Ten coaches on the hot seat (cont.)
7. Wade Phillips, Dallas -- Everyone knows the deal in Dallas this season. As Jerry Jones likes to say, it's "crystal clear.'' Phillips needs to win at least two playoff games, which could put the Cowboys into their first Super Bowl since January 1996, or it's offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's turn to run the show in 2009. Not that "run the show'' is really the phrase that comes to mind when we're talking about Phillips' style of head coaching in Dallas.
After watching Phillips play the role of his team's kindly court jester on HBO's Hard Knocks series in training camp, and then seeing him wear that confused, somewhat befuddled look of his on the Dallas sideline in Monday night's thriller against Philadelphia, I've come to the conclusion that the only real indication that he's the Cowboys head coach is his prime parking spot in the team complex lot.
I don't even think he's getting the audio piped into that headset they let him wear on the sideline. Maybe they gave it to him to put on so he wouldn't feel bad about Garrett making all the real in-game decisions. At best, he's getting Sirius Radio pumped in, so he can follow the game via the Cowboys network. Sure, Dallas is 2-0 and tied for first in the rugged NFC East. But nothing but January matters for the Cowboys this season, and everything until then is just prologue.
Pink slip potential: 50 percent.
8. Brad Childress, Minnesota -- Just this week you could finally tell that ol' Major Dad woke up and smelled the coffee when it comes to the risk of pinning his entire Vikings tenure on the inconsistent quarterbacking of one Tarvaris Jackson. When a head coach goes from flatly stating that there will be no quarterback change in the moments after a galling loss on Sunday afternoon, to equivocating on the issue on Monday, to announcing a new starting quarterback on Wednesday, that's a sure sign that saving his job has just crossed his radar screen.
"You don't crown a guy king and then the king doesn't have any clothes on and you say, 'Hey, he's still the king,' '' Childress said, regarding Jackson's newly diminished job security.
Oh really now? That's a twist for Childress, who has been either fiercely committed or stubborn to a fault in regards to Jackson's development as the Vikings starter. But at 0-2, coming off an inexcusable loss to the crippled Colts in their home opener, with team owner Zygi Wilf having shelled out at least $60 million in contract guarantees this offseason to upgrade the roster, it was time for Childress to grow a little flexibility. Thus, you get 37-year-old Gus Frerotte starting at quarterback this week against visiting Carolina and the urgency of Jackson's development placed somewhere behind the urgency to win now.
Could the change at quarterback be directly linked to Wilf's public vote of confidence in his head coach on Tuesday? What do you think? Childress may be stubborn, but he's not dumb. He knows it's time to save his own job, or someone else might get the pleasure or problem of developing Jackson in 2009.
Pink slip potential: 40 percent.
9. John Fox, Carolina -- My gut is that this is one head coach who will quickly work himself off this list as the season progresses, and the Panthers' plucky and promising 2-0 start is a great early step toward that reality. But the fact remains the Panthers have been an underachieving 15-17 non-playoff team the past two seasons after their memorable drive to the NFC title game in 2005, and there was at least some serious speculation last offseason over whether both Fox and Panthers general manager Marty Hurney would be retained.
But Fox has two years remaining on his contract after this one, paying him about $5 million annually, and with a return to the playoffs this season he should be in good position to entertain hopes for an extension at some point in 2009.
Pink slip potential: 30 percent.
10. Eric Mangini, New York Jets -- There's a lot of potential for Mangini to disappear from this list at some point during the season as well. Let the Jets resemble the on-the-way up 10-6 wild-card qualifier they were in Mangini's rookie season of 2006, and no one will be talking about the coaching hot seat in New York. But let them finish anywhere in the neighborhood of last year's disappointing 4-12 record, especially after this offseason's costly roster upgrade, and the heat will undoubtedly start to build on the coach who was dubbed "Man-genius'' not all that long ago.
The dichotomy even applies early this season, because after a hopeful start with a Week 1 road win at Miami, the Jets missed an opportunity to deal a blow to their arch-rival Patriots -- playing sans Tom Brady -- in their home opener. This week brings another potential swing, with a Monday-night trip to San Diego, where the powerful Chargers are 0-2 and hopping mad about it.
Pink slip potential: 25 percent.