Typically, after the final weekend of the NFL regular season, there are seven or eight head-coaching positions open. So if there is a bet to be made on that this year, here’s my advice—take the under.
Why? Well, part of it is that last year’s hiring cycle produced a number of dice-roll hires, some of which have shown early signs of trouble. Part of it is how the quick head-coaching turnover has sapped the pipeline dry. Part of it is that owners who’ve been through a lot of turnover over this decade losing their appetite for fired staffs.
All of it adds up to what could be a relatively quiet Sunday night/Monday morning this week. The Redskins and Panthers have already whacked their coaches (Jay Gruden and Ron Rivera, respectively). The Cowboys seem certain to move on if they miss the playoffs, and Jason Garrett probably needs more than just that to survive. After that? Giants, Jaguars, Browns and Falcons could get the number to seven, but I think it’s unlikely all of them move on from their coaches. Surprises? There could be … maybe one?
Let’s dive in …
• The expected increased involvement of EVP Tony Khan in Jacksonville stands as good news for incumbent GM Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone. The owner’s son has a good relationship with both, and I’m told that things are trending toward Caldwell and Marrone will surviving the weekend. I mentioned Eagles exec Andrew Berry in Thursday’s Game Plan as a potential name to watch for the Jaguars. This isn’t 100% yet, as far as the Khans are concerned, but I don’t think Jacksonville will be looking for a new GM or head coach this offseason.
• Similarly, I think the Falcons’ recent rebound—the team is 5-2 since their bye and ride a three-game win streak into Sunday’s finale in Tampa—has prompted owner Arthur Blank to reconsider blowing up the football side of his franchise. Word has been that coach Dan Quinn had a better chance of surviving than GM Thomas Dimitroff, but I think there’s a chance both make it. [UPDATE: Blank announced today that both Quinn and Dimitroff will return in 2020.] The defense has started playing to its talent level of late and, because of injuries, we haven’t yet seen the full benefit of the offensive line rebuild the team went through in the spring. The Falcons did do background work on potential candidates earlier in the season. It’s fair to wonder if they see another year with the current group, a group Blank likes, as a better option after doing that. For what it’s worth, my belief is he hasn’t made a final decision yet.
• I do think Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has been of a mind to keep Freddie Kitchens. But I also know there’s internal frustration with how the team has looked this year that falls back on the coaching staff. And of late, Haslam has kept his cards closer to the vest. Which means, at the very least, Kitchens and his staff will want to avoid a bad showing Sunday in Cincinnati. Regardless, I’d expect that there will be staff changes some level. It’s an open secret that offensive coordinator Todd Monken hasn’t been happy with how the year has played out.
• Everyone I’ve talked to believes that Carolina, with new owner David Tepper captaining a small search committee, will go through a full process in the search for its next head coach. Former Packers coach Mike McCarthy has already interviewed, and the search is expected to include a college coach or two (those interviews are usually done covertly).
Tepper could tap into the Patriots’ pipeline, so keep an eye out for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels; McDaniels could perhaps pursue New England pro director Dave Ziegler to fill the assistant GM role/become assumed successor to GM Marty Hurney. But McDaniels will have to win the job, and I know that Tepper would be respectful to the Krafts by not hiring away too many of their people. One thing that could appeal about the Carolina job to McDaniels? I’m told the coach will have considerable say over the football operation, in areas like strength-and-conditioning, training and video. The average fan doesn’t pay much attention to that, but coaches do care about it.
• And as for Tepper being respectful to the Krafts, it’s certainly possible the Patriots work to hang on to Ziegler. Both director of player personnel Nick Caserio and director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort are on contracts expiring in May. That makes Ziegler the only guy on that level in scouting signed into next season. And if there is a scouting exodus, similar to last offseason coaching exodus? Well, Bill Belichick confidant Scott Pioli, a key cog in building the original iteration of the dynasty, is available.
• Speaking of Ossenfort, among those on my risers list in this year’s future GMs column, he and Saints pro director Terry Fontenot received mention as guys who are pretty upwardly mobile.
• Word is the Redskins are going to move fast, and more changes could be coming on the football side as soon as Monday. Obviously, the big question is going to relate to the status of team president Bruce Allen. Owner Dan Snyder has led the process over the last couple months (he’s been alone for parts of it) and, by design, has kept the vast majority of those in the organization in the dark on where it stands as he looks to remake his team. But there’s a belief he’s pretty far along at this point. Ex-Panthers coach Ron Rivera could be one to watch there.
An update: A source says that owner Dan Snyder assembled a small circle of football people earlier in the season to help him with Washington’s search process. None of those people work for the team. So he hasn’t done it alone, but those with the team aren’t involved.
• If the Giants move on from Pat Shurmur next week, GM Dave Gettleman’s status moves to the forefront. So many people in that building have worked there for so long, and upper management has heard plenty about what was once seen as laudable stability has led to many on the outside to think the organization needs a reset. What would make the Giants listen to that? The fact that it could affect the depth of the pool of coaching candidates.
• The Vikings are 10-5 and locked in as the NFC’s sixth seed, which means they’ve mostly delivered during a season in which ownership set the bar high internally. They’re also now at a decision point with coach Mike Zimmer. Generally, teams don’t send their coaches into contract years, what’s happened in Dallas this year notwithstanding. And 2020 is a contract year for Zimmer, which has others keeping an eye on this situation with that roster’s core starting to age a little bit.
• Presuming Dallas misses the playoffs, I expect the franchise will kick the tires on college coaches, and not just Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley. Baylor’s Matt Rhule should be in that mix.
• I’m told both of those coaches are going to be disciplined in their decision-making on whether to make the jump to the NFL this year or not. In Rhule’s case, the mess of the Jets’ process taught him a valuable lesson on making sure any prospective employer has its ducks in a row. And Rhule, like Riley, is making good money, has job security and has the run of the place he’s at, which explains why neither guy is in a huge rush to leave.
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