NFL's firing season hasn't started, but it will commence soon enough
At 1-5, the Cowboys' Wade Phillips may be NFL coach in most danger
Josh McDaniels, Mike Singletary among other coaches on hot seat
Labor situation, lack of interim options are reasons for owners to hang tight
With the underachieving, last-place Cowboys slipping to 1-5 and losing starting quarterback Tony Romo to a broken collarbone in their 41-35 prime-time loss to the visiting Giants on Monday night, Dallas's Wade Phillips might have just vaulted to the top spot on the list of NFL head coaches who won't be asked back in 2011.
That is, if he even makes it that long. After all, Phillips has a unique experience with the whole interim head coaching assignment, having served as one for two NFL teams -- the 1985 Saints and 2003 Falcons. While Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has repeatedly said there won't be any midseason coaching change in Dallas this year, Phillips' job security looks bleak from any vantage point. (Even the requisite website pleading with Jones to "Fire Wade Phillips'' has been started).
The Cowboys entered this year having amassed more regular-season wins than any other NFC team in the past three seasons (33-15), and seemingly the entire organization talked boldly of its intention to become the first team to ever play a Super Bowl on its own home field next February.
But with the season in tatters in Dallas, the final 10 games of the year might wind up being little more than a death watch for Phillips and his four-year tenure as Cowboys head coach. Especially if Romo is sidelined for the next six to eight weeks, as expected. Just last week, following his team's loss at Minnesota, Jones himself said: "We don't have a replacement for Tony [Romo]. I know we'll go as far as Tony will take us.''
After watching backup Jon Kitna struggle Monday night against the Giants, I'm guessing even Jones didn't know how right he was (and probably wishes for once he wasn't).
But Phillips is far from alone as Halloween approaches and the 2010 season starts to take a turn for the worse in various NFL venues. Joining him on anyone's short list of coaches who are now on the hot seat are names like:
Denver's Josh McDaniels (2-5 so far in 2010)
San Francisco's Mike Singletary (1-6)
San Diego's Norv Turner (2-5)
Jacksonville's Jack Del Rio (3-4)
Carolina's John Fox (1-5)
Chicago's Lovie Smith (4-3).
To a slightly lesser degree, the heat is also on:
Cleveland's Eric Mangini (2-5)
Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis (2-4)
Houston's Gary Kubiak, should his 4-2 Texans again falter and fail to make the playoffs.
Seven weeks into the regular season, there have been no NFL head coaches fired, but history indicates that's likely to change. Only three times in the past dozen seasons (1998-2009) has there not been at least one midseason coaching dismissal, and between the post-merger years of 1970-1992, only twice did the league's entire head coaching contingent make it through a season unscathed.
The last time the NFL featured no in-season coaching changes was 2006, but after the close of that year, big names like Marty Schottenheimer, Bill Parcells, Bill Cowher, Dennis Green, Nick Saban, Jim Mora and Art Shell left the league's head coaching ranks. Last year, Buffalo canned Dick Jauron nine games into the season, and in 2008, Oakland's Lane Kiffin and St. Louis's Scott Linehan were fired in Week 5, with San Francisco's Mike Nolan following them out the door in Week 8.
A few potentially meaningful caveats, however, are worth mentioning when assessing this year's hot-seat watch. Some league sources I talked to think this may be one of those rare years with no in-season coaching changes due to a confluence of factors. For starters, the league's looming labor situation has cast an air of uncertainty over the 2011 season and might deter some owners from making a coaching move in anticipation of next spring's lockout.
That sounds reasonable enough because most owners are clearly reticent to make sizable new financial commitments in light of the expiring collective bargaining agreement. But other league sources say they expect it'll be business as usual on the coaching front, with seven or eight jobs opening after the season concludes and those vacancies being filled well before a lockout would begin. With the NFL's 2011 draft coming in April, lockout or no lockout, coaching staffs and preparations for next season will have to be in place even if the offseason is atypical in most every other way.