With four weeks left in the NFL regular season, the league already finds itself with two coaching vacancies for 2022 amid unusual circumstances.
The Jacksonville Jaguars fired Urban Meyer on Wednesday night, calling an abrupt end to a year filled with missteps and controversies. And in October, Jon Gruden resigned from his position with the Las Vegas Raiders after The New York Times and Wall Street Journal revealed his past usage of racist, homophobic and misogynistic language in emails.
It’s a good bet, however, that more openings could open up – and possibly in short order. With the NFL approving a new rule allowing for head-coaching candidates to be interviewed in the last two weeks of the season, teams have additional incentive to make moves early if they know they won’t retain their current staff.
Here’s our look at the current NFL head coaches with questionable job security entering Week 15, along with a 1-10 ranking of how hot their seat is (1 being the safest, 10 being the hottest):
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Nagy stands alone as the one figure on this list whose dismissal at the end of the season feels like a foregone conclusion. After backing into the playoffs last year courtesy of the newly expanded field, the coach already entered 2021 having exhausted any good will following the offense’s extended struggles throughout the tail end of the failed Mitchell Trubisky project. Nagy’s fourth year has gone off the rails, with 4-9 Chicago already having sealed his first losing campaign and the 31st-ranked offense floundering throughout the season.
Hot seat ranking: 9. Even though rumors of his imminent dismissal around Thanksgiving proved untrue, Nagy appears to be winding down his time in Chicago. The Bears made a big swing by trading their 2022 first-round draft pick to move up for quarterback Justin Fields this year, and it would be borderline reckless to bring Nagy back given Fields’ stunted development (57.6% completion rate, six touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 11 games). The real intrigue rests with whether the Bears opt for a full reset by also firing general manager Ryan Pace.
Take your pick of oddities to frame Minnesota’s bizarre 6-7 run so far. There was the loss to the otherwise winless Detroit Lions. The Vikings followed that up with a narrow escape against the Pittsburgh Steelers to avoid blowing a 29-point lead, which would have marked the biggest regular-season collapse in NFL history. And while Minnesota has held a lead of at least six points in every game this season, it still finds itself out of the projected NFC playoff field for now. If the Vikings miss the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since Zimmer’s arrival in 2014, the grumblings for sweeping changes could grow louder.
Hot seat ranking: 6.5. Perhaps the various close calls – all but one game has been decided by eight points or fewer – and COVID-19 hiccups could prompt some leniency for Zimmer, whose tenure ranks seventh-longest among current NFL head coaches. Or maybe Minnesota brass is of the mindset that the team has stalled out. Making a late-season surge into the playoffs could go a long way toward solidifying Zimmer’s case for a return, though the road won’t be easy with remaining showdowns against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers sandwiched by meetings against the Bears.
In most cases, a coach of a 7-6 team that has won four of its last six games and is still squarely in the wild-card hunt would be an odd choice for this list. A mere winning record, however, might not save Fangio after he went 12-20 in his first two years at the helm. Denver is tied for the second-longest active playoff drought of any NFL team at five years, and the prospects for halting that mark are bleak given the remaining slate (vs. Cincinnati Bengals, at Raiders, at Los Angeles Chargers, vs. Kansas City Chiefs).
Hot seat ranking: 6. Fangio’s fate might only be partially tied to this season. The Von Miller trade and picks Denver acquired in the deal positioned the Broncos as a major player for a big-ticket quarterback this offseason. Given that approach for a franchise that has treaded water with its passers since Peyton Manning’s retirement, general manager George Paton might not be inclined to move forward with a 63-year-old, defensive-minded coach whom he inherited. And the Broncos’ potential sale could further complicate matters.
4. David Culley, Houston Texans
Expressing confidence in a first-year coach is typically an easy move for general managers, even amid turmoil. Houston’s Nick Caserio, however, bypassed that opportunity earlier in December asked about Culley’s future, instead saying, “I’m not going to make any commentary about what’s going to happen after the season.” Given the franchise’s torn-down roster and stalemate with Deshaun Watson amid the quarterback’s trade request and litany of civil lawsuits, Culley took over a franchise mired in inauspicious circumstances. Still, 2-11 Houston has the league’s worst point differential at -179, and there hasn’t been any evident silver lining to the season.
Hot seat ranking: 4.5. Houston’s rebuild always appeared to be a multiyear effort. Caserio and others within the organization will need to decide whether they’re satisfied with the development Culley has managed given various limitations. But if the Texans were to start from scratch in 2022, it’s not clear that this job would be any more appealing than it was in January.
5. Joe Judge, New York Giants
Change is already afoot for the 4-9 Giants with former offensive coordinator Jason Garrett’s November firing. And further moves should be coming, particularly with perennial hot-seat general manager Dave Gettleman, who is already the focus of multiple reports indicating he won’t return for another campaign. But after pulling the ripcord on Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur in recent years, would the Giants really fire a third consecutive coach after two seasons or less? If Judge does make it through to 2022, he’ll be under immense pressure to achieve meaningful progress, particularly on a risk-averse offense that has been arguably the league’s most feeble since his hiring.
Hot seat ranking: 3. The best guess here is Gettleman is allowed to retire and Judge receives a stay. But forcing a head coach on an incoming general manager is always a dangerous proposition.
6. Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers
A 3-0 start has given way to a 5-8 unraveling of a season, with Carolina paying for its quarterback hubris, as Sam Darnold proved to be an insufficient starter and Cam Newton has been unable to rescue the offense as a midseason replacement. The tailspin likely isn’t sitting well with aggressive owner David Tepper, who has voiced his urgency in making the Panthers a contender and finding an answer behind center. Yet firing Rhule two years into a seven-year contract would be an outright stunning decision.
Hot seat ranking: 2.5. Rhule’s firing of offensive coordinator Joe Brady reinforced that he understands the status quo wouldn’t stand. For now, the bigger offseason question in Carolina might be whether the Panthers can find a quick fix at quarterback by acquiring a disgruntled star.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL hot seat rankings: Which coaches could be fired after Urban Meyer?
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