Don't weep for Jack Del Rio. The just-fired Jaguars head coach was playing with house money. Or at least Wayne Weaver's.
Del Rio got almost nine full seasons of head coaching employment in Jacksonville, and yet made just two playoff trips, winning one lone postseason game, a first-round upset of Pittsburgh in 2007. He's the only coach in history to spend nine seasons with a team without winning a division title. Del Rio went 69-73 overall with the Jaguars, and that means he got the absolute most tenure out of his very average results.
With the first shoe dropping Tuesday in the NFL's firing season, who else is facing the prospect of being asked to give up their parking spot and turn in their keycard as the final month of the regular season dawns? Glad you asked. With five games remaining, here are the six most likely names on the endangered list:
1. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants -- Now that Del Rio is gone, only Philadelphia's Andy Reid, New England's Bill Belichick and Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis have been on the job longer than Tommy C. in New York. But Coughlin's eighth season with the Giants stands a very good chance of being his last, because his guys are pulling their now-familiar second-half fade.
If NFL seasons were only eight games long, Coughlin would be in the Hall of Fame by now. New York is 47-17 in the first half of the season from 2004 on, and Coughlin's Giants have never finished worse than 5-3 in their opening eight games. But Monday night's brutal 49-24 loss at New Orleans was New York's third straight defeat, dropping the Giants to 6-5 and one game behind both NFC East leading Dallas and wild-card contenders Chicago, Atlanta and Detroit (all 7-4).
Coughlin's Giants are 24-35 in the season's second half, and with games still remaining against Green Bay, Dallas (two) and the Jets, a 7-9 or 8-8 finish is very possible in New York. That should result in Coughlin, 65, not being asked back for 2012, the final season of his current contract. New York memorably went on that Super Bowl run in 2007 under Coughlin, but they haven't won a playoff game since upsetting those 18-0 Patriots, and this would be the Giants' third consecutive non-playoff season.
2. Norv Turner, San Diego -- Turner looks like a dead man walking in San Diego, largely because his Chargers appear to have given up the ghost, losing six straight games with Sunday's overtime home loss to the resurgent Tim Tebow-led Broncos. Oh, the irony. Turner finally got his Bolts off to the fast start that they never could seem to manage in recent years, but the 4-1 getaway just set everybody up for an even more crushing turn of events now that San Diego has slumped to 4-7 and last place in the AFC West.
Turner's five-year tenure with the Chargers has been an example of the law of diminishing returns, given that San Diego won two playoff games and made the AFC title game in his first season of 2007, then won just one postseason game in 2008, none in 2009 and didn't even make the 12-team playoff field in 2010. With a career NFL head coaching record of 103-112-1, including his previous stops in Washington and Oakland, Turner is now in "three strikes and you're out" territory.
In recent weeks, while Turner's team has sunk ever lower, he has tried sounding something of an optimistic tone, saying there were some positive signs amid the wreckage. That only served to make him appear deeply in denial, and powerless in terms of how to stop the Chargers' season-killing slide. And what of Philip Rivers's puzzling poor season? Isn't Turner's background in offense and coaching quarterbacks to excel? Where did that expertise disappear to when needed most?
3. Andy Reid, Philadelphia -- There is no debate that Reid, the dean of NFL head coaches in terms of continuous service (from 1999 on), is the best coach in Eagles history. He has won more than 60 percent of his games in the regular season (122-80-1, .604), fielded nine playoff teams in his first 12 seasons in Philly, and made five trips to the NFC title game.
But in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately category, Reid isn't playing with a great hand of cards. His Eagles haven't won a playoff game since 2008, going one-and-done in the NFC field in each of the past two seasons. That makes his overall playoff record a mediocre 10-9, with just the one Super Bowl trip, in 2004, that three-point loss to New England in Jacksonville. Six division titles are a great feather in Reid's cap, but a 1-4 mark in conference title games means the Eagles have been very good, but seldom great.
And then there's this year's train wreck. Philadelphia went all in this offseason and preseason, snapping up high-profile free agents and declaring it as something of a Super Bowl or bust season. Well, they've busted. The Eagles are 4-7, have won just one of their past nine games at home, including last year's first-round loss to Green Bay, and look almost assured of the franchise's first losing record since 2005, the infamous Terrell Owens insubordination season.
Reid doesn't deserve all the blame for the Eagles' fate this season, but he certainly should get the lion's share. He helped craft this roster filled with glitz and hype, going against his tradition of building his teams from the offensive and defensive lines out, and eschewing style over substance. At some point, even for the most established and successive coaches, there just comes a time when the message grows stale and the track record doesn't carry the day. If it can happen to Tom Landry in Dallas, it can happen to anyone.
That "Fire Andy'' chant that broke out last Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field during the blowout loss to New England may or may not be heeded by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. But if it is, Reid won't be able to claim he got a raw deal. He's had 13 years and plenty of talent in Philadelphia, and he's still searching for the franchise's first Super Bowl title in a division in which the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys own multiple rings.
4. Steve Spagnuolo, St. Louis -- The bar of expectations in the NFL has fallen on the heads of plenty of good head coaches, knocking them senseless and rendering them jobless. That's what happens when a team like Spagnuolo's Rams takes the leap from 1-15 in his first season of 2009 to last year's hopeful 7-9, playoff near-miss, to this year's head-scratching 2-9 major regression. Had Spagnuolo reversed the results of year two and year three in St. Louis, he'd probably be well on his way to generating some Coach of the Year buzz. As is, he might be well on his way out the door.
As well-liked and well-respected as Spagnuolo is by his team and most everyone around the league, the bottom line is the most damning statement of all in the NFL. St. Louis is 10-33 in his 43-game tenure, and even if the Rams rally to a season-ending five-game winning streak (which doesn't appear likely), Spagnuolo would still have won less than one-third of his games after taking over from the Scott Linehan-Jim Haslett regime in St. Louis.
In the Rams' case, the high hopes were not only raised by last year's improvement, but the hiring of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was expected to take franchise quarterback Sam Bradford's game to the next level after a strong rookie showing in 2010. But that has hardly been the reality, and the franchise might consider a coaching change if for no other reason than to improve the chances of a rebound for Bradford in 2012.
5. Tony Sparano, Miami -- The Dolphins have played much better since their disastrous 0-7 start, winning three in a row and losing only on the final play of the game on Thanksgiving in Dallas, but it's going to be a case of too little for Sparano. Again, the cumulative weight of high expectations rears its head in Sparano's case. As a rookie head coach in 2008, he won the AFC East, going 11-5 and returning Miami to the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
But since then, nothing. Like the Wildcat offense that those 2008 Dolphins made famous, Miami flashed and then largely flamed out after that early success. The Dolphins (3-8) are headed for their third consecutive losing season, still haven't been able to get their quarterback issues fixed, and have lost home games at an alarming rate the past two seasons.
Like Spagnuolo, Sparano is thought of as a good coach and a good man, and he won't have any problem getting his next assistant coaching job in the NFL. But his tenure as the boss in Miami has not gone well at all, and it would probably have been better for him if Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had been able to land his successor last offseason, when Ross embarrassed himself and the organization by going across the country in the failed pursuit of Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.
6. Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis -- The Colts' third-year head coach has learned a harsh truth about the NFL this season: A Manning-less season in Indy leads to a meaningless one. The Colts are 0-11 and appear headed for 0-16 without Peyton Manning at quarterback, and the total collapse has left Caldwell squarely in the crosshairs. Suddenly that Super Bowl season in his rookie year of 2009 seems a long time ago, and the questions of whether he is merely a care-taker head coach of Manning and Tony Dungy's team have resurfaced.
Yes, Colts president Bill Polian expressed confidence in Caldwell's leadership a few losses back, but that's what votes of confidence are all about. They sound nice, but they don't guarantee further employment. Caldwell on Tuesday fired third-year Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer, a surprising move given how much of the blame should be spread around this year in Indianapolis.
Colts owner Jim Irsay is a patient man, and he might give Caldwell a mulligan for this lost season. But he might also decide that Caldwell and his staff showed very little skill in making the best of a bad situation this year, and that a change must be made to at least assign some accountability for the Colts' epic failure.