The NFL has already seen its first head coach casualty this season with Washington’s Jay Gruden paying the price for a sub .500-win loss record during his time in the nation’s capital. The rate of turnover at the top position in the league is well noted with eight vacancies appearing during or at the conclusion of last season.
Who are the most likely candidates to join Gruden on the long list of former head coaches?
Dan Quinn (Atlanta Falcons)
It’ll be a shock if the former Seattle coach isn’t the next to be relieved of his duties. Despite high pre-season expectations, the Falcons currently have a 1-7 record and their defense has been woeful. The performance of that unit puts extra pressure on Quinn given that he has taken over as defensive coordinator this year, yet the defense hasn’t produced the level of play Quinn’s reputation has been built on. They have given up the second most points in the league (250 to Arizona’s 251) in addition to the sixth most yards per game.
The Falcons’ front office focused its resources primarily on the offense in the spring and summer, clearly hoping that Quinn’s coaching, and the return from injury of defensive stalwarts Deion Jones and Keanu Neal, would produce a defense that would improve on its fifth worst in the league ranking last year.
In addition, as detailed by film analyst Brett Kollman at The Film Room the Falcons’ D has been plagued by miscommunication which directly reflects on Quinn as the coordinator and head coach.
If Atlanta puts together a losing record again this year (which seems incredibly likely) to go with last year’s 7-9 record, general manager Thomas Dimitroff may decide that it is time to move on, especially with franchise quarterback Matt Ryan on the home stretch of his career.
Team owner Arthur Blank has already expressed disappointment at how this season has gone, which doesn’t bode well for Quinn.
Whilst Marrone’s team doesn’t currently possess a losing record and could sneak into the playoffs, failure to make the postseason could punch Marrone’s ticket out of Florida. The former Syracuse head coach had his high point with the team in 2017 with a 10-6 record and an AFC Championship Game berth. However, the team looks less and less likely to make it back to those heady heights, though a large part of that is linked to the loss of talent on the roster over the past few years.
Marrone’s plans for the season were derailed somewhat by the injury to offseason addition quarterback Nick Foles, though rookie Gardner Minshew has stepped in admirably. In fact, the team’s offensive performance, considering the circumstances, including ranking fifth in rushing yards per game and 10th in total offense yards per game, could help save Marrone’s job.
If Jacksonville does choose to move on it may be primarily down to two factors: Marrone’s man-management and the desire to move out of AFC mediocrity.
Whilst former star cornerback Jalen Ramsey made it clear he desired a new contract this year, his sideline confrontation with his head coach led to the lockdown defensive back requesting (and receiving) a trade away from the team. That isn’t the only public display of discontent from players, as last season running back Leonard Fournette and TJ Yeldon were publicly called out by executive vice president of football operations, Tom Coughlin, for sulking on the bench the entire game. All franchises are likely to suffer from player discontent, but it doesn’t reflect well on Marrone if those displays are so visibly on display during games.
Freddie Kitchens (Cleveland Browns)
Hopes were sky high on the shores of Lake Erie this offseason. The Browns had added talent in droves, were a desirable destination for free agents and aspiring head coaches, and finally seemed to have a franchise quarterback. Whilst many preached caution in seeing the Browns as immediate Super Bowl contenders, many probably didn’t see the season as turning out as badly as it has so far.
Kitchens got the job largely because of the work he did with Baker Mayfield in his first year in the league, yet the offense is stuck in neutral and failing to put together the fireworks many hoped for with the presence of Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry. Mayfield, in fact, is performing worse than last year: his completion percentage has dropped from 63.8% last year to 57.6% so far this season, whilst he has thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdowns.
Kitchens’ play calling has also come under question, most notably against the Rams when he called a draw play on fourth and nine in the fourth quarter. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t pay off. Another criticism levelled at the head coach has been the lack of focus on OBJ in the passing game, with the All-World receiver only accumulating 488 receiving yards and one touchdown this season.
It’s quite unlikely Kitchens will be fired after this season. Given the number of new additions to the Browns roster, it was likely to take time for this roster to gel, therefore Kitchens will probably be given at least one more year to get it right.
Safer than you think: Adam Gase (New York Jets); Vic Fangio (Denver Broncos)
Whilst the current records and performances of the Jets and Broncos give cause for concern, these two first year coaches aren’t likely to be asked to move on after this year.
Despite the lack of offensive production from the Jets, Gase was actively involved in the search for new general manager Joe Douglas. Douglas was also hired in part because of his prior experience working with Gase and its more likely ownership gives the two an offseason to work together. That seems even more so the case given reports of a disconnect between Gase and former GM Mike Maccagnan, with the head coach having free agents foisted on him that he didn’t want, such as Le’Veon Bell.
Equally Douglas won’t want to create more turmoil around young quarterback Sam Darnold, preferring to give him at least a couple of years in Gase’s system. A third straight season in a different offense could only stymie the former USC signal caller’s development.
In Colorado, Fangio might also be given more time as a result of the team’s front office. Though the Broncos’ defense, Fangio’s speciality, hasn’t performed to the expected level thus far, many of the issues with Denver are seen as emanating from the quality of talent acquired by president of football operations John Elway.
Elway swung and missed with his drafting of former Memphis QB Paxton Lynch, and this season’s future hope at the position, Drew Lock doesn’t appear ready to take the reins from the underwhelming Joe Flacco yet. The year after drafting Lynch in the first round, Elway took offensive tackle Garrett Bolles, yet he has been a penalty machine at left tackle. Ownership might want to see what Fangio can do with a greater pool of talent to coach.