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Coaching carousel continues in NFL

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Barry Wilner
December 28, 2010

Anyone who thinks the NFL has hit its quota for fired coaches should sit tight and wait about a week.


Mike Singletary became the fourth coach canned when the San Francisco 49ers cut ties Sunday, hours after losing at St. Louis to fall to 5-10. The Niners entered the season as a favorite in the NFC West, got off to an 0-5 start, and have been plagued by poor communication on the field, indecisiveness off it.


So Singletary joins Wade Phillips (Dallas), Brad Childress (Minnesota) and Josh McDaniels (Denver) among the unemployed. They soon will have company—likely lots of company.


“You know what, I’ll put it this way: a personal failure. I’m the head coach of this team and obviously wanted us to do better, felt that we could do better,” Singletary said after the game Sunday. “There are some obvious questions that I hoped would be answered as the season went on, and obviously were not answered. When that happens, you end up out of the playoffs.


“I take full responsibility for every unanswered question.”


Atop the endangered list are Carolina’s John Fox, whose team is 2-13 and has clinched the first pick in April’s draft; Marvin Lewis, who didn’t accept a contract extension with the Bengals earlier this year and appears destined to leave Cincinnati; and Gary Kubiak, whose Texans have regressed badly just when Houstonians felt secure talking about their team making the playoffs for the first time.


The way things have deteriorated in Nashville, it’s highly possible Jeff Fisher, the league’s longest-tenured coach with one franchise at 16 years, will walk.


Tony Sparano could be in jeopardy with the Dolphins, who went 1-7 in Miami; coaches who don’t win at home generally don’t keep their homes — or jobs.


Eric Mangini looked safe for a while in Cleveland, but the Browns are spiraling again and have a Super Bowl winner, Mike Holmgren, as team president. Holmgren didn’t hire Mangini, either.


Should all of them go, that would make 10 changes, equaling the bloodletting in 2006, when Kubiak and Childress were hired. Already gone from that year are Herman Edwards in Kansas City, Scott Linehan in St. Louis, Rod Marinelli in Detroit, Dick Jauron in Buffalo, Art Shell in Oakland, Mangini (then with the Jets), and Childress. Only Sean Payton in New Orleans and Mike McCarthy in Green Bay have prospered from the class of ’06.


If that many were fired, it would disprove the conventional wisdom that owners wouldn’t want to make a change mid-contract with a potential lockout looming, which would leave them paying two coaches — with nothing to coach.


There’s always the chance the ax could fall elsewhere in January, too. Perhaps Tom Coughlin isn’t all that safe with the Giants as his team plummets toward not qualifying for the playoffs with the kind of sloppy performances that, well, get coaches fired.


So who is gone and who might be going, and why?


Fired

Singletary went 8-8 in his first full season, 2009. But his waffling about his quarterbacks and his assistant coaches, along with questionable play-calling and awful game management, doomed him. Singletary has a dynamic, fiery personality, but it simply didn’t translate to head coaching.


Some suggest Childress became enamored of his power in Minnesota, and the whole Randy Moss saga indicates that. His team succeeded until this headline-filled season, in which the return of Brett Favre has been a flop, the defense lost its intimidating manner, and the locker room was torn apart.


Phillips’ voice was being tuned out by Cowboys players, which became obvious when they began showing passion and desire again under interim coach Jason Garrett, who figures to keep the position. Plus, the owner’s overwhelming presence robbed Phillips of some authority.


McDaniels’ personnel decisions sent the Broncos into a funk, and the spying incident in London involving an assistant coach exacerbated the decline. That McDaniels came off as aloof and arrogant eventually didn’t work for owner Pat Bowlen.


In the line of fire

Fox will finish out the final year of his contract Sunday, then probably walk into another job as a defensive coordinator or even a head coach. He won’t be gone for long if he wants to remain in coaching.


Lewis has a strong resume not soiled by his work in Cincinnati, as tough a place to coach as anywhere. He also might be someone’s D-coordinator in 2011.


The disappointment in Houston should center as much on the performances of Kubiak’s staff as on the head man. Bob McNair, among the most respected of NFL owners, will pay top dollar for a big-name coach.


As will Cleveland’s Randy Lerner, even though he’s shelling out so many millions for non-players already. If Holmgren has the itch to coach again, the job is his. If he wants to take a shot at Jon Gruden, Lerner should be willing.


Sparano did well in his early tenure as Dolphins coach, but this season has been a downer, particularly with the awful home record and a minus-11 turnover differential.


Fisher has two issues in Tennessee: his relationship with QB Vince Young, which is strained, to the say the least, and Young’s relationship with owner Bud Adams, which is strong. Fisher has a year left on his contract and might say he’s leaving if Young is staying. He won’t be on the sidelines very long.


As for Coughlin, if the Giants beat Washington on Sunday, they finish 10-6 and perhaps earn a wild card. His overall record in New York would be 69-50, even if they fall short of the postseason. He engineered one of the biggest upsets in NFL history in the 2008 Super Bowl, and he’s a strong judge of talent.


Would you fire him?



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