Earlier this week, I featured back-to-back stories about whether today’s major college coaches are worthy of being paid millions of dollars.
Today, it’s time to put the same microscope onto the NFL’s elite 32 coaches. Unlike college football, recruiting is not a big part of the NFL. The coaches don’t have to visit the households of 5-star athletes to put on a song-and-dance about why that young man should come play ball for the coach’s team.
In the NFL, the head coach usually provides significant input into drafting football talent coming out of colleges each year. However, the NFL draft only provides each team with a maximum of seven picks every year. Most NFL teams will sign several additional undrafted players every year as free agents immediately afterward to bolster the returning roster.
Unlike college football teams which will carry more than 100 players, the NFL coaches are dealing with a highly paid 53-man active roster. The team is also permitted to carry up to 14 additional players on what is called their “practice squad”.
Most NFL players are signed to multi-year contracts with a variety of salaries, terms and conditions – usually based on that player’s perceived importance to the team. That means that the quarterback generally earns the highest pay on most teams although some defensive players do very well, too.
In addition to the players, the NFL head coach must assemble and motivate a team of assistant coaches to help develop player talent, evaluate their performance, and design schemes for the upcoming opponents. The head coach’s relationship with the assistant coaches can be just as important as his ability to deal with the 53 players.
Those relationships are put to the test whenever the team begins losing games, and the finger-pointing begins.
Unlike in major college football, the talent pool in the NFL is fairly consistent from team to team. These players were dominant at their primary positions in college. The head coach must be able to teach, nurture, and motivate this group of highly skilled, extremely well-paid grown men every week of the football season.
When the team fails on the field, the team’s ownership usually points the finger of blame at the head coach. A few weeks ago, Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels was fired after the team started 3-5 this season. McDaniels was beginning his third season as the team’s head coach.
The turnover rate for NFL head coaches is extremely high. Every year, about 25% of NFL coaches will be fired during or at the end of the season. The owner (in an effort to keep fan interest alive for the franchise) finds it much easier to blame and fire the head coach rather than to dismiss an entire team of underperforming players.
In an average year in the NFL, eight of the 32 head coaches will lose their job. For all US jobs, the average annual turnover rate is about 10%.
We are now at the halfway point of the 2023 NFL season.
Let’s review SwampSwami’s crystal ball and try to predict seven more candidates (in addition to the Raiders coach) who might be heading to the NFL coaching unemployment line by season’s end.
Here are my Top 7 names (plus a special bonus pick at the end):
Bill Belichick – New England Patriots (2-8) – Year #24
The 71-year old Hall-of-Fame NFL coach with six Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots continues to struggle this season. What should happen?
Coach Belichick should graciously announce his retirement at season’s end and get the proper respect after so many years of excellence for the New England franchise. If he doesn’t leave soon, Patriots’ team owner Robert Craft may force him to step down after this very ugly season in New England.
After quarterback Tom Brady moved to Tampa Bay beginning in 2020, Coach Belichick’s record with New England has been in rapid decline. This year will mark the third losing season in the past four years for the Patriots.
After several years of failed draft choices and botched free agent signings, this is likely the swan song year for Coach Belichick in New England.
(Note – Don’t be surprised if Bill Belichick resurfaces to coach another team next year. If Tom Brady can do it, why can’t his long-time coach?)
Brandon Staley – Los Angeles Chargers (4-5) – Year #3
Staley was fortunate that he wasn’t fired after last season’s playoff gag by the Chargers. A former defensive coordinator, the Chargers’ defense has been the coach’s downfall during his three years with the team. Quarterback Justin Herbert and the offense scores in bunches. Unfortunately, the Chargers’ defense gives up just as many. Unless the Chargers make the playoffs and win one playoff game, Staley is likely toast.
Matt Eberflus – Chicago Bears (3-7) – Year #2
The Chicago Bears coach came to da Bears after a successful three year run as the defensive coordinator with the Indianapolis Colts. Matt Eberflus brought his defensive mantra –H-I-T-S – to the Bears. That means, “Hustle, intensity, the ball, smart.”
As this season collapses in the Windy City, the 53-year old coach of the Chicago Bears is “Hoping It’s Too Soon” to fire him after just two years.
As is the case around the NFL, the new head coach will inherit a team filled with years of poor draft choices and free agent decisions made by the team’s long-time upper management. The Bears have been lousy for years prior to the arrival of the latest head coach. They will likely remain bad for years after this coach is fired, too.
Ron Rivera – Washington Commandos (4-6) – Year #4
The coach of Washington’s Football Team has suffered much the same fate as the Bears’ current top man. When a franchise has years of mediocre drafts and makes poor decisions about free agents, the team’s general manager and other executives should be dismissed.
Unfortunately, that rarely happens. Ron Rivera can only do so much with mediocre talent. After four years without a winning season, this coach is likely to get the boot. The 59-year old Rivera will land somewhere else soon.
Frank Reich – Carolina Panthers (1-8) – Year #1
Wait a minute! A veteran NFL quarterback-turned-coach in his first year at Carolina is already on the hot seat? When the Panthers’ team owner has money to burn, anything is possible.
Frank Reich was fired after last season by Indianapolis but quickly signed a new contract with Carolina. The Panthers hired the former NFL quarterback to analyze and select the top quarterback available in this spring’s college football draft. Carolina took Alabama quarterback Bryce Young with the first pick. The Houston Texans selected Ohio State’s CJ Stroud with the second selection. Bryce Young has struggled in his first year as Carolina’s starter, while Stroud has led the Texans to a surprising 5-4 record.
Who should get the blame in Carolina? Who else but the head coach!
Dennis Allen – New Orleans Saints (5-5) – Year #2
The former defensive coordinator for long-time Saints coach Sean Payton simply seems lost on the sidelines on game days. Allen was a former head coach with the Oakland Raiders (2012-2014). The team went 4-12 in his first two years and started the third year 0-4 as leader of the Raiders before he was fired.
Now in his second season as head coach in New Orleans, the Saints went a very disappointing 7-10 last year. In 2023, the Saints are just 5-5 this season playing one of the weakest schedules in the entire NFL. Dennis Allen still looks clueless in his sophomore season. The WhoDat Nation of Saints fans want him fired. However, team management appears to be giving Dennis Allen a chance to win (or lose) the putrid NFC South division this year prior to making a change.
Matt LaFleur – Green Bay Packers (3-6) – Year #5
Though Green Bay won 13 games in each of his first three years in Cheeseland, Coach Matt LaFleur went 8-9 in 2022 and is sinking further in 2023. Future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers left for the New York Jets beginning this year. His replacement, former first round pick Jordan Love, has struggled in 2023 with ten interceptions and four fumbles during his first nine games this year. Whether fair or not, Coach LaFleur’s early success will be credited to having Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback during that time. Green Bay fans won’t give him a lot of rope if the Packers’ second half of the season
BONUS PICK – Mike McCarthy – Dallas Cowboys (6-3) – Year #4
Now, hold on there, SwampSwami! Aren’t the Dallas Cowboys are one of the NFC’s best teams this season?
Big D’s coach is Mike McCarthy. He was a long-time head coach (13 seasons) in Green Bay and led the team to a Super Bowl victory in the 2010 season. His relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers was rocky at times, so the coach was tossed overboard after a 4-7-1 season in 2018.
After a year out of the game, McCarthy was hired by the biggest micromanaging owner in the entire NFL, Jerry Jones, to become the latest Dallas Cowboys deputy coach.
Jerry Jones expects Mike McCarthy to take Dallas to the Super Bowl – something which has eluded the Cowboys every year since 1995. Though McCarthy’s coaching record during the regular season has been superb, his teams have a reputation for being outcoached during the early rounds of the playoffs. A failure to get the Dallas Cowboys into the NFC Championship game this season might spell curtains for Mike McCarthy.
Of course, all of these NFL coaches will be just fine (financially, speaking) when or if they are dismissed.
As former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips articulated in his own special way, “There’s only two kinds of coaches. Them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired!”