Welcome to The Ringer’s weekly NFL rankings, where we’ll break down the good, the bad, and the absurd of the 2019 season. Every Tuesday, we’ll have a ranking of the moments, players, or story lines that are driving the conversation around the league. This week, we’re gauging the temperature on nine coaches’ hot seats.
Every season, somewhere between three and seven NFL head coaches are fired. Two have already been let go this season. Washington’s Jay Gruden was mercifully terminated (contractually, not Jane Connor style) in early October, and Carolina’s Ron Rivera was fired last week. They will soon have company. The men who replaced them as interim head coaches, Bill Callahan in Washington and Perry Fewell in Carolina, are likely to be interviewed but unlikely to be hired full time. Let’s rank the coaches most in danger of losing their jobs between now and Black Monday.
First-Year Head Coaches Who Have Been Awful but Are Probably Safe
9. Zac Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals did not get their first win under Taylor until December 1. Not great. But Taylor’s predecessor, Marvin Lewis, coached the team for 16 years. It would be stunning if Bengals owner Mike Brown cut bait on Taylor after one.
8. Adam Gase, New York Jets
The Jets have been a tire fire even by Jets standards this season. Their offense ranks in the bottom three in just about every per-drive offensive category despite Adam Gase being an offensive-minded coach. Sam Darnold getting mono forced them to turn to a backup quarterback for four weeks, but that isn’t a worthy excuse, either. This season we’ve seen backup quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Allen, Gardner Minshew II, Jacoby Brissett, and Ryan Tannehill combine for a record of 26-18. The Jets were the worst team in the league when Darnold was out and didn’t win a game. Jets CEO Christopher Johnson has called this season “exceedingly frustrating” but said in November that the team would bring Gase back in 2020. Perhaps a faceplant end to the season could change that, but it looks like Gase will get another shot with Darnold.
7. Freddie Kitchens, Cleveland Browns
Kitchens took over as Cleveland’s offensive coordinator after Hue Jackson and Todd Haley were fired in 2018, and the difference in the team’s offensive output was night and day. Baker Mayfield went from throwing eight touchdowns and six picks in his first six games under Haley to 19 touchdowns and eight picks in his final eight games under Kitchens. General manager John Dorsey and owner Jimmy Haslam chose Kitchens to take over as head coach in 2019 over interim head coach Gregg Williams (who was offered many, many jobs), leading to a mountain of hype and Mayfield commercials, but the Browns did not protect this house. The team is 6-7 and third in the AFC North. Their playoff hopes exist only in the eyes of FiveThirtyEight’s playoff algorithm. They have the fourth-most penalties and third-most penalty yardage. They were an undisciplined team even before the Myles Garrett–Mason Rudolph skirmish. All the creativity has disappeared from the Browns offense this year, along with all its pass protection. Former offensive line coach Bob Wylie (the guy whose belly moves when he says “hut”) suggested a large part of Mayfield’s 2018 turnaround was due to quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, who was not retained this offseason. So not only did Kitchens likely not spark the turnaround, but the Browns got rid of the guy who did.
Despite all of that, Kitchens’s job does not seem to be in jeopardy. Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer said last week that Kitchens is likely to survive but make some changes on his staff.
Second-Year Head Coaches Who Have Stayed Awful
6. Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions
After the Lions’ 20-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday pushed their losing streak to six games and dropped them 3-9-1, head coach Matt Patricia made an interesting comment: “The hard thing for us and what I appreciate about this team is we don’t look at our record and say, ‘This is what we are,’” Patricia said. “I think we look at our record and say, ‘That’s not what we are,’ and we got to do better, and we have to try and figure out how to get the record to match up with what we are. That’s kind of where we’re struggling right now.”
Patricia’s comments are borderline heresy in a league obsessed with the Bill Parcells saying “You are what your record says you are.” If Patricia senses that the team is better than the 9-19-1 record it’s posted in his two years, perhaps it’s because the team he inherited was 36-28 and made two trips to the playoffs in its four previous seasons under Jim Caldwell. Caldwell was fired after a 9-7 season, and if Patricia can’t surpass nine wins in two seasons, he may be out.
On Monday, Patricia was asked whether he had any indication if he’d return in 2020. “We’ll worry about next year next year,” Patricia said.
5. Pat Shurmur, New York Giants
For practical purposes, Shurmur’s first 18 games as Giants head coach with Eli Manning at the wheel hardly count. What matters for Shurmur’s long-term prospects is how he has coached with Daniel Jones at quarterback, and things aren’t looking good. After two solid starts from Jones in weeks 3 and 4, the Giants are 0-8, and Jones has an astonishing 12 fumbles in eight starts. New York’s offense struggled to move the ball for entire halves at a time, and the team has failed to funnel its offense through running back Saquon Barkley. If Jones is an NFL-caliber starting quarterback—which may not be the case—Shurmur doesn’t seem like the coach to pull it out of him. ESPN’s Jordan Raanan noted that not only may Shurmur be out after this year, but general manager Dave Gettleman, too. Every decision the Giants have made in the past two seasons, from trying to fashion a contender around Manning to building a new one around Jones, lies at Gettleman’s feet.
Veteran Coach in Trouble With a Bad December
4. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
“It’s important for myself, [GM Rick Spielman], and the organization to pick the right [quarterback],” Zimmer said at the NFL combine in March 2018. “If we don’t do that, then I’ll probably get fired.” Two weeks later the team signed Kirk Cousins. Minnesota went 8-7-1 last year, putting pressure on Zimmer to make the playoffs—and by extension improve the offense—in 2019. The run-and-play-action-heavy prescription he insisted on has worked wonders for Cousins, as has bringing on offensive guru Gary Kubiak, but it will be for naught if the Vikings miss the playoffs again. Minnesota sits at 9-4 and in line for the last wild-card spot in the NFC. If they make wild-card weekend, Zimmer is likely safe. But if they miss the postseason for the second time in Cousins’s first two seasons with the team, Zimmer is probably gone.
Veteran Coaches in Trouble Regardless of December
3. Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
This era of Falcons football has run its course. In Quinn’s first two seasons (including playoff games), Atlanta went 21-14 through its Super Bowl loss. Since then, Atlanta is 22-25. Quinn already exhausted all of his options when he fired his offensive, defensive, and special teams coordinators this offseason while retaining his job and picking up defensive play-calling duties. The Falcons defense was abysmal to begin the year and picked up only when Quinn began delegating again in early November (now the team calls defensive plays by committee). No matter how strong the Falcons finish, it’s unlikely Quinn can survive a 1-7 start.
2. Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars
NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported that Marrone is likely gone at the end of this season, if not sooner. The Jaguars are 4-9 and are playing their worst football since Marrone took over three years ago. Jacksonville is on a five-game losing streak during which it’s been outscored 174-57. Three of those losses have been to division rivals. Any hope that Marrone had of saving his job in a post–Blake Bortles world seems to be over. Gardner Minshew II breathed life into this team after taking over for Nick Foles in Week 1, but Foles and Minshew have each looked awful over the past month. Worse, the defense has gone from looking average to one of the worst units in football since Halloween. It’s unclear what this team is good at anymore.
Barring an Act of God
1. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has always stuck by Garrett, but it seems like this is the end times for Dallas’s decade of mediocrity. The Cowboys are 6-7 this year and almost definitely need to beat the Eagles in Week 16 to win the division. Dallas’s embarrassing loss to the Chicago Bears on Thursday Night Football opened the floodgates of criticism calling for Garrett’s head. Former Cowboy legends Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Jimmy Johnson all weighed in over the past week: “I think the negativity in Dallas and around the Cowboys right now, it would be miserable if he continued to be the head coach,” Johnson said on Fox. “Nobody would be happy if he continued to be the head coach a year from now.”
Outside of Garrett winning the NFC East and then making the Super Bowl, there’s little hope of him saving his job. Cowboys fans may prefer to forgo the NFC East title to not risk Garrett making a playoff run. That’s when you know things are bad—and that the Cowboys are going to make a playoff run.
An earlier version of this piece misspelled Jimmy Johnson’s name.