The coaching carnage generally doesn't mount until Black Monday, the day after the season ends. But teams, college and pro, generally begin maneuvering via back channels about these kind of moves the week after Thanksgiving, and with upwards of a third of the league considering a coaching move depending on how things go down the stretch, the covert ops will be picking up with vigor soon enough.
We will hear more and more about the big names and the guys on the hot seat as we enter December, and though it's still early, I thought I'd take a shot at where some of these dominoes might fall coming off a Week 11 in which some of the coaches under fire put up a valiant fight in an underdog role, but still ended up losing in the end.
Sunday turned out to be a tough, tough day for Pat Shurmur, Ron Rivera, Mike Mularkey, Norv Turner and Ken Whisenhunt (and Jason Garrett got damn lucky in victory), who all looked prime to pull off major upsets for portions of their game before relenting.
So here's a look at some thoughts on possible moves.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags gave the Texans a fight Sunday, and one-and-dones are rare in the NFL, but with general manager Gene Smith in a tough spot, any new GM in Jacksonville would likely want a new coach as well. Mike Mularkey was saddled with Blaine Gabbert -- Gabbert's presence scared many candidates away a year ago. This looks like a full restart under novice owner Shahid Khan, with sweeping changes possible.
Possible replacement: Bill O'Brien had a great shot to get this job a year ago, he has everything owners want and he has done a tremendous job in his first year at Penn State. A buyout might be tricky, but Khan loved this guy a year ago and I suspect will want a younger, dynamic coach rather than a retread.
Kansas City Chiefs: It's all gone horribly wrong there, there are no signs of life and I cannot imagine a way that Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel are back next season. Owner Clark Hunt looks for hands-on people, as he is not around the team on a daily basis (which could lead to a GM like Bill Polian being the next man there). This team thought it had playoff potential and now it's jostling for the first overall pick. The fan revolt is palpable there, forcing changes.
Possible replacement: The Chiefs need to start over with a new quarterback and I can't help but wonder if Mike Sherman, who has worked closely with them and who has won at this level, gets a chance there. This hasn't been a big-paying job and I have a hard time projecting "A-list" guys there.
Carolina Panthers: Owner Jerry Richardson already fired GM Marty Hurney during the season and it's hard to imagine the next guy being all about keeping Ron Rivera as head coach rather than bringing in his own guy. They need to find someone to get Cam Newton right again -- above all else -- and I see a younger guy as the move here.
Possible replacement: Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy worked in Carolina before, Richardson likes him and he has done great things with a run-first/non-traditional QB (reaching the playoffs with Tim Tebow, for goodness' sake). If there is a more natural fit than this, please let me know. Seems like the perfect match.
San Diego Chargers: Owner Dean Spanos came close to parting with GM A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner a year ago, and this season for the Chargers has fallen well below expectations. Smith has been telling people he thinks he can deliver Jon Gruden there -- but I hear there is little shot that takes place and in the end I think everyone is probably gone there.
Possible replacement: Andy Reid just might take a year off, but San Diego would be one spot that would immediately light his fire. He is from that area, lives in that area and it is the polar opposite of Philadelphia in terms of culture, climate and media market. San Diego needs to get Philip Rivers right and as long as the money is right, this could be the fit.
Cleveland Browns: Pat Shurmur has made some big mistakes late in games (another crushing loss Sunday when they were up). There is a new ownership group there and I expect new owner Jimmy Haslam and new CEO Joe Banner to be very aggressive in his coaching search. They need to finally deliver on offense and play some attractive football and get people excited about Browns football again.
Possible replacement: Chip Kelly is probably leaving college now, he is going to be coveted and this regime won't be concerned about Brandon Weeden -- he's probably not their guy anyway. Haslam won't be afraid to spend, and Kelly brings excitement -- it would be a bold hire. Josh McDaniels could be interesting here as well, depending on some possible front office moves and whether Kelly ends up elsewhere (Philadelphia and Carolina, among others, could be suitors).
Philadelphia Eagles: Even if owner Jeff Lurie wanted to keep Andy Reid, I doubt Reid would want to stay. This has run its course -- it was a great 14-year ride, but all things come to an end. A few years after Jeff Fisher's long reign ended in Tennessee, so too is Reid's near its end, especially after Sunday's debacle in Washington.
Possible replacement: Young GM Howie Roseman will likely want a young, up-and-coming coach. Jay Gruden strikes me as young Andy Reid, perhaps, with his brother's pedigree as well. Jon Gruden is a former Eagles assistant, and his brother will be very much in demand, as will he. While I figure the elder Gruden ends up in college, if he in fact leaves the broadcast booth, I can't see the younger Gruden staying as the Bengals offensive coordinator. Also worth noting: Lurie is a big fan of Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, a former head coach in St. Louis.
Dallas Cowboys: Nothing has come easy for Jason Garrett, and while the schedule seems to set up pretty well for them, anything short of a playoff spot could lead to heads rolling. The fourth-quarter meltdowns, the clock-management issues, the fourth-down decisions, the issues of when to punt and when to go for it -- those have worked against Garrett. And with the potential for so much change, would Jerry Jones really sit on his hands with what he believes is a top roster?
Possible replacement: Not all coaches are comfortable with the unique owner-as-GM structure they have in Dallas, and most of the big-name guys you could come up with (Jon Gruden, Andy Reid, Bill Cowher) aren't a fit for personality or other reasons. Holmgren would want this job, I'm told, and I wouldn't be shocked if he got it. The Big Show in Big D.
New York Jets: I tend to think if changes are made here, it may just be GM Mike Tannenbaum. The players love Rex Ryan and Rex delivers headlines and owner Woody Johnson seems to love the headlines. So I'm not sure this one goes down, but if it does ...
Possible replacement: How about stealing some of the Giants thunder -- again, very Jets-like -- and getting Perry Fewell? It's about time someone hires New York's defensive coordinator and I would think his no-nonsense approach would be the opposite of Ryan's M.O. -- and when changes are made, it's generally someone a lot different than his predecessor.
I wouldn't rule out some major changes in Washington, Tennessee, Buffalo or perhaps even Arizona, though I suspect finances may ultimately play a role in all of the head coaches staying put, with coordinator changes possible. As for other candidates I foresee getting interviews, if not head coaching jobs, depending on the number of openings we get, I would expect guys like Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Tampa OC Mike Sullivan, Atlanta coordinators Dirk Koetter (offense) and Mike Nolan (defense), Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable, Stanford coach David Shaw and Green Bay quarterback coach Ben McAdoo to merit consideration.
I was baffled by some coaching decisions Sunday.
• Norv Turner has plenty of clock left. He's only down by a possession and he goes for it on 4th and 14 around midfield? If nothing else, this recent stretch with the Denver loss at home, the pick-six fueled loss to Tampa last week and now this loss at Denver will spell the end of this regime, and Rivers again was too turnover-prone.
• Ken Whisenhunt put himself in the line of fire when, with a 13-0 lead early on, he yanked John Skelton for rookie Ryan Lindley. Now, Skelton is about as bad a starting quarterback as there in the league -- and unfortunately for the Cards, Kevin Kolb is probably still weeks away from a return, according to sources -- but to yank him there, on the road against a team as good as Atlanta, was ballsy. Skelton was stinking it up, but Lindley did the same, the Falcons rallied and the Cards were held to six points the rest of the way to drop their sixth straight game.
• Why Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff didn't demand his shaky unit not stick with a pretty obvious fake punt early on was beyond me. His personal protector, Tim Tebow, should have made the call, with the Rams not playing the punt at all and in a run formation. But in the end that kind of thing will call on the coach as well. The Jets also got a field goal blocked but, of this group, had the best day as they ended up handling the Rams anyway.
• And while some will rip Mularkey for going for it on 4th and 10 around midfield late in overtime, I applaud the move. Chad Henne had made some plays -- no way you go back to Gabbert now, I don't care what his elbow feels like this week -- and when you have one win and are trying to pull off the biggest upset of the season, you don't play for the tie. You try to kick the field goal and win the game. Punting with still over two minutes left, against an offense that rolled up over 600 yards on you, still leaves too much time and doesn't assure anything, either. Good for Mularkey for taking a shot.
• The fireworks on the Lions' sidelines, with receivers coach Shawn Jefferson yelling at offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, bears monitoring. This defeat to Green Bay pretty much quashes playoff hopes, a tough Turkey Day matinee with Houston looms, and the Lions play a murderous schedule down the stretch. Matt Stafford has not been right, and despite all the yardage they amass, Linehan and Co. can't get in the end zone. I can't help but wonder whether there are staff changes here, though coach Jim Schwartz just got a well-deserved extension. However, position coach/coordinator moves might be afoot depending on how they finish.
• Dallas got some fortuitous officiating to survive the Browns, but they were overpowered physically on both sides of the line at times and Cleveland, not exactly a dominant pass rushing outfit, ran all over the Cowboys' offensive line, sacking Tony Romo seven times. That's a major cause for concern. Also couldn't figure out why coordinator Rob Ryan didn't move DeMarcus Ware away from Browns left tackle Joe Thomas right away. And another week means another bizarre Dez Bryant highlight -- this time running out of bounds backwards a few yards short of a first down without a defender yet on top of him. Oh those wacky Cowboys!
• Atlanta gave up over 100 yards rushing to a poor Arizona's ground game in the first quarter alone, coming off a week in which the Saints pummeled them on the ground. Expect teams to keep challenging them in that regard.
• The Patriots nearly ran up 60 points on the Colts, so the explosive offense isn't an issue there. But I am still stunned Brandon Lloyd doesn't have a catch over 30 yards all season. I expected him to be among the NFL leaders in yards per catch playing with Tom Brady. That's odd.
• And Eagles fans, be careful what you wish for. All of the Mike Vick bashing and the calls for rookie Nick Foles? Well, um, OK. Understand now why Reid wasn't going to play him unless Vick got hurt or until all playoff hope was lost? That was downright awful, and the outing came against what is one of the league's five worst defenses.
• Brandon Weedon repeatedly overthrew targets, looked unsettled and had copious amounts of time to find open targets on third down early in that game, and simply could not get it done. I see the Browns being in the market for a quarterback via the draft, trade or otherwise.