If ever there were a reason to give NFL coaches the benefit of the doubt, the Year of the Pandemic would be it. But here we are, not quite three full weeks into the season, and the list of people potentially on the chopping block is already lengthy. If the Atlanta Falcons and/or the New York Jets start the carnage, there is no telling where it will stop. And Dan Quinn and Adam Gase certainly look like they could be the first to go.
In-season firings are rare for NFL coaches
There is minimal upside to firing a coach during the NFL season, yet it has happened 85 times since 1970, according to a summary by Woelfel’s Press Box. Ownership may change over the decades, but some franchises have been more willing than others to change coaches in midseason. The Saints have done it six times, and the Falcons, Bills, Colts, Chargers, and Titans have done it five times apiece.
Only two teams resorted to such a drastic measure in 2019. The Washington Football Team sacked Jay Gruden after an 0-5 start, and the Carolina Panthers freed up Ron Rivera’s future after a 5-7 mark at the three-quarters pole.
The No. 1 reason owners and general managers are reluctant to make changes during the season is simple: The pool of long-term replacements is thin because other teams aren’t going to let go of their hotshot coordinators while presumably still in the playoff hunt. The remaining options are:
- Hiring from the retread rosters consisting mostly of guys who were fired the past year or two. They’re easy to find. Just observe who’s sitting at the desk on the networks’ weekly pregame shows or morning talk shows.
- Hiring from the college ranks, although owners should probably question the character of anyone willing to leave an FBS job in midseason.
- Making an interim hire from the remaining staff.
Invariably, the jobs do get filled from within and on an interim basis. The real search begins the day after the season ends.
The New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons may be ready to move now
The COVID-19 pandemic did a number on offseason preparations across the league, particularly on first-year staffs trying to install new schemes while making wholesale roster changes. Having training facilities shuttered slowed the process. Only Mike McCarthy in Dallas inherited some semblance of a team as one of the league’s five new coaches.
Adam Gase is 0-3 in his second season with the New York Jets and was the first coach to feel the heat in 2020. Jets fans have been miserable for years, a good indicator that they should be pointing a finger at ownership as much as coaching.
Gase’s is working on a short leash because he coached the Miami Dolphins from 2016-18 and didn’t make them markedly better during a time in which playing the Jets and Bills twice a year should have been good for three wins right off the bat. Against all odds, he is no longer first on fans’ hit list.
Fresh off blowing a 20-0 lead against the Cowboys to lose at the gun, the Atlanta Falcons rolled over in the fourth quarter of Week 3 against the Chicago Bears. Shannon Sharpe of Fox Sports got an early start on lambasting Quinn and might be right. Lest we forget, the sixth-year coach also has a Super Bowl meltdown against the New England Patriots on his record.
Wrote Bobby Burack on Outkick: “If it weren’t for Matt Patricia, Quinn would be ashamed to show his face on Instagram.”
Other NFL coaches are in trouble already
Dan Quinn’s problems in Atlanta help mask the Detroit Lions’ woes under third-year coach Matt Patricia. They opened by surrendering three fourth-quarter TDs to the Chicago Bears in a 27-23 loss. Then, the Lions raced to a 14-3 lead against Green Bay before getting steamrolled.
Beating Arizona in Week 3 buys him a brief respite, but Patricia inherited a nine-win team and proceeded to coach the Lions to six wins in his first season and then three wins in 2019, when Detroit blew four more double-digit leads. Again, fans should be asking hard questions about ownership.
“You look at Calvin Johnson; left early. Why? He wanted to. You look at Barry Sanders left early. Why? He wanted to. He wanted out of that losing,” Fox Sports analyst Terry Bradshaw said. “You’ve got to change everything inside, and it starts with the owners making the right decision with the general manager and a head coach, and don’t go to New England. The only one up there that can coach is Bill Belichick.”
Last but not least is Bill O’Brien of the Houston Texans. O’Brien’s exit at Penn State after two seasons of the post-Joe Paterno rebuild created hard feelings, but Texans fans won’t be nearly as upset to see him go.
Some might give O’Brien the benefit of the doubt over an 0-3 start against the Chiefs, Ravens, and Steelers. Doing so after blowing a 21-0 lead vs. Kansas City in last season’s AFC playoffs and then getting so little in return for DeAndre Hopkins postpones the inevitable.
Add O’Brien to the list of coaches who shouldn’t send their laundry out on the Monday of their bye week, because they might be around to get it back on Tuesday.