By: Adam Karnik Original Date: 12/30/22
Hello sports fans, and welcome back to the IE Sports Radio Blog. The holiday season is here, which means the NFL regular season is almost done. 14 teams will be continuing on to the postseason, with dreams of Super Bowl LVII in Arizona dancing in their heads. But for the other 18 teams, their seasons are nearly over and and will ultimately be considered failures. That lack of success will be accompanied by a test of every head coach’s job security. While “NFL” stands for “National Football League”, there is an old joke that claims it really means “Not For Long”. That saying usually is used when talking about the players, but it is just as applicable to head coaches.
It’s not uncommon for a quarter of the league’s coaches to get released at the end of the season. The league released a memo advising teams that they have spent $800 million on salaries for fired coaches and executives over the past five seasons. That’s a hefty chunk of change for people not working. Three coaches – Matt Ruhle of the Carolina Panthers, Frank Reich of the Indianapolis Colts and Nathaniel Hackett from the Denver Broncos – have already been fired before the season has finished. How many more will get the axe on “Black Monday”, the day after the regular season ends? We’ll take a look at each division and see how many openings we can expect.
NFC North – Kevin O’Connell is a “Coach of the Year” candidate in his first year with Minnesota as the Vikings have clinched the division and have a shot at the #1 seed in the NFC. Detroit got off to a slow start under second-year coach Dan Campbell, but the Lions have gotten hot recently and are in the hunt for a playoff spot with two weeks remaining. The players seem to be buying in to what Campbell is doing, so a change would be a mistake. Matt LaFleur is currently under .500 for the first time in four seasons in Green Bay, but the team won 13 games in each of his first three seasons. Firing LaFleur would almost be the dictionary definition of “knee jerk reaction”. Lastly, Chicago has only won 3 games under first-year coach Matt Eberflus but that’s been somewhat by design as the Bears are in the “tear down” phase of a rebuilding project.
Analysis – All four of these coaches should be able to rest easily knowing they’ll be back next season and only LaFleur should have any kind of added pressure in 2023.
NFC East – This has, surprisingly, been one of the strongest divisions top to bottom this season, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t see some shake-ups. Nick Sirianni has been terrific in his second season in Philadelphia, guiding the Eagles to the top of the division and the #1 seed in the playoffs. Some recent injuries have put those things in jeopardy, but the Eagles have clinched a playoff spot and seem primed to be strong for several years to come. The Cowboys have also clinched a playoff spot, and have an outside shot at the division crown. Dallas has yet to win a playoff game under Mike McCarthy, however, and the team is in it’s championship window right now. A quick playoff exit could prompt owner/GM Jerry Jones to make a move.
Brian Daboll has been outstanding in his first season in New York. The Giants currently occupy a wild card spot and quarterback Daniel Jones is having arguably his best season. Even if the team ultimately moves on from Jones, a pending free agent, Daboll will be back next year. Washington is a strange franchise right now. Longtime owner Dan Snyder has come under fire for allowing sexually predatory working conditions and recently announced he’s putting the team up for sale. On the field the Commanders currently hold the final wild card spot but aren’t locks to hold it. Ron Rivera is a solid coach, but in three seasons he has yet to develop a standout starter at quarterback. Rivera could be back, but potential new ownership means all bets are off.
Analysis – More than likely all four coaches will be back, but the volatile nature of Washington’s situation means nothing is certain for Rivera. And trying to predict what Jerry Jones will do is akin to predicting what the weather will be in three weeks – your guess is as good as mine.
NFC South – The NFC South has been awful this year, which usually leads to changes. The Panthers already fired Ruhle, so there will be at least one new head coach. Steve Wilks currently has the interim title in Carolina (and has gone 5-5 so far), so we’ll see if he stays in place. Tampa Bay sits atop the division with a losing record. Todd Bowles was supposedly handed the keys to a championship team in his first season, but the results have not been there. It would not be surprising to see him be one-and-done with the Bucs. New Orleans hasn’t looked stellar, but that’s to be expected after Saints legends Sean Payton and Drew Brees retired from head coach and QB respectively. Dennis Allen is in his first year at the helm, and should get the chance to shape the team his own way. Arthur Smith is having a tough second season in Atlanta after the Falcons traded away the longtime franchise QB Matt Ryan this offseason. The Falcons are finishing their tear down, and Smith should get the opportunity to help build it back up.
Analysis – We are guaranteed one new head coach in this division, and it would not be surprising to see a second one. Look for Carolina and Tampa Bay to have new head coaches in 2023.
NFC West – This division has been surprising, with the defending Super Bowl champions having a massive hangover and a surprise playoff contender all in one. Kyle Shanahan just keeps winning with the 49ers. Despite using three different QBs, San Fran has clinched the division and has a shot at a deep playoff push. He is safe. Pete Carroll has been in Seattle for 17 seasons, and this may be his best one. After the team traded QB Russell Wilson, it was assumed that the Seahawks would be at the bottom of the division. Instead, Geno Smith has been excellent and they pushing for a wild card spot. The Rams’ title feels like it was 10 years ago, not 10 months. LA has won just five games and is having it’s worst season in six years under Sean McVay. McVay has had great success, with two Super Bowl appearances under his belt. This one season shouldn’t cost him. Arizona has been disappointing after making the playoffs a year ago. The Cardinals sit last in the division, and will have their third losing season in four years under Kliff Kingsbury. Add the lack of progress for QB Kyler Murray, and we may see Arizona move on from Kingsbury in two weeks.
Analysis – While this division hasn’t gone as expected, most of the coaches should be back. Only Kingsbury in Arizona should be worried about his job security in the desert.
AFC North – Regularly one of the league’s strongest divisions, we will once again see multiple playoff teams come out of the North, which should lead to stability. After a surprise Super Bowl run a season ago, the Bengals are back atop the division and have clinched a playoff berth. Joe Burrow is one of the league’s rising stars at QB, which makes fourth-year coach Zac Taylor’s job secure. The Ravens seem to always find themselves in the playoffs. Baltimore has clinched a spot despite not having Lamar Jackson for the last three games. John Harbaugh should be safe. Kevin Stefansky is an interesting case in Cleveland. The Browns will miss the playoffs for the second straight year and had to trade for a suspended QB to get away from Baker Mayfield. Stefanski could be in hot water come January. Pittsburgh could finish with a losing record for the first time in nearly 20 years, but with a rookie QB and a developing defense that was not entirely unexpected. After 16 winning seasons, Mike Tomlin should be in Pittsburgh a little while longer.
Analysis – It would not be shocking to see all of these coaches back next season. Cleveland could be the one to make a move, as they are historically impatient with coaches and will have a second straight losing year with Stefanski.
AFC East – Another surprisingly strong division that should see very little turnover in the near future. Sean McDermott has Buffalo on top of the division once againm and should be revving up for a deep playoff run. The Bills would be absolute fools to move on. Miami is pulling up short here at the end of the season, but first year coach Mike McDaniel has turned Tua Tagovailoa into a legitimate NFL quarterback. McDaniel will be back. Bill Belichick has a lifetime guarantee in New England. Robert Saleh is going to be in some hot water in New York due to the failure of Zach Wilson after the franchise drafted him second overall last year. Still, Saleh has handled the situation about as well as he can and is only in his second year. Moving on now feels premature.
Analysis – It would be shocking to see any of these coaches not return next season. Saleh is the only one who could see the temperature turned up on him next season.
AFC South – Another weak division with every team under .500. We’ve already seen the Colts release Frank Reich, and Jeff Saturday should NOT return next season. Doug Pederson has Jacksonville atop the division in his first year and Trevor Lawrence looking like the franchise cornerstone everyone thought he would be when he was drafted first overall in 2021. He will be back. Mike Vrabel is an interesting case in Tennessee. The Titans have fallen off this season and may miss the playoffs, though they still control their own destiny. Vrabel has done an excellent job in his four seasons, but a new GM could decide he wants his own man in place. Houston has had different coaches in each of the last three seasons. Lovie Smith is probably nothing more than a placeholder, but does that place last past this year? It’s hard to say with the Texans.
Analysis – We know we’ll have one new head coach from this division. I would not be surprised to see Houston add another but the others should be safe.
AFC West – This was supposed to be THE division in the NFL this year. Instead, we’ve already had a coach get the axe, and there could be another on the way out. Denver has decided to move on from first-year coach Nathaniel Hackett after a 4-11 start. Andy Reid is about as safe as safe can be in Kansas City. Brandon Staley has had a roller coaster of a second season with the Chargers, but LA has clinched a playoff berth nonetheless. He shouldn’t be going anywhere. The Raiders have underwhelmed this season. Josh McDaniels is in his first year after the team dumped Jon Gruden last season. His previous head coaching experience is not good. We’ll see how patient owner Mark Davis wants to be, but there has been clamoring from the fan base for McDaniels to lose his job.
Analysis – Someone will get the current mess that is the Denver Broncos, guaranteed. McDaniels is the only other candidate at risk, but might be able to talk his way into one more chance.
Final Analysis – We’ll have three new coaches in Indianapolis, Carolina, and Denver, but as many as seven other teams could move on from their current options. Ultimately, it would be safe to expect six new coaches total. The most likely teams to me are Tampa Bay, Arizona, and Houston. The situations in Dallas, Washington, Houston, and Las Vegas could make for a interesting off season. Adam Karnik is the host of Chi-Town Weekly, which airs Mondays at 7PM CST, and co-host of The Neutral Zone, which airs Tuesdays at 8PM CST. Check out these and the other awesome shows here at IESR, as well as live calls on our partner station USRN. Shout out to our patreon supporters and all you loyal listeners that continue to help us grow. Thank you for reading, and we will see you next time on IE Sports Radio; your direct feed for ALL that is sports.