The NFL has become a league that involves constant change at the head coaching position due to the added pressure of needing to win. This has, in many ways, made it a coaching carousel each year, resulting in handfuls of new vacancies because expectations were not met. This has also made having job security quite scarce around the league, with immediate results making a bigger impact than ever before. With that said, here are the three most shocking firings from the 2015 season.
3. Tom Coughlin
It’s certainly difficult to call firing a head coach who has missed the playoffs in six out of the last seven years surprising, but Tom Coughlin has been on the hot seat for the last few seasons and seemingly continued to steady the ship enough to last another year. The front office just never appeared to be on the hinges of pulling the trigger on one of the most winningest coaches in franchise history until after the completion of the 2015 season.
Coughlin had established himself with the Giants as being a players’ coach who knew how to communicate with his players despite the significant age gap between them. This helped him achieve success with New York, earning eight playoff wins that ties him with Bill Parcells for the most in team history. More importantly, he’s one of only 13 coaches to win multiple Super Bowl wins. Coughlin brought stability to the Giants and always had them in playoff contention with five postseason appearances, three NFC East titles, and eight seasons finishing with a .500 or better record.
The Giants were never a dominant team, but they were nearly always competitive with Coughlin. What makes this more surprising than anything is that the organization finally parted ways with him. In truth, the team is currently experiencing its most difficult stretch in quite some time, finishing with a losing record in each of the last three years, which hadn’t happened to the franchise since suffering eight straight losing seasons from 1973 to 1980.
2. Chip Kelly
Entering the 2015 season, there were plenty of high expectations surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles due to the major roster changes that head coach Chip Kelly had executed prior to his third year with the team. He dealt away star running back LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso. He moved his starting quarterback Nick Foles to the Los Angeles Rams for oft-injured quarterback Sam Bradford.
There were also some notable decisions in free agency that included letting Jeremy Maclin sign with the Kansas City Chiefs and adding a pair of starting running backs in DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. These moves sparked plenty of conversation about Kelly’s status with the team, but at the same time they had many experts picking them as the favorite to win the NFC East. However, the revamped roster struggled to find any consistency throughout the season.
Bradford had difficulty finding any comfort in Kelly’s fast-paced offense as he experienced many more valleys than peaks in his first year with the Eagles. Murray couldn’t find his footing running the ball and even fell to third on the depth chart late in the season. Despite all of this, the Eagles remained in contention for the division title with three weeks left in the season because they had the benefit of playing in one of the worst divisions in the league.
This made the decision to fire Kelly reasonable, but what was shocking about the situation was the timing of it, as team owner Jeff Lurie decided to fire him with one game to go in the season. Prior to the move, there weren’t any signs that he would be relieved of his duties before the end of the year. It was the first time under Lurie’s watch that he’s fired a head coach prior to the end of the season. The writing may have been on the wall for Kelly; the shocking part is that he was fired before the end of the season.
1. Lovie Smith
There was no firing more surprising than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ decision to let go of head coach Lovie Smith in just his second season with the team. General manager Jason Licht stated that the move was made based on what he believed to be a lack of progress, but the Buccaneers saw their win total triple from two to six and were in playoff contention in early December, holding a 6-6 record.
This is certainly something that couldn’t be said a season prior when the team was essentially the laughing stock of the league, finishing with the worst record. It was a huge step forward in Smith’s second year, which saw promising things out of Jameis Winston as the season progressed, throwing for over 200 yards in seven out of his last eight games of the season and tossing 12 touchdown passes over that stretch.
Winston also quickly established great chemistry with second-year wideout Mike Evans, who set career highs in catches (74) and receiving yards (1,206) despite dealing with a nagging groin injury for much of the year. Doug Martin recaptured his Pro Bowl form after two subpar seasons, finishing second in the league in rushing behind Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson with 1,402 yards on 4.9 yards per carry along with six rushing touchdowns, a league-best 14 rushes of 20-plus yards, and a third-place finish in runs that gave the team a first down (61).
However, what appeared to be his undoing in Tampa Bay was the team’s defensive problems over the first two campaigns under him. Although the Buccaneers ranked 10th in total defense in 2015, they allowed the sixth-most points per game (26.1) and gave up the third-highest third down conversation rate (46.0).
This, along with missing the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season, made it rational in the minds of ownership to cut ties with their head coach after just two seasons. There certainly appeared to be encouraging things developing under Smith, but that’s something that won’t have the chance to come to fruition now with the Buccaneers deciding to go in another direction.