Hot seat coaches (cont.)
While teams such as Dallas and San Francisco appear almost certain to hire new coaches for 2011, Phillips and Singletary might both survive until season's end because of a lack of viable interim coaching candidates on their own staff.
Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett holds the team's assistant head coaching title, but his play-calling and body of work has drawn plenty of criticism in the past year-plus, and Jones may be reluctant to hand him the reins long enough to establish any sort of candidacy for the full-time job.
In San Francisco, Singletary's staff has few likely interim choices, perhaps outside of 44-year-old defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. Ironically, Singletary fired his most experienced assistant, offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, 64, after a Week 3 loss at Kansas City. While that move might have bought Singletary some time, it also focused the blame and accountability for the 49ers' failures squarely on his shoulders.
One NFL source I spoke with Monday said he thought Singletary would survive until season's end because the team's ownership won't be eager to remove him and leave 29-year-old team president/CEO Jed York as the guy who takes all the bullets from the media and the franchise's frustrated fans for the rest of the season. It was York, you recall, who two weeks ago predicted the 0-5 49ers would still win the NFC West and make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. So there's probably good reason to try to keep him off center stage for the next two months-plus.
Speaking of center stage, in the case of both Singletary and McDaniels, this week's trip to London for the NFL's annual international series game at Wembley Stadium is probably a welcomed chance to leave the continent for a while. The 49ers and Broncos have been disaster stories thus far this season, and Denver's 59-14 home-field loss to division rival Oakland on Sunday prompted McDaniels to apologize to team owner Pat Bowlen, the organization and its fans. The Raiders' point total was the highest in the 51-season history of the franchise.
McDaniels is now 4-13 as the Broncos head coach since starting last year with that mirage-like 6-0 getaway, and Bowlen was said to be livid with the team's embarrassment before its home crowd. Bowlen took a sizable risk in firing Mike Shanahan and hiring the 32-year-old McDaniels in early 2009, and the former Patriots offensive coordinator has done nothing lately to disprove the notion that he wasn't near ready for the job he was given.
McDaniels' fate was thought to be tied to the development of 2010 first-round pick Tim Tebow, but now it's an open question as to whether the coach will even be around in Denver when a verdict is rendered on Tebow's viability as an NFL quarterback. The most intriguing question remaining for the Broncos this season is whether McDaniels will try to save his job and the team's season by inserting Tebow into the lineup ahead of starter Kyle Orton, who has cooled off but hardly been the primary problem in Denver thus far. Unless Tebow can play defense, or single-handedly rescue the team's woeful running game, the Broncos looked doomed to a rock-bottom experience this season.
If the Broncos do turn things over to a new head coach in 2011 or sooner, he'll inherit a roster that McDaniels has vastly transformed in his two years on the job. From trading off Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, to acquiring the personnel to install a 3-4 defense, McDaniels has the team he chose to build. That means Denver's next head coach would likely face starting over from scratch, and another rebuilding of the roster.
But even the prospect of another extensive overhaul doesn't offer job security these days for an NFL head coach. As one NFL source put it to me: "That doesn't buy you time as a head coach any more. It's too much of a win-now league for that. Owners will still blow it up and start over if things get bad enough.''
For now, with their combined 4-16 record this season, Phillips, Singletary and McDaniels are staring down the darkest days of their coaching tenures. The NFL's firing season hasn't started yet, but it will commence soon enough. And chances are, with their losing numbers, their names will be among the first called.
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