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NFL Head Coaches On the Hot Seat

Nine of 32 NFL teams changed head coaches this offseason. It's impressive that over a quarter of the league decided, or was forced, to make a move, but the high coaching turnover has been the norm for the NFL for the last decade. Only five active head coaches were hired before 2017 — Patriots' Bill Belichick, Steelers' Mike Tomlin, Ravens' John Harbaugh, Seahawks' Pete Carroll, and Chiefs' Andy Reid. So, as there are always coaches on the hot seat, it's fair to wonder who could be next. Let's take a look at current head coaches who can lose their jobs this season if things don't go well.

Super hot seat

Matt Rhule

The Carolina Panthers’ head coach is the first one when we think of coaches on the hot seat. There was a real possibility for him to get fired this offseason, but owner David Tepper decided to give him one more season. The problem, though, is that Tepper reportedly didn’t allow for the current regime to use significant future resources in order to maximize the current version of the team — in other words, to save their own jobs. Therefore, the Panthers got stuck with Sam Darnold and third-round rookie Matt Corral. It’s possible that the team will be able to acquire Baker Mayfield from the Cleveland Browns, but so far they’ve been unwilling to pay more than $6 million of the $18 million that Mayfield has in guarantees. If the Panthers don’t take a step forward after two straight five-win seasons, Rhule will probably be fired after the season — and it’s hard to imagine such a step with the current quarterback situation.

Mike McCarthy

It's uncommon to put a head coach on a hot seat list when his team won 12 games and a division title the prior season, but Mike McCarthy still pays for the final years of his tenure with the Packers, which left a bad impression. The experienced coach has gone through hot seat rumors in each of his offseasons as the Cowboys leader. After 2020, when the Cowboys went 6-10 in a season affected by Dak Prescott's injury, there were rumblings that the team could promote offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. In 2021, former Saints' head coach Sean Payton was mentioned. The same thing will probably happen again next year if the Cowboys don't win at least one playoff game. Payton will be available and maybe willing to go back to the coaching world. If that's the case, owner Jerry Jones may be inclined to make a change — even if it may demand draft pick compensation to New Orleans.

Lovie Smith

The Houston Texans are in a strange place, with a strange rebuild plan, and that's why it isn't unimaginable to see another one-and-done scenario for them. Last season, David Culley was hired as a bridge coach while the Deshaun Watson situation was unresolved. He was fired after one season, and the process to hire his replacement was questionable, to say the least. Brian Flores and Josh McCown were the finalists, but neither of them ended up being hired. At the last minute, the Texans added their defensive coordinator to the list of interviews, and Smith was chosen.

This is actually the first true rebuilding year for the Texans after a lost season. If general manager Nick Caserio and the ownership think there are better ways to build the team moving forward, there's a real possibility of another change — Josh McCown, for instance, is viewed internally as a good leader, and that's why he had real chances to be hired in each of the last two cycles.

Improbable, but not impossible

Robert Saleh

Saleh was part of the Jets' rebuilding plan, but the first season was rough. The team got only four wins — Adam Gase averaged 4.5 wins per season as the Jets head coach in the previous two years, and rookie quarterback Zach Wilson was among the worst in the NFL. Worse than that, the Jets was dead last in defensive DVOA, a unit which should be Saleh's calling card.

The Jets were praised this offseason for adding talent, including first-round picks cornerback Sauce Gardner, wide receiver Garrett Wilson, and edge defender Jermaine Johnson. Therefore, the pressure is bigger for Saleh to improve the on-field results.

The biggest step for that is Zach Wilson, and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur was part of Saleh's plan. The young quarterback needs to develop fast, and every Jets leader's job will be at risk if it doesn't happen.

Pete Carroll

Only three head coaches have longer tenures than Seahawks' Pete Carroll — Bill Belichick, Mike Tomlin, and John Harbaugh. But the pressure is higher now that the team decided to trade away franchise quarterback Russell Wilson. If the Seahawks' leadership really wants to enter the season with a combination of Drew Lock and Geno Smith under center, this thing has the potential to get ugly really fast. The rest of the roster also isn't talented enough to overcome a bad quarterback situation.

Even though Carroll has a relatively young mentality and energy, he is 70 years old and has been a head coach since 1997 — three seasons for the New England Patriots and nine for USC before going to the Seahawks in 2010. We shall see if Carroll has the willingness and desire to go through a total rebuild if that's the path to put the Seahawks on top again.

Kliff Kingsbury

The Arizona Cardinals' curve has been interesting since Kliff Kingsbury was hired in 2019. The team improved yearly, from five to eight to eleven wins after going 3-13 the year prior, the only one under Steve Wilks. If you look at it with this perspective, and the fact that Kingsbury recently signed an extension through 2027, it's improbable that the Cardinals make a change.

But there also have been shortcomings in the last two years, where the team started the season well, and ended up disappointing. Last year, for example, the Cardinals won their first eight games of the season, but finished the regular season 11-6, losing the NFC West and the wild card playoff game to the Los Angeles Rams.

There are also several — and fair — doubts regarding Kingsbury's offensive system. In an era where offensive designers are known for putting their players in the best position to succeed, Cardinals' players were static on the field — wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins played almost all of this snaps as the X on the left side as an wideout, while other top receivers in the league have moved all over formations.

Now, Hopkins is suspended for the first six games of 2022, and Kyler Murray's game dropped significantly when Nuk was out last season. If the Cardinals cannot be successful to start the year, considering the roster full of older players who demand to win as soon as possible, Kingsbury's job could be in jeopardy.

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