The time is nigh. Black Monday is less than a week away.
The Wikipedia label “current NFL head coaches” will get a whole lot less populated Dec. 31, one day after the 2018 regular season comes to its official close. Few traditions in the league are more reliable than underwhelming teams jettisoning scapegoats less than 24 hours after wrapping up a depressing year. A Black Monday firing is just the first step of an arduous healing process that can either clear a pathway to greatness (like when the Rams cast off Jeff Fisher and the platinum albatross of his “7-9 bullshit”) or leave a franchise panicking in search of traction like a Mercury Tracer driving through black ice (like every Browns coach after 1995).
Several clubs destined for prime spots at the 2019 NFL Draft are ready for a change in management. The Jaguars’ impressive crash could see Doug Marrone fired from his second AFC team in five years. Marvin Lewis’ quest to see how long he can wallow in mediocrity before the Bengals’ management finally notices may find an answer after 16 seasons.
And the Jets? Well...
Everything is totally OK for the Jets, say the Jets (who are not OK)
How is New York’s 2018 season going? Well, the club tweeted this out from its official account on Christmas Eve, which paints a picture with just 26 words.
Statement from Christopher Johnson, Chairman and CEO:— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 24, 2018
“Todd Bowles is our Head Coach. There is no truth to the report of our interest in Jim Harbaugh."
There are a lot of moving pieces to unpack here, but since these are the Jets those movements are sloth-like and slowly ambling toward the scorching flows of an active volcano. Todd Bowles, who earned a contract extension last year after a 5-11 season, is now 26-40 as an NFL head coach and guaranteed his third straight season with five wins or fewer. Sam Darnold, with five touchdown passes and a 113.9 passer rating his past two games, may have showed enough to make a case for Bowles as a leader of young men, but New York is also 0-2 in those games and surrendered fourth-quarter leads in each.
So the Jets may want another, more proven developer of moldable talent. Enter Jim Harbaugh, who went 44-19-1 in four seasons with San Francisco before returning to Michigan, his alma mater, in order to accomplish something he never could as a Wolverine: being completely and utterly owned by Ohio State. Maybe he’d be willing to leave a job unfinished in the Big Ten — Harbaugh denies it, though a key requirement of his job is quasi-believable lying — but a jump to the Jets feels like a stretch.
Harbaugh is making $7.5 million at the University of Michigan. $7.5 million in Ann Arbor, Michigan has roughly the same spending power as $400 million in New York City. The Jets are better off spending that money on a space shuttle and exploring the potential of playing games on the moon. You think the Jets are going to lure him to north Jersey due to the culture of NYC? This is a man who drinks nothing but whole milk, goes to bed each night by 9 p.m., has an entire wardrobe stocked with Haggar slacks, and until earlier this year thought Hamilton was a particularly witty Looney Tune starring Porky Pig.
Enjoy your four seasons of Mike McCarthy, New York.
Mike Tomlin got too fancy
There are really only two schools of thought on Mike Tomlin. The first is that his 124-66-1 record and 2009 Super Bowl win make him a solid link in a chain of great Steelers head coaches. The second is that he’s the governor that has reduced one of the league’s most powerful engines into the football equivalent of a preowned Ford Fusion. Pittsburgh fields a Super Bowl roster on a consistent basis, but hasn’t been to the big game since 2010. Sharing a conference with the Patriots hasn’t helped, but Tomlin’s tenure in western Pennsylvania has left a distinct impression he could be doing more.
So on Sunday he did more. It didn’t work out great!
Tomlin jumped at his opportunity to salt the clock away with a 28-24 lead late in the fourth quarter in New Orleans. Rather than punt the ball back to MVP candidate Drew Brees, he dialed up a fourth-and-5 fake punt near midfield. The concept was impressive. The execution was not. Roosevelt Nix, a fullback whose career long rush in three-plus seasons was just one yard, got the call on a direct snap up the middle only to be stopped a yard short.
That meant Brees only had to go 46 yards to score a lead-taking touchdown, which he did. And while the Steelers had a chance to drive into Saints territory for a game-winning touchdown, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s fumble delivered the Steelers their fourth loss in five games.
Now the Steelers have to beat the Bengals and root for the Browns to beat the Ravens in Week 17 to keep their playoff hopes alive. And forcing Pittsburghers to root for anything in Cleveland is enough to earn some heat, even for a head coach who has averaged double-digit wins in his 12 seasons at Heinz Field.
Obligatory Jon Gruden update
Fucking hell, he did it again.
gruden threw the challenge flag again on a scoring play. he thinks it's still 2003— charles mcdonald (lakers 20-14) (@FourVerts) December 25, 2018
Gruden tried to challenge a Travis Kelce touchdown catch right before halftime, a play that wasn’t reviewable because:
a) it was a touchdown, and all scoring plays are automatically reviewed, and
b) it came with less than two minutes to go in the half, when replays can only be initiated by league officials.
So Gruden threw a challenge that couldn’t possibly succeed. He says it was to make a point about the officiating and buy a little time for the replay crew in New York to make a move. But this is 2018 Jon Gruden, so it’s also entirely possible he just forgot — you know, like he constantly forgets he traded away a former defensive player of the year before the season began. The burned timeout didn’t matter — there were only seven seconds left in the second quarter when he tossed his flag — but it was another potentially embarrassing moment in a comeback season filled with them.
He’s still got 9.06 years and $90,625,000 left on his contract. At least he beat ...
Vance Joseph, whose greatest sin was allowing Oakland fans happiness
Joseph’s run through the easiest end-of-season schedule in the NFL currently has the Broncos mired through a three-game losing streak thanks to losses to the 49ers, Browns, and most recently, the Raiders. His team found a way to lose by 13 points while simultaneously holding an opponent to 273 total yards. The Broncos put up only 14 points against the league’s 31st-ranked scoring defense, allowing fans to rush the field after the game in happiness rather than the standard Raider emotion of barely contained rage.
At least his players still love him. Case Keenum isn’t even mad at him for reverting him from Pro Bowl caliber quarterback to Case Keenum-ish replacement passer.
“We all want to play better. Nobody likes not winning. We all hate it. We all want to play hard. We all want to win for coach Joseph,” Keenum said after Monday’s loss. “We all love him. He’s an incredible human and a great football coach. I want to play hard for him, I want to play hard for everybody in that locker room. That’s a big part of our team and our identity. We’ve stayed together and we all love and like and respect each other and we want to fight for each other. It’s a production league and when you’re not winning, it’s tough.”
Von Miller’s on board, too. But if being a nice guy were all it took to be a good NFL head coach, Bill Belichick would be washing cars somewhere.
Dirk Koetter never had a chance
The good news for Koetter is that he won’t be unemployed for long if he gets fired. A league where passing is more important than ever will always have a place for the man who turned Ryan Fitzpatrick into the game’s most prolific passer, no matter how briefly.
The bad news is his Buccaneers can’t stop anyone anywhere. Tampa Bay is giving up vast chunks of turf in short-yardage situation. It’s giving up monster gains on big plays through the air. The Bucs’ defense, missing Kwon Alexander most of the year, is just Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul, and a bunch of other players who show up on the depth chart as shrug emojis.
That’s bad! That’s so bad! I had to remove several categories in which Tampa ranked 24th or worse just to make that jpeg small enough to load on most phones. The Buccaneers’ defense has been Koetter’s Waterloo, the area where he just can’t get a win. And when you’ve got two quarterbacks who throw an interception approximately every 25 passes, you need a stellar defense to handle those short fields and create stops. Tampa Bay does not have anything close to that, and it’s probably going to cost Koetter his job come Monday.
Still, anyone looking to throw the ball 40 times a game should shoot him a text Monday morning, see if he’s up.