NFL coaches under pressure: Whose jobs are at risk heading into the 2017 season?

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Wednesday May 31st, 2017

Leeway is not a luxury afforded most NFL coaches. Even when a roster has to be built from the ground up, there is a finite number of losses ownership and a front office will accept before growing a bit anxious to try something new.

Which coaches are running low on time, as the 2017 season nears? The early hot seat watch.

Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns

It’s probably not all that fair to mention Jackson as being on the proverbial hot seat. The team he inherited last season was in for a massive rebuild, with its immediate success based on the assumption that Robert Griffin III could be a No. 1 quarterback again. This year’s club should be much more competitive, even if the record doesn’t bare out positive results. Jackson would deserve a third year at the helm on progress alone.

And yet ... well, the Browns didn’t win a game until Week 16 last season, narrowly avoiding an 0–16 finish. If they limp to, say, 2–14 or 3–13 this year, Jackson’s record at the helm would be beyond unsightly. A situation to monitor, even if nothing is imminent. 

Hot Seat status: Lukewarm

Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers

This is not Rivera’s first hot seat rodeo, but keep in mind, he’s still just one season removed from a 15–1 finish and NFC championship. What has him back under the gun is last season’s 6–10 record, complete with an uneven performance from QB Cam Newton. That 2015 success could boost Rivera’s stock enough on its own to keep him safe for another year or two, but a repeat of ’16 would put him in truly rocky waters. 

Hot Seat status: Lukewarm

Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars

Marrone has coached just two games in Jacksonville, both as the interim replacement for Gus Bradley late last season. However, he also was part of Bradley’s staff throughout 2015 and ’16, so if the Jaguars fall flat again, a more complete housecleaning could be in the cards. This is an important year for the Jaguars, what with Blake Bortles’s future up in the air and every one of their AFC South competitors having made crucial upgrades at key spots. 

Hot Seat status: Lukewarm

Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions

The Lions made the playoffs just once in seasons spanning from 2000–13. In Caldwell’s three seasons at the helm, they’ve been there twice (although they’re still seeking an elusive playoff victory, which would be just their second of the Super Bowl era). So, even though the Lions coughed up the NFC North by losing their last three in 2016 and then bowed out in the wild-card round, Caldwell is safe-ish as ’17 rolls around. Current Detroit GM Bob Quinn did not hire Caldwell, nor has he—at least to the knowledge of anyone outside the organization—extended Caldwell’s contract beyond this coming season. This may not be a playoffs-or-bust situation, but it’s also not a lock that Caldwell sticks. 

Hot Seat status: Lukewarm

Bill O'Brien, Houston Texans

A glass half-full vs. half-empty situation. Is it impressive that O’Brien has delivered three straight 9–7 season and back-to-back division titles, despite lackluster QB play? Or is it an issue that O’Brien, noted for his previous work molding quarterbacks, has not been able to get more out of the QBs he has had? Houston trading up for Deshaun Watson might start the hourglass. O’Brien has earned time, but the Texans need to keep moving forward.

Hot Seat status: Lukewarm

Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers

The outlook for McCarthy is much different right now now than it was around Thanksgiving of last season. At that point the Packers sat at 4–6 and appeared to be tumbling toward a sub-.500 finish. They proceeded to rip off six straight victories to close the year, claimed the NFC North title and advanced to the conference championship. McCarthy’s detractors still would point to six straight Super Bowl-less seasons during Aaron Rodgers’s prime, plus the blowout NFC title-game loss to Atlanta as evidence that McCarthy should have a short leash. If he were fired, another franchise would scoop him up in a heartbeat.

Hot Seat status: Heating up (maybe)

Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins

As with Caldwell and O’Brien, it’s year No. 4 of the Gruden regime in Washington, so any honeymoon period is over. And while Gruden does have a 2015 division title in his back pocket, the Redskins missed out on the postseason at 8-7-1 a year ago and lost their offensive coordinator, Sean McVay, to the Rams. The future of QB Kirk Cousins remains in limbo, too, making this season a clear crossroads for the franchise. A slide down the NFC East standings would not sit well. 

Hot Seat status: Heating up

Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts

Former GM/scapegoat Ryan Grigson is gone, and new GM Chris Ballard has drawn wide-ranging praise for his work this off-season. Which means that the weight of any failures in 2017 will fall directly on the shoulders of Pagano. The Colts followed up 11–5 marks in Pagano’s first three seasons with back-to-back 8–8 finishes. They have to start making more of the Andrew Luck era, even if it takes a coaching change to make that happen. 

Hot Seat status: Heating up

John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens

Greg Bedard speculated in early December last year that Harbaugh’s job could hinge on Baltimore’s final five games. The Ravens finished 2–3, including a Christmas Day heartbreaker in Pittsburgh, to wrap an 8–8 year. Harbaugh is back, obviously, but is patience starting to wear thin? Since winning the Super Bowl in 2012, the Ravens have missed the playoffs three of a possible four times and they’re a combined 13–19 the past two seasons. Harbaugh’s success cannot be erased, but it won’t take long to tire of looking up at Pittsburgh in the AFC North. 

Hot Seat status: Heating up

Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints

Frustration is mounting in the Big Easy, where the Saints have posted back-to-back-to-back 7–9 finishes. Worse yet, the player around which the offense (and arguably entire roster) is built, Drew Brees, turned 38 in January and is closing in on the end of his career—the front office certainly won’t want Brees to go out in quiet fashion after a Hall of Fame-caliber career. That the Panthers and Falcons have played in the Super Bowl the past two seasons, respectively, only cranks up the pressure on Payton.

Hot Seat status: Heating up

John Fox, Chicago Bears

Let’s just say that the initial post-draft reports out of Chicago did not a paint a picture of harmony within the front office.

Does that mean Fox is doomed in the Windy City? Not necessarily, but he might want to hold off on taking out a mortgage. The truth is that no matter how involved Fox was in the Trubisky gamble, he was going to enter 2017 in a tough spot. Chicago has finished a combined 9–23 in his two seasons there, or four games worse than the record Marc Trestman posted before he was canned. Nabbing Trubisky puts a focus on the future. The Bears, on paper, are easily the least-talented NFC North team. 

Hot Seat status: Scalding

Todd Bowles, New York Jets

As the Jets limped toward a 5–11 finish last season there was no real certainty that Bowles would last into 2017. Whether or not he sticks until ’18 may come down to how lenient the Jets’ higher-ups are feeling. This looks to be among the worst rosters in all of football, with a nightmarish QB trio of Josh McCown, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. The Jets’ defense may be able to keep them in games, but for them to approach .500 or a playoff berth would constitute a surprise. Will Bowles be allowed to stick around if New York posts another losing record instead? 

Hot Seat status: Scalding

Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals value stability, to say the least, and Lewis has delivered 118 wins, seven playoff trips and four division titles since taking over in 2003. He also still has yet to claim a postseason victory. When is enough, enough? Cincinnati did have a run of five straight playoff berths going until last season’s 6-9-1 slip up, but that letdown may have depleted whatever remaining good vibes Lewis had built up. 

Hot Seat status: Scorching

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