Coaches on Hot Seat: September
I see that look and I know what you're thinking. It's ridiculously early to tackle the topic of NFL coaches on the hot seat. We're only staring down Week 3 for crying out loud. Could we at least manage to put September behind us before we start speculating how many casualties there will be this season among the ranks of the headset crowd?
Short answer? Uh, no. Not when you've got Oakland's Lane Kiffin generating a media vigil at the Raiders team complex early this week, just to see if he makes it past Tuesday with his job intact. Not when you've got the Rams' Scott Linehan having a bit of a meltdown in his postgame news conference Sunday, then hear team owner Chip Rosenbloom on Monday put his head coach on notice and threaten changes if improvement is not forthcoming. Not when Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis seems to be grasping at more and more straws by the week in an effort to motivate his comatose Bengals, and not when Vikings owner Zygi Wilf feels it necessary to give Brad Childress that kiss of death known as a vote of confidence.
After having seven new head coaches hired in 2007, and just four in 2008 (with two teams, Miami and Atlanta, hiring both years), I get the feeling that in 2009 we're in for more of a 2006-type overhaul of the sideline set. That year, a whopping 10 different NFL clubs tapped new coaches, nearly one third of the league. And don't forget, it's already a given that Jim Mora is taking over for Mike Holmgren in Seattle next season, with Jim Caldwell likely to do the same for Tony Dungy in Indianapolis (just FYI, we do not consider the retirement-minded Holmgren or Dungy to be among the hot-seaters in any way, shape or form).
That said, I'm going to make my Coaches on the Hot Seat report a once-a-month, in-season staple here at SI.com, identifying the likely suspects as the season unfolds, with coaches either performing their way on or off of our endangered list. In subsequent installments, we'll even try to identify the pool of most likely candidates who will interview and wind up getting all these forthcoming NFL coaching vacancies.
For this first crack at it, we're starting with 10 names that bear watching, even though some of them have teams off to 2-0 starts. What? You think anything Wade Phillips does before January's playoffs means a thing to his long-term job security? You obviously haven't been paying attention. Which is why we're here to help.
1. Lane Kiffin, Oakland -- Have to admit I absolutely love Kiffin's Alfred E. Neuman-esque "What, me worry?'' approach to his impending demise in Oakland. What's that old Dylan song say, "When you've got nothing, you've nothing to lose''? That's been Kiffin's basic take since late January, when it surfaced that Raiders owner Al Davis drew up a resignation letter for him and tried to strong-arm the second-year coach into signing away the remaining $4 million of salary on his three-year contract. Nice try, Al. Fire me instead, said Kiffin, no fool.
As the years -- and the head coaches -- go by in Oakland, Davis drifts more into the realm of bizarro world, like the NFL's version of Marlon Brando's whack-job character in Apocalypse Now. I keep wondering when the intervention's coming, but nobody ever seems to have the time to organize one. But for now, Kiffin is 1-1 this season and apparently gets to coach another week while awaiting his inevitable fate. His role model has to be Denver's Mike Shanahan, who was canned four games into his second season with the Raiders, after going 8-12 in 1988-89. Nineteen years later, Shanahan still gets that evil grin when he's sticking it to Davis yet again.
Kiffin's at 5-13 in Oakland, so if he can just hang in there for two more games, maybe he'll wind up eventually coaching an AFC West Division rival to a pair of Super Bowl rings and long-term success. Raiders receivers coach James Lofton appears to be in Davis' on-deck circle, but some say keep an eye on Oakland offensive line coach Tom Cable as a long-shot candidate to get the nod from Big Al.
Pink slip potential: 99.9 percent.
2. Scott Linehan, St. Louis -- If Linehan's Rams haven't hit rock bottom by now, Lord knows no one wants to see what that train wreck might look like. Since starting his St. Louis tenure a surprising 4-1 in 2006, Linehan is 7-22 and in the throes of an all-out death spiral. After the Rams' 41-13 home-opening loss to the Giants on Sunday, Linehan finally started showing some sure-fire signs of job stress, losing it for a bit in his postgame news conference, at least by his nice-guy standards.
The 0-2 Rams are just horrible. They rank last in the NFL in total offense and total defense, and have been manhandled to the tune of 79-16 in their first two games. Their fan base is dwindling, empty seats are a regularity at Edward Jones Dome, and even a move back to the Los Angeles market doesn't seem out of the question. If that doesn't spell coaching change in the NFL, nothing will.
With Rosenbloom's ominous comments on Monday, it seems possible that the Rams could make an in-season coaching change for the first time since ex-Rams Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Waterfield turned in his whistle after eight games in 1962. But don't look at defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, the ex-Saints head coach, as a replacement. His unit has been dreadful, and I don't think the front office is crazy about him either. New/old Rams offensive coordinator Al Saunders is an interim possibility, at least given his wealth of NFL experience.
Pink slip potential: 95 percent.