Saints before then heading to Charlotte to dismantle the Carolina Panthers -- serving notice the Falcons won't lay down, and that Quinn hasn't lost the locker room.
After weeks of his defensive playcalling having been called into question, things clicked in two out of the last three games, but it's not just the face he lost to the Buccaneers that keeps him in DEFCON 2 -- still a positive step from where he was previously -- but it was how they lost. After allowing a combined 12 points between the Saints and Panthers, they gave up 35 points to Jameis Winston.
And so it goes, while owner Arthur Blank will likely let the season play out for Quinn, he's shown things weren't as repaired as Blank might've believed when riding the high from Week 10 and Week 11. Should the Falcons suffer a collapse to end the season that mirrors the one they had to begin it, Quinn will again find himself in imminent danger, regardless of what Blank tells the media.
2. Zac Taylor - Bengals
Another week, another loss for the Bengals, who are now 0-10 and the only winless team in the league. To make matters worse for Taylor, they didn't even put up a fight against the Baltimore Ravens, who roundly trounced them in Week 10 with a 49-13 shellacking that saw Lamar Jackson pull out video game moves on them; and they've since mustered only 10 points per game in losses to the Raiders and Steelers. There is nothing to be hopeful for in Cincinnati, having benched a disgruntled Andy Dalton -- who skewered the club for not giving him a chance to find a trade suitor -- .
It's uncertain what Taylor's goal is with the reinsertion of Dalton, other than not going 0-16, but Dalton might find himself returning still without the services of A.J. Green to help him in what will likely be his final few games in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, the veteran QB can no longer be used as the scapegoat, because Taylor couldn't coach Finley to a single win, and gave up on the former fourth-round pick in less than a month's time.
Taylor's first season with the Bengals has been an unmitigated disaster, and while the Bengals will probably give him the benefit of the doubt for front office reasons, they really shouldn't.
DEFCON 1: Fire [him]
1. Pat Shurmur - Giants
You know it's a bad day when your seat is hotter than Dan Quinn's or Zac Taylor's, but that's precisely the situation Shurmur finds himself in. The Giants lost six straight games heading into their bye week, and took the additional time to sort things out so they could go on to lose a seventh in Week 12. They now sit at 2-9 on the year and zero hopes of doing anything more than trying to appear competitive going forward, but Shurmur simply hasn't been able to lead his troops into anything more than a weekly ambush at the hands of their respective opposition.
They'll face an angry Packers team in Week 13 and must twice face an Eagles team fighting to get back into the playoff picture, making for a tough road ahead for a club with virtually no shot at playing ball in January. At this point, they are simply playing the role of spoiler, and that's not going to cut it when assessing Shurmur's value -- or lack thereof -- to the organization.
The decision to bench Eli Manning for Daniel Jones paid off initially, but Jones is now playing very much like a rookie and All-Pro running back Saquon Barkley has only 88 yards rushing in his last three games, while having not eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark since Week 2. Barkley has also seen his receiving yards fall off of a cliff, as Shurmur and the offense try desperately to find a way to make him dominant again.
Maybe it's not Barkley. Maybe it's not Jones. Maybe the issue is the guy who took the reins from Ben McAdoo in 2018.
The club is now 7-20 in his tenure, with many more losses to come. For an organization that had a lot of success under longtime head coach Tom Coughlin before moving on to McAdoo, who then led the Giants to the playoffs in his first year, Shurmur is fumbling an opportunity to truly dig his heels in at the post. New Yorkers are notoriously not the most patient bunch, nor should they be, when the head coach of their favorite team has nearly three times the number of losses as wins. Of all NFL head coaches who have coached at least 60 games, only two men in NFL history have had a worse record than Shurmur.
Shurmur is working on borrowed time, and he should've been fired already -- out of a cannon.
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