Coaches on Hot Seat: October
In 1976, four coaches lost their jobs before Week 8
It's rare for a team to have more success with an interim coach
Wade Phillips continues to be under scrutiny in Dallas
Five weeks ago, when I first visited the topic of NFL coaches already on the hot seat, it seemed way too early in the season to be tackling such firing line issues. Turns out it wasn't. Oakland's Lane Kiffin and St. Louis's Scott Linehan were let go after Week 4, and San Francisco's Mike Nolan got added to the casualty list this week, when the 2-5 49ers decided they had seen enough and elevated Mike Singletary to the role of interim head coach.
Not since 1976 have more coaches lost their jobs this early in the season. That year, four of the NFL's then 28 teams changed coaches in the season's opening seven games: Buffalo's Lou Saban and Detroit's Rick Forzano resigned, while Atlanta's Marion Campbell and the Giants' Bill Arnsparger were fired.
Historically speaking, replacing a head coach in midseason has changed little about the fortunes of that particular team in that particular year. Usually it has been a case of a bad team getting one coach fired, and playing just about as poorly for his replacement. But there are a few modest exceptions to the rule, as the Rams' Jim Haslett has been thus far, leading St. Louis to a 2-0 mark with upsets of Washington and Dallas after Linehan went 0-4.
In the era since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, the only instance I found where a team replaced its coach during the season and went on to make the playoffs comes with a major caveat: In 1978, the Rams fired George Allen two games into their four-game preseason, elevated Ray Malavasi to the top job, and proceeded to go 12-4 and win the NFC West.
But Gary Moeller went 4-3 and came within a Week 17 collapse against Chicago from taking the Lions to the playoffs in 2000 after Bobby Ross resigned. Don Coryell took over for Tommy Prothro after four games in San Diego in 1978, turning the team's 1-3 start into a 9-7 finish. And Raymond Berry fared decently in New England in 1984, going 4-4 in the second half after Ron Meyer lost his job for starting the year 5-3.
About the best-case scenario for a team that makes a midseason coaching correction is that by doing so it finds a good to great long-term solution by going the interim route. The way Jeff Fisher replaced Jack Pardee in Houston after 10 games in 1994. Or Cleveland's Marty Schottenheimer taking over for Sam Rutigliano after eight games in 1984. Or Wayne Fontes for Darryl Rogers after 11 games in Detroit in 1988, and Art Shell for Mike Shanahan with the Raiders early in 1989. Not to overlook the finds that were Coryell in San Diego and Berry in New England.
But for every Fisher, Coryell and Berry, there's a Hank Bullough, a Terry Robiskie, a Fred O'Connor and at least two Rick Venturi's -- interim coaches who were just there to hold down the fort and play out the schedule until an offseason coaching search could locate the team's new top man. That may or may not be the fate of Haslett in St. Louis, Tom Cable in Oakland, and Singletary in San Francisco. Only time, and the results of the regular season's final 10 weeks, will tell.
Now on to our up-to-the-minute rankings of the coaches on the hot seat:
1. Wade Phillips, Dallas -- I don't care how many "emphatically no's'' Jerry Jones issues when asked about Phillips' job security, no one's butt is roasting on a larger griddle than the Cowboys head coach's. At 4-3, Dallas has already matched last year's regular-season loss total, and given it was pretty much Super Bowl or bust for Phillips in 2008, it's not too difficult to discern where this one might be headed. Especially when you consider that Phillips' successor -- Jason Garrett -- has already been chosen and is on hand as offensive coordinator.
The way the Cowboys seemed to lay down for Phillips in St. Louis last Sunday is the most ominous sign of all. Even without injured starting quarterback Tony Romo, Dallas has too much talent to let anyone administer a beating like that. It looks like Phillips' easy-hand-on-the-wheel style is just not the right fit for this headline-loving Cowboys team.
Pink slip potential: 80 percent.