Friday, January 17, 2014

Coaching Carousel: Round and Round We Go

Arizona's head coach Bruce Arians gets a free pass from the
SOBs for getting his overachieving Cards oh so close to the
playoffs.  Enjoy the offseason and watch out for that desert sun!
A favorite area of debate among fans is that of the head coaches.  It seems like we all forget how much someone's livelihood is at stake when we start debating hirings and firings of coaches like we're trying to figure out which restaurant we want to go to for brunch.

Nonetheless, the OXen are taking a look at the seven head coaching casualties from the 2013 season. We also take a look at every other head coach whose team missed the playoffs (except for Bruce Arians, whose Arizona Cardinals were an impressive 10-6), and discuss whether they should have been let go or not.  In some cases, it's an obvious no, and they're just on the list for the sake of fairness.  One playoff coach also made it into the discussion, as his team has yet to win a playoff game in his 11 seasons.

Let's put our quarter in and take a ride on the Coaching Carousel.  Stally gets the AFC, Austen gets the NFC:



The gruesome twosome of Gary Kubiak (right) and
Matt Schaub (left) failed the Texans in 2013.
Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans (2-14)

Stally: The Texans were 11-1 at one point in 2012, and they've gone 4-18 since.  For much of the season, Austen and I considered Jacksonville to be the worst team in the league, but then Houston lost to them ... twice.  Kubiak was fired after the second loss, and it's hard to argue against that action.

Austen: This was clearly a case of a ship without a captain. The Texans are still one of the more talented teams in the league, so losing 14 straight games is just completely unacceptable. Both Kubiak and Matt Schaub needed/need to be jettisoned out of town so this team can find a true leader at both head coach and quarterback. Good luck.

Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland Browns (4-12)

Stally: I'm not a fan of firing a coach after just one season, but Cleveland did finish 1-10 after starting 3-2.  They almost upset the Patriots in New England in the midst of a seven-game losing skid to end the season, but almost doesn't put a win in the column.  The team has no clue who's playing QB for them going forward and traded away their starting RB midseason, so he was dealt a poor hand and I thought he deserved another season.  That said, it's about results and they weren't there, so I can't argue with the overall logic: the next coach will probably do better.

Austen: Who do the Browns think they are, the Raiders? How in all that is holy do you fire any coach after one season? There had to be some sort of serious disfunction behind the scenes for this move to even make any sense. Chud was a Cleveland native and deserved better from his home team. Anytime you trade away a young building block like Trent Richardson, even despite his struggles, you should be given a whole heck of a lot of leeway, especially when you have no one on the roster to replace him. This team was playing well under the guidance of Brian Hoyer before he went down with injury. Had Hoyer stayed healthy, this team probably would have won eight games and Chud would have looked like a savior. Good luck getting a coach to come to town when management has shown absolutely no allegiance to their head coach.

Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans (7-9)

Stally: Munchak had been a member of the organization since getting drafted in the first round by the Houston Oilers in 1982.  He moved from player to coach between the 1993-94 seasons and was the Head Coach for three years.  With all that in mind, I would have thought there would have been a little more loyalty shown to Munchak.  Tennessee seems to put a hodgepodge of players on the field each season, and its 7-9 record was about what should have been expected this season.

Austen: I think this comes down to the fact that the Titans knew there were a lot of high profile coaches on the market and knew they could get someone better than Munchak if they decided to fire him. He was not terrible, but he should have gotten a lot more out of both Jake Locker and Chris Johnson if he wanted to keep his job. And don't even get me started on Kenny Britt.


Al Davis' poor decisions over the last decade of
his life still haunt the Raiders' organization.
Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders (4-12)

Stally: Frankly, who gives a sh*t!?  Tom Cable went 8-8 with the Raiders in 2010 and was fired.  Hue Jackson went 8-8 in 2011 and was fired.  Dennis Allen has gone 4-12 the past two seasons and will be welcomed back to try for a three-peat in 2014.  The Raiders don't know how to hire coaches and they certainly don't understand when to fire them either.  Regardless, they haven't finished over .500 since 2002 and there's very little talent on the team, so coaching is really just one of a myriad of issues.

Austen: I still think both Tom Cable and Hue Jackson are better coaches than Allen, but he is young and has had to make due with a lot of terrible players and some real serious cap issues thanks to bad contracts handed out by Emperor Palpatine..... I mean Al Davis. The Raiders have made the mistake of throwing away their head coaches too quickly in the past, so why not give this guy a chance to try to build something? They can only lose four more games than they did this year. 

Gus Tucker, Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)

Stally: I'll make the same argument for him that I did for Chudzinski: it was his first season.  After starting a dismal 8-8, the Jags went 4-4 to close the year, so you could argue that the team started playing better as it got more used to Tucker's style.  You could also argue that the only teams they beat all fired their coaches (Tennessee, Houston [twice], and Cleveland).  Most everyone deserves at least two seasons, but improvement is still needed.

Austen: As I said before, you don't fire a coach after one season. You just don't.

Doug Monroe, Buffalo Bills (6-10)

Stally: I can't argue that 6-10 was a respectable output for that team with Monroe in his first year as it's coach. He did enough to earn a second chance in 2014.

Austen: I'm not going to say the same thing again, so I will just say this: Monroe's future is going depend on how he handles EJ Manuel and Thad Lewis. Manuel might be the first round pick, but Lewis played better for most of the season and proved to be less injury prone. This is going to be a rough year two.
Rex Ryan's defensive mind and the mutual love between him and
his players saved his job and got him an extension in the Big Apple.

Rex Ryan, New York Jets (8-8)

Stally: As a Patriots fan, I look forward to the day the Jets give up on Rex Ryan (although he was just signed to an extension, so that day won't be anytime soon).  The reason I want him gone is the Jets aren't good at all, but Ryan manages to pull at least two or three more wins out of them than an average coach would.  That sometimes comes at the expense of the Pats, and in the case of this season, it meant an overtime loss for New England that ultimately ended up being the difference between playing at home and playing in Denver in the AFC Championship Game.  I doubt Rex Ryan will ever win a Super Bowl in New York, but that has a lot more to do with the players than the coach.

Austen: I've stayed by Rex's side through the good and the bad, and boy can it get bad sometimes. Still he gets the most out of his players and that's what a good coach does. He is an average head coach, but he might be the best defensive mind in the NFL. The Jets are lucky to have him. They just need to figure out if Marty Mornhinweg is the guy to build an offense in New York that can at least function like a professional team. If the offense does not improve, it won't matter how good of a defensive coach Rex is, he will be out of NY in no time. 

Joe Philbin, Miami Dolphins (8-8)

Stally: Firing Philbin would have been an impulsive move at the end of the year.  The Dolphins controlled their playoff destiny with two weeks to go, before falling to the inferior Bills and Jets.  However, they beat Indianapolis, Cincinnati, San Diego, and split with New England.  All four of those teams were better than Miami and went to the playoffs, so obviously, Philbin is capable of beating the good teams in the league.  I could have gone take it or leave it with him, but I think he deserves another season.

Austen: Philbin is just an average coach. He has average football intelligence and is not a particularly inspiring coach. Putting up seven points against the Bills and Jets over the last two games of the year, when either game would have sent them into the playoffs, only proves that to me further. I cannot imagine him being in Miami for more than a couple more years of mediocrity. 

Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)

Stally: The idea of firing Tomlin would be preposterous.  He seemed to be on thin ice when the team started 2-6, but after closing at 6-2 and finishing a Ryan Succop shanked field goal away from sneaking in the backdoor for the postseason, his job remains secure.  The Steelers have only ever had three head coaches, so he's not going anywhere soon.

Austen: I'm not even going to warrant this with a response.

Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals (11-5)

Stally: Lewis finished up his 11th season as the Head Coach of the Bengals and matched the best record of his coaching career.  However, he's never won a playoff game.  That doesn't mean I think he should be fired, as the team is headed in the right direction, but he's the only playoff coach whose results could be called into question.

Austen: This is another guy I have stuck by for a long time, but his zero playoff wins is completely unacceptable. I think if he does not get a playoff win next season, he will be out. That being said, the Bengals functioned without Geno Atkins (who might be the best defensive lineman in football) for most of the year and still won the division, so you cannot be too hard on him about this season.



Ultimately, it was Shanahan's handling of RG3 (aka the Redskins'
future) that cost him possibly the last coaching job of his NFL career.
Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins (3-13)

Austen: Start RG3 when he is injured, sit him when he is healthy. Yeah, that totally makes sense. You mess with the health of the future of your franchise and your owner will rain hellfire down upon you. The rocky relationship between Shanahan and RG3 always seemed a bit overblown, but the fact is that Shanahan's future was written on the wall when he allowed his franchise quarterback to continue to play through a serious injury in the first round of last year's playoffs. Griffin never bounced back from his knee injury, and might never be the same quarterback he was in his outstanding rookie season. That is on Shanahan and that is why he might never be back in the NFL.

Stally: I had a lot of respect for Shanahan in Denver, but I think his arrogance got the better of him in Washington.  As Austen said, Shanahan really decided to go out with guns blazing when he benched RG3.  Despite Austen's inexplicable love for Kirk Cousins, the team went 0-3 to close the season after RG3 was pulled and ended on an eight-game losing streak.  This was the least surprising of any firing, as Shanahan's actions were a way of publicly telling ownership to stick it where the sun don't shine.

Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12)

Austen: While the Bucs definitely turned it around the second half of the season, the performance was simply not good enough with the amount of money they have spent in free agency. Over the last two years, no team has spent more money than the Bucs and that has netted them two losing seasons (a paltry 11-21 record).  Like the Lions position (below), this will be a sought after job because of the young talented roster on both sides of the ball. This team could have a very quick turnaround in the hands of Lovie Smith. By this time next year, everyone will be asking why Lovie was out of the NFL for an entire season.

Stally: I'm still asking why Lovie Smith was out of the NFL for an entire season!  He won two more games in Chicago last year than the guy that replaced him this year, but I digress ... I like Greg Schiano a lot and I hope he finds another coaching position soon.  Unfortunately, I think that like Shanahan, he was doomed by a frayed relationship with a franchise QB.  Josh Freeman went from being team captain to being cut within a matter of weeks.  I'm not sure how much of that fell on the coach and how much on the player, but it certainly hurt the team's relationship early in the season and led to an 0-8 start.

Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1)

Austen: One season removed from a shocking playoff berth, Frazier is looking for a job. That is the NFL people. The Vikings are so devoid of talent that it is pretty amazing they won much of anything this year, even with the best running back in the NFL (Adrian Peterson). With the seventh overall pick, they might need to be looking to move up in order to get one of the elite quarterbacks in the draft, but with the stable of mediocre options they have at the moment, they should look long and hard into it.

Stally: I'd put Leslie Frazier in the same boat as I did Joe Philbin of Miami: I could take him or leave him.  I agree that the team did fine considering its deficiencies, but coming off a playoff berth, this also has to be considered a disappointment.  I suppose I would have kept him from the standpoint that I'm not sold that a replacement will come in and do any better.  Although, I'm pretty confident the team won't do exactly the same, as I wouldn't bank on any ties next season.
How can you keep your job after getting only seven
wins out of the trio of Matthew Stafford, Calvin
Johnson, and Reggie Bush? You simply can't.

Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions (7-9)

Austen: There was probably no more coach in the NFL deserving of getting fired. At one point this season, the Lions were 6-3 before losing six of their last seven games and missing out on the playoffs for the second straight year, despite just an absurd amount of talent on this roster. This team has been the epitome of undisciplined chaos and Schwartz seemingly ignored the issues, banking on the talent level of his team to bail him out time and again. Instead, his inaction got himself fired and left what should be the most sought after coaching vacancy in the NFL.

Stally: I was least surprised by the Shanahan firing, but I don't disagree with Austen's assessment at all that this was a job most poorly done by Schwartz.  Not only were the Lions good enough to go 11-5, but they were on pace to go 11-5.  Missing the playoffs in a division won by a team that went 8-7-1 is inexcusable.


Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons (4-12)

Austen: I've never been a big fan of Mike Smith (he just sort of rubs me the wrong way), but he has done a pretty spectacular job coaching this team until this season, which was due more to injuries than anything else. Without an explosive offense, this defense got really exposed as being one of the worst in the NFL, although their best defensive player, Sean Weatherspoon, did miss over half of the season as well. I think firing him after this season would have been a massive over correction, but he will definitely need a bounce back year in 2014 for him to keep his job for much longer.

Stally: Austen started the list by selecting the coaches that he thought were most on the hot seat, and it was peculiar to me that he left Smith off that list.  I understand there were some injuries to key players here and there, but the New England Patriots went 12-4 with injuries to far more key positions.  I think this team quit on Smith, and I'd be surprised if it had a resurgence much past a mediocre 8-8 next season.
Tom Coughlin gets more flack than most coaches, but definitely is the
most criticized coach in NFL history with multiple Super Bowl Rings.

Tom Coughlin, New York Giants (7-9)

Austen: I hate Giants fans, there I said it.  They are the only reason he finds his way to this list about every other year. He is one of the best coaches in the NFL and has won this franchise two freaking Super Bowls. In any other city, a guy who won two Super Bowls would be able to not win a game for half a decade and still keep his job. I hope he sticks around to win other one.  Maybe just maybe that will shut up these fans.

Stally: Well, buddy, you are what you hate!  You're probably the biggest Giants supporter among the entire Jets fan base.  I do agree that Coughlin's job should be safe for a while after winning two Super Bowls with a terrible quarterback and two squads of players that really shouldn't have been in the postseason at all.  Like his counterpart at MetLife Stadium (Rex Ryan), he gets more out of the team than most would.

Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams (7-9)

Austen: Jeff Fisher is going to be in St. Louis for as long as he wants to stay there. He is a great coach and he got this defense firing on all cylinders. Robert Quinn would be my vote for Defensive Player of the Year, and that has a lot to do with Fisher coaching up a guy with a ton of raw talent. The only thing that could sink Fisher is if he sticks with Sam Bradford for too long. 

Stally: I have a lot of respect for Jeff Fisher and I don't think that 7-9 with that lousy roster was bad at all.  He went 4-5 with Kellen Clemens as his starting QB; that should be enough in and of itself to keep one's job.

Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys (8-8)

Austen: Is it just me or is Garrett the anti-Coughlin? This guy has done absolutely nothing to prove to anyone besides Jerry Jones that he is a capable head coach, yet his job is always secure. Jones likes him because he sits there and smiles while Jones blathers on like the old crazy person he is. Tony Romo is being wasted on this team because he is forced to play for a coach that has little to no football intelligence and could not motivate a dog to chew a bone. Can Jones please fire this guy and then fire himself so that NFL fans can see what Romo can do with some actual real life coaching?

Stally: I like the Cowboys every year because I think they have a lot of talent.  The fact that they continue to miss the playoffs each and every season symbolizes that there's a shortcoming somewhere.  I'd have to agree with Austen that it's at the coaching position, as it's certainly not for lack of ability.

Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears (8-8)

Austen: This offense has made crazy leaps and bounds, but the defense completely fell off the map. When was the last time the Bears' offense had to carry the defense? Never? They were struck by a ton of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, but there is still no excuse for that defense being that bad. There needs to be a lot of change on that side of the ball, but that definitely does not include a first year head coach that got Jay Cutler to start playing the best football of his career. I cannot wait to watch this offense in 2014.

Stally: This is really just a token appearance on the list, as we included any teams that missed the playoffs and didn't finish over .500.  It would be unusual for a coach to get fired after his first season when he went 8-8, but it was also unusual to fire Lovie Smith last year when he went 10-6.  Remind me again: what benefit did that firing have on the team!?

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