Coaching an NFL team isn’t the best career choice if you crave job stability. Just 10 of the 32 coaches in the league were hired before 2014, and there are seven first-year head coaches this season.
By the time the postseason arrives in January, there will probably be another quarter or so of the NFL’s head coaches who get fired.
Five weeks into the NFL season, now’s as soon as any time to guess who’s going to be out of a job first. In 2017, Ben McAdoo was the first to go when the Giants cut him loose in Week 13 for the team’s 2-10 record. A couple years before that, the Dolphins were much quicker to kick Joe Philbin to the curb after a 1-3 start to the 2015 season.
If a midseason firing is on the way in 2018, there are four clear candidates at the top of the list of possibilities. But there are also four other coaches who can’t afford to take a back step:
The 4 warmest seats
Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos
Is there anything good happening in Denver right now?
For years, the Broncos have had a fearsome defense that was top four in yards allowed in each of the last four seasons. Now it’s 26th and just gave up 512 total yards in a 34-16 loss to the New York Jets that saw Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell combine for 318 rushing yards. Crowell alone had a Jets-record 219 yards on 15 carries, and the Broncos allowed more rushing yards than any team since 2014.
All this from a Jets team that couldn’t top 17 points in its last three games and had just 34 rushing yards against the Jaguars in Week 4.
On offense, the Broncos were supposed to improve after adding Case Keenum in free agency, but that signing looks like it was a $36 million mistake. Denver has struggled to find an answer at quarterback since the retirement of Peyton Manning, and that problem remains.
A lot of that is John Elway’s fault, but Joseph is presumably far ahead of him on the chopping block. After three consecutive losses and matchups against the Rams and Chiefs in two of the next three weeks, the Broncos’ chances at their first postseason trip in three years are slim.
Fans want change and Joseph’s time may be running out.
Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Fitzmagic was fun while it lasted, but when it faded away so did the Buccaneers. The defense has been overmatched for years and when the offense isn’t lighting up the scoreboard, Tampa Bay just can’t keep up.
It was especially evident in Week 4 when the Bears torched the Buccaneers, 48-10. Ryan Fitzpatrick had one interception, Jameis Winston had two, and Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky ran laps around them with six touchdowns.
Koetter is year three as the Buccaneers’ head coach and saw the team drop from 9-7 in his first season to 5-11 in year two. With road games in four of the next six weeks, Tampa Bay is in danger of seeing a 2-0 start turn into another below .500 season. The pressure is on Koetter to get the offense back on track, and it could cost him his job soon if he doesn’t.
Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
In his first eight seasons as the Cowboys’ head coach, Garrett led the team to one postseason win. Getting back to the playoffs for a chance at a second win looks like an uphill climb for Dallas after a 2-3 start.
But throughout Garrett’s unproductive tenure, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has supported and defended the coach. Even after missing the playoffs last season — one year after going 13-3 — Jones said Garrett wasn’t on the hot seat.
So that’s why it seems especially notable that Jones chose to publicly criticize Garrett’s decision-making following a 19-16 overtime loss to the Texans. The Cowboys coach played it painfully safe with a punt in overtime that quickly cost Dallas the game.
Garrett rose through the coaching ranks as a quarterbacks coach for the Dolphins and offensive coordinator for the Cowboys. But Dak Prescott hasn’t progressed since his rookie season and the Dallas offense is a mess.
Jones’ patience with Garrett may finally be wearing thin and it’s why oddsmakers have the Cowboys coach as the likeliest to get fired first.
Bill O’Brien, Houston Texans
A pair of overtime wins in the last two weeks cooled down O’Brien’s seat, but the Texans still aren’t in great shape at 2-3.
That’s a surprisingly subpar record for a team that has more than enough talent to compete for the AFC South title. They’re No. 3 in total offense with ascending star quarterback Deshaun Watson leading the way. On defense, J.J. Watt alone has six sacks and four forced fumbles through five games.
O’Brien makes weekly coaching errors, and as the play caller, he seems to have little regard for Watson’s health, despite the fact that it’s clear Houston would be screwed without him. While the Texans are great at moving down the field offensively, they’ve consistently been too cute near the goal line with shotgun sets and quarterback rollouts near the goal line.
Against the Cowboys, the Texans drove into the red zone six times and came away with one touchdown. They’re near the bottom of the league in red zone efficiency and it’s the reason why the team with the third-most offensive yardage is 18th in points scored.
The Texans have been a middle-of-the-pack team for most of O’Brien’s tenure, but at this point, they’re underachieving given the talent.
The 4 who are safe for now, but not out of the woods
Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
If the Steelers lost to the Falcons in Week 5, Tomlin may have landed in the top tier. It would’ve dropped the team to 1-3-1 amidst drama and problems on both sides of the ball. Instead, Pittsburgh’s future looks decent at 2-2-1, especially after a 41-17 destruction of the Falcons.
James Conner got back to form, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown connected on a deep bomb, and the defense did a good job keeping Julio Jones in check.
Winning cures all and it came at a great time, because frustrations were beginning to boil over in Pittsburgh. The Steelers are still near the bottom of the league in most defensive rankings, and the offense has been inconsistent from week to week.
But the win in Week 5 showed Tomlin hasn’t lost the team. The only coach who has had more success and stability than Tomlin over the last decade is Bill Belichick. So as long as the locker room isn’t lost, that’ll be enough to keep a notoriously patient franchise from making a midseason firing.
There are still hurdles ahead, including the handling of the impending return of Le’Veon Bell, but for now Tomlin is fine.
Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns
Yes, he has a 3-33-1 record with the Browns, but with two wins in the last three weeks, Jackson has Cleveland in good shape at 2-2-1.
The defense has forced an NFL-most 15 turnovers, and the offense is suddenly cooking on the back of a powerful rushing attack and the play of rookie quarterback, Baker Mayfield.
The Browns have had a shot to win every week. They may have even grabbed an extra win or two if some combination of better kicking, better officiating, better quarterback play, or just plain better luck was on their side. Better coaching couldn’t have hurt either.
But the Browns were exceptionally forgiving after 1-15 and 0-16 seasons, so it’s not going to happen now that they’re finally winning games. That could change if things go south, but for now, Jackson’s off the hot seat.
Todd Bowles, New York Jets
Who are the Jets? Are they the team that thrashed the Lions and Broncos, or the one that lost three consecutive games in between those wins?
Much of that inconsistency falls on the shoulders of their rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold. The 21-year-old was turnover-prone at USC, and he’s brought some of that to the Jets. At times, he looks tremendous and poised, and then there are other times when he struggles to keep the New York offense moving.
Those ups and downs were to be expected, and they make it a lot harder to be critical of the job Bowles is doing — especially when the Jets are floating around .500.
He’s certainly not faultless, though. Bowles made his name as a defensive coach, and while the Jets defense has looked much improved, it’s also been susceptible to lapses. Bowles has also had some odd decision-making, like kicking a field goal while down 25-3 in the fourth quarter against the Jaguars.
Still, the Jets are hanging in there with a rookie quarterback, so Bowles probably isn’t on the verge of losing his job right now. But if the Jets continue to deviate from one week to the next, it could be a different story once Week 17 ends.
Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
We got to see last year just how bad the Packers are without Aaron Rodgers. This year, we’re getting to see how bad they can be with him.
Rodgers’ 314.4 passing yards per game and 100.1 rating have carried the Packers offense to the 18th best scoring average. Without him, it’d almost definitely be a bottom-five unit. Eventually that has to reflect poorly on Mike McCarthy, who has spent almost entire 13-year tenure with Rodgers’ brilliance.
On the field, Rodgers has looked annoyed and exasperated. Off the field, he’s ripped into the offensive game plan:
Aaron Rodgers' postgame press conference was one big subliminal shot at the Packers' play-calling. pic.twitter.com/6AOymfro11— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) October 1, 2018
The short-term contract given to McCarthy in the offseason showed that the Packers expect him to get the team back on track soon. At 2-2-1 and fresh off a bad loss to the Lions, it’s not easy to feel confident that it’s going to happen in 2018.
If the Packers were a more impatient, impulsive franchise, McCarthy may have been higher in the hot seat rankings. But it’s hard to imagine Green Bay giving its coach the boot until the offseason, or at the very least, after the team is eliminated from contention.