NFLTR Review: Coaching Hot Seat Temperature Check

A staggering 10 coaches were fired or resigned last year. Who’s on the hot seat in 2022?

  • Two obvious names, three not-so-obvious
  • 10 thoughts on the eve of the 2022 season
  • Plus picks for end-of-year awards

The Big Picture: Coaches On The Hot Seat

The coaching cycle always churns relentlessly as impatient NFL owners search for quick fixes to their multi-billion dollar pet projects. Yet it was even more out of control than usual this past firing cycle. Ten new head coaches, nearly a third of the league, will be entering their first year with their respective franchises in 2022. Three of their predecessors re-signed. Two of them departed amidst scandal, two were fired after just one year on the job.

All told, the past two years have seen nearly half the league’s coaches turn over. Don’t expect that to slow down the next firing cycle by much, however. Ten is highest number of new coaches we’ve seen in years, but history tells us we should expect another four heads on the chopping block — at least — by the end of this season. 

Some names are obvious. Others are a little less so. We can divide the NFL’s 32 coaches into six groups with varying degrees of danger: 

The Hot Seat:

  • Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy
  • Panthers HC Matt Rhule

Both McCarthy and Rhule caught a fair amount of heat at the end of last season, as the Cowboys were embarrassed in a playoff upset in the divisional round, shattering real Super Bowl hopes, while the Panthers seemed to stall out in the second year of Rhule’s rebuilding plan. Both avoided being fired but it seemed like only narrowly. That margin for error is gone this season. 

For the Cowboys, they still have quite a bit of talent on the roster, enough to where they ought to still be a playoff team even if there are signs that point toward Dallas taking a step back in 2022. The expectation from owner Jerry Jones is for his team to always be in the mix to contend for a Super Bowl, so he’s only going to be as loyal as his options — which is why it’s notable former Saints HC Sean Payton is potentially available to return to the coaching ranks as soon as next season. 

Even if Payton doesn’t make his broadcast career a one-year flirtation, the Cowboys should still have options. They think highly of DC Dan Quinn and were able to keep him in Dallas despite significant coaching interest from other teams. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has also drawn interest. Someone Jones thinks highly of from another team could also shake free. And in the end, McCarthy could still hold onto his job, it just feels like he needs to make the playoffs at a minimum to do so. 

A playoff berth would also likely save Rhule. At Temple and Baylor, Year 3 was when Rhule’s programs started to hit their groove, and Panthers owner David Tepper decided to give Rhule a third season in Carolina to try and prove himself. Tepper’s ego and the significant money still left on Rhule’s seven-year, $62 million contract also probably played a role. 

Regardless, Rhule enters the 2022 season trying to prove his “Process” can work at the NFL level. The results have been underwhelming so far. The team has gradually improved parts of the roster, but Rhule’s inability to solve the quarterback position or even come up with a coherent plan to address the position has tanked the past two seasons. They’ve cycled through Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, Newton again and now Baker Mayfield, foregoing a chance at either Justin Fields or Mac Jones last year and using a third-round pick on QB Matt Corral this year. 

Add it all up and it looks like the Panthers are just throwing stuff against the wall and hoping something sticks. The best thing you can say is they’ve wisened up and are making cheaper/better bets this year. Is Mayfield good enough to save Rhule’s job? We’re about to find out but I’m skeptical.

Warming Up: 

Reich and Rivera are two of the most well-liked and widely-respected coaches in the league while Kingsbury had the Cardinals at the top of the NFC halfway through last season. Their presence here shows just how competitive and results-oriented the league is and why there’s so much coaching turnover. On the surface, all three should be safe. But if their teams finish with a losing record or miss the playoffs, what happens? 

For Reich and the Colts, owner Jim Irsay has already made it abundantly clear that a repeat of this past season won’t fly. Indianapolis flopped in the season finale in a win-and-get-in game against the Jaguars, whose fans were dressed in clown costumes to protest the team’s incompetency. Irsay’s rage after that loss has become legendary. He truly likes and believes in Reich, and the Colts are set up well to rebound in 2022. But the AFC is brutally competitive, and Irsay’s uncompromising expectations are for the Colts to compete. If they miss the postseason again, Reich just has to hope for mercy. 

Rivera is going into his third season in Washington with seven wins in each of the past two seasons. That was good enough for a playoff berth in 2020, not so much in 2021 or most other seasons. There’s another level Rivera and the Commanders are hoping to reach, a level they need better play at quarterback to access. 

Time will tell if their trade for Carson Wentz works out. Given this is Wentz’s third team in as many seasons, the odds don’t look good. Another seven or eight-win season seems like a real possibility, at which point you’re looking at three years of no progress under Rivera. Owner Dan Snyder has had a quicker hook for far less in the past. 

What works in Rivera’s favor is he’s a high-character individual for a franchise that desperately needed a complete culture reset when he arrived. Firing him would generate some negative PR for a team that still finds a way to be steeped in it. Is that enough to give him a fourth season if the Commanders disappoint in 2022? It might depend on how involved Snyder is with the team at that point. 

As for Kingsbury, he just signed a big contract extension this offseason, along with GM Steve Keim, after leading the Cardinals to an 11-6 record and playoff appearance. Arizona started out 8-1 and looked like the best team in the NFC. However, in what’s become an all too familiar pattern, the Cardinals faded down the stretch. In three seasons, Kingsbury’s record in September and October is 15-8-1. His record in the other months is 9-16. 

In 2022, the Cardinals have been one of the most popular picks as a team to take a step back because of a number of red flags. They not only have to deal with getting the second-half struggle monkey off their back, they have to manage without WR DeAndre Hopkins for the first game of the season. The roster is worse than it was a year ago, and while they just inked QB Kyler Murray to a big-money deal, the infamous homework clause continued what’s been an oddly contentious relationship in the past several months. 

The money handed out to Kingsbury, Keim and Murray says the Cardinals ought to be in rock-solid shape. But the feeling around the Cardinals is they’re a house of cards, ready to collapse. Perhaps sooner than expected. 

A Year Away, At Worst:

  • Browns HC Kevin Stefanski
  • Chargers HC Brandon Staley
  • Eagles HC Nick Sirianni
  • Jets HC Robert Saleh
  • Falcons HC Arthur Smith
  • Lions HC Dan Campbell

All of these coaches, whether through their performance or lack of time on the job or both, should have accumulated enough equity to survive a bad season. The final five were just hired last season and have completed their first year with their respective teams. Staley and Sirianni had winning records; Saleh, Smith and Campbell did not but their messaging has indicated that’s not the expectation in 2022. Progress is. That’s a little nefarious to define, but avoiding double-digit losses and staying mathematically alive for a playoff spot into December would be good for all three. Fall short of that, and they’re probably in more trouble for next year’s list. 

Expectations are a lot higher for Staley and Sirianni. Missing the playoffs in some ways would be worse for them than it would the other three coaches because they set the bar so high in Year 1. Their jobs should still be safe but the wildcard is once again Payton. A report linked him to the Chargers, and if the shine wears off of Staley, that’s a possibility that can’t be entirely dismissed. 

Stefanski’s case is unique. He’s entering his third season in charge of the Browns and already snapped a decades-long playoff drought. He also has a ready-made excuse if the 2022 season goes poorly given star QB Deshaun Watson is suspended for 11 games. Things would have to go really downhill for his job to be in danger this year. 

A bad season could really warm up his seat, though. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the relationship between Stefanski and Mayfield was on the rocks and that’s partially why the latter is in Carolina now. Mayfield is a notoriously big personality, but Watson just forced his way out of Houston and signed a fully-guaranteed contract that reverses the usual power dynamic between NFL player and coach.

If the marriage between Watson’s skill set and Stefanski’s scheme doesn’t go well — and there are reasons to believe it’s not a clean fit — who do you think the Browns are getting rid of? 

First-Year Coaches: 

Normally this group would be safe, but as evidenced last season, first-year firings happen. Since 2015, it’s happened five times with the average record for the coaches being about three wins. Any time a team is that bad, all bets are off.

However, teams like the Giants and Bears seem to understand they’re entering long rebuilds, and while three wins would be a disappointment, Eberflus and Daboll should have some leash to work with. Expectations are higher for other teams like the Broncos, Raiders, Buccaneers and Saints, with all four expected to immediately compete for the playoffs and a division title if not the Super Bowl (you can argue whether or not that’s fair for the Saints but that’s how they’ve operated this offseason). Missing the playoffs probably wouldn’t be a death knell, however. 

Two interesting spotlight cases are the Texans and the Dolphins. Houston was one of the teams to fire its coach after just one season, letting David Culley go. Culley was a bit of a surprise hire in the first place as the Texans have had issues attracting candidates. He emerged late in the process last year. This year, Smith was hired after once again emerging as a dark horse late in the interview process.

Firing another coach after just one season, especially another Black coach given the NFL’s well-publicized struggles with diversity in hiring, would be an awful, awful look. But it can’t be ruled out if the candidate the Texans really want is out there. They’ve interviewed Josh McCown in each of the past two seasons and there are persistent rumors connecting the two sides even though McCown’s coaching experience is currently limited to just high schoolers. There might be other connections with the Patriots that GM Nick Caserio wants to lean on. 

As for the Dolphins, they’re another team where the specter of Payton looms large. Even if the early signs on McDaniel are positive, Miami has a tough schedule and the AFC is loaded. It would be a huge shock for the Dolphins to fire McDaniel after just one year and go for Payton but this is a team obsessed with making a splash. They were interested enough in Payton to tamper with him just months ago. The specific circumstances here make this scenario seem less far-fetched than you’d think at first. 


The cream of the crop. Proven winners — and Zac Taylor. I kid a little bit, but while Taylor’s resume isn’t yet on par with the rest of this list, getting the Bengals to the Super Bowl will buy him job security for a long, long time. This is a team that held onto Marvin Lewis for 16 seasons without a playoff win. 

No one else on the rest of the list is in any danger of getting fired. The Seahawks just chose Carroll over Russell Wilson and he’ll have the chance to guide another rebuild. Tomlin is underrated somehow and the Steelers would be stupid to fire him even if his streak of non-losing seasons is broken this year. 

If anyone from this list isn’t coaching in 2023, it’s for other reasons. McVay flirted a bit with leaving for a TV job this offseason but it seems like he’s locked in for a few more seasons, at least as long as QB Matthew Stafford and DT Aaron Donald are still in Los Angeles. Belichick and Carroll are both 70 and the league’s oldest coaches, but neither has shown any signs of seriously contemplating retirement. Same for Reid, who’s a few years behind them at 64. 

This Week In Football

  • There’s technically no rule stopping teams from negotiating extensions during the season but it’s a lot easier for both the team and player to get it done early to avoid distractions. That turns Week 1 into a deadline and there were a number of deals that were closed in the past few days. The biggest was the four-year, $53.6 million extension the Bills gave TE Dawson Knox. He had a terrific 2021 campaign with nine touchdown catches and the 25-year-old seems primed for an even bigger year in 2022. At $13.4 million per season, Knox is No. 6 among all tight ends. That could look low in a few months but Knox had already bought a house in Buffalo and made it clear staying with the Bills was important to him. 
  • There were a handful of other notable deals as well. The Cardinals signed S Jalen Thompson — a former supplemental draft selection — to a three-year deal billed as $40 million in value. Thompson isn’t a big name at safety outside of Arizona but he’s a solid starter. The Rams locked up RT Rob Havenstein ahead of Thursday night to a three-year, $34.5 million deal, which is eminently reasonable for a solid starter. And the Saints inked starting C Erik McCoy to a five-year, $63.75 million deal. At just shy of $13 million a year, that puts McCoy at No. 4 among all centers in the league. That might be a little steep for a player who has yet to make a Pro Bowl but McCoy does have the potential to make this look like a good deal for New Orleans. 
  • More deals are probably on the way. There’s a ton of optimism that the Raiders and TE Darren Waller can get something done before Sunday. They’ve been in talks all summer as Waller has dramatically outplayed his former deal. When Waller gets a new contract to sign, the odds are good it resets the tight end market. Things have been a lot quieter regarding Colts G Quenton Nelson but that’s another massive deal that could come down the pipe before the weekend is out. 
  • The big whale in contract talks is Ravens QB Lamar Jackson. However, there’s a lot of pessimism regarding the chances of this deal getting done. His deadline was Friday and barring something miraculous this evening, that looks like it will pass. So what’s the holdup? The consensus seems to be Jackson is looking for more guaranteed money than the Ravens are willing to hand over right now, with the full $230 million in guarantees the division-rival Browns gave Watson looming large. Jackson doesn’t have much recourse this year but as we outlined last week, if he’s willing to play out this year and next year on the franchise tag and does well, the leverage will swing back in his direction. Assuming he plays well. 
  • Veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders was drafted by the Steelers but when the time came for him to retire this week, it was the Broncos who were closest to his heart given he spent six seasons there and won a Super Bowl. Sanders signed a one-day contract this week to retire with the Broncos, ending a really good career. There hasn’t been an official announcement from former Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald but given he hasn’t played since 2020 and just joined ESPN’s Monday Night Football pregame show, I think it’s safe to say he’s done. He’s eligible for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2026 and it’s probably safe to say he won’t have to wait to be inducted. 

10 Thoughts To Go Into 2022

With the Bills’ 31-10 win over the Rams kicking off the 2022 season, here are 10 thoughts as we head into the rest of the Week 1 slate: 

1- Don’t be surprised when the Packers finish with a top five defense

Green Bay has quietly finished as a top 10 defense in yards allowed each of the past two seasons, which you wouldn’t necessarily figure given the narrative around the team. They’ve been overshadowed by the fireworks on the other side of the ball. So projecting them to jump into the top five isn’t a huge leap. But it’s notable considering the talent they’ve added on that side of the ball. 

They get star CB Jaire Alexander back after he missed most of last season and he’ll team up with CBs Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas to form one of the league’s best trios at the position. Rashan Gary seems poised to take a big step forward as a fearsome presence on the edge, and Green Bay fortified the interior by signing DT Jarran Reed and drafting DT Devonte Wyatt. All-Pro LB De’Vondre Campbell is back and the Packers spent another first-round pick on an athletic freak in Quay Walker to play next to him. 

As long as this group stays reasonably healthy, they could be in for another outstanding season. 

2 – The injury just delays the inevitable for Zach Wilson

Making big takeaways from the preseason will bite you in the rear more often than not. But in his few snaps of preseason action, the Jets quarterback looked an awful lot like the scattershot, mistake-prone version he was as a rookie. We just don’t often see rookies play that poorly and bounce back to productive careers. It’s too early for the Jets to pull the plug on Wilson, but it’s not too early for me. 

Before the knee injury, Wilson and the Jets were looking at a brutal early-season gauntlet, especially in terms of opposing defenses. Joe Flacco will steer the ship and take any beatings against the Ravens, Bengals and Browns, with Wilson potentially back in Week 4 against the Steelers. That might not help him, however, as the contrast against how well the offense ran when Flacco played last year was just another example of Wilson’s rookie struggles. 

3 – There’s no way Matt Patricia, offensive coordinator, goes well, right? 

If any other coach in the league were trying to execute Belichick’s plan for his offense in 2022, it’d be the biggest running joke in football. His legendary credentials have bought him some benefit of the doubt, even as the team’s offense has muddled through training camp, joint practices and the preseason. 

You can’t hide in Week 1, though. The Patriots start the season off at Miami, at Pittsburgh, home against the Ravens and at Green Bay. Things could get ugly, especially because Belichick has been known in the past to treat the first month of the season like an extended preseason to tinker and get schemes and personnel right. That might have worked better when Tom Brady was willing the Patriots to wins, though. 

4 – Is this the year Tomlin’s streak is broken?

The Steelers hired Tomlin as their head coach in 2007. In the years since, Tomlin has never finished with a losing record. The closest he’s come is 8-8, which he pulled off three times including one season where he platooned between Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges

Mitch Trubisky and eventually Kenny Pickett are better than that duo, and if things go really really wrong Rudolph is also still in Pittsburgh. The defense should be good and there are some weapons on offense. And while the AFC is stacked this year, Pittsburgh has the benefit of playing the AFC East and NFC South in the schedule rotation. Keeping the streak alive won’t be easy but it’s absolutely within reach. 

5 – We probably should be more worried about the 49ers offensive line

There’s a decent chance the 49ers have four new starters in Week 1 outside of LT Trent Williams, as RT Mike McGlinchey is banged up. Even when he comes back, the interior of the line is in major flux. Laken Tomlinson and Alex Mack are gone, while Daniel Brunskill has been hurt. Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel and fourth-round rookie Spencer Burford are the current expected starting trio. 

That group had its fair share of growing pains during the preseason, and the elephant in the 49ers’ offensive meeting room is that this is QB Trey Lance’s first year as a starter with huge expectations. San Francisco gave up a fortune to get Lance and the team sees itself as a Super Bowl contender. And while Lance is more mobile than veteran Jimmy Garoppolo, the latter knows Shanahan’s offense better and probably will get rid of the ball faster. Shanahan will want to make things as easy as possible for his young quarterback but if the line is leaky, that could complicate things. 

6 – The Panthers have an opportunity to make the playoffs, I just have no faith they can capitalize on it

Last November, the Panthers went into Arizona and thumped the Cardinals, who had been on top of the NFC just a couple of weeks earlier, by a score of 34-10. That brought Carolina to 5-5 with three games against teams with losing records next on the schedule. They lost all three plus the next four to finish the season on an 0-7 losing streak. They were in the mix and fell flat on their face. 

A lot of people have picked the Panthers as a surprise team in 2022. They’ve looked at the roster, looked at what Mayfield has done in the past when he’s been healthy and looked at how wide open the NFC is this year. And it’s true, Carolina has an opportunity, just like they did last year. And just like last year, my hunch is Rhule isn’t the right coach to be able to capitalize on the opening. 

7 – The Eagles are 2022’s most interesting team

I have no idea what’s going to happen with the Eagles this year. I think they’re going to be pretty good. They’re really strong on both lines of scrimmage, which is usually a formula for winning football. The trade for WR A.J. Brown gives them a bonafide No. 1 wideout and they have some other talented guys at the skill positions as well. Philly also fortified the secondary, their biggest weakness last season, with CB James Bradberry and S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

But in the end, the key is going to be what it always is in the NFL: the quarterback. Jalen Hurts has taken some big steps in his first two years and if he takes another one, watch out for the Eagles. That Super Bowl hype might not end up being ridiculous after all. However, there are some trap doors with this team beyond Hurts. They’re gonna rely heavily on older players in the secondary and that’s not a position that ages well. 

8 – I’m all in on a big year for the Ravens

First of all, they’re getting healthier after being one of the most injury-ravaged teams in football. Second, this is a huge season for Jackson and I’m betting he steps up to the plate with a monster season. Third, they’re still one of the most solid rosters top to bottom in football, with a terrific head coach in Harbaugh and a solid coaching staff around him. Fourth, they get a last-place schedule, which means games against the Giants and Jaguars. That ought to boost their win total a little compared to some other teams in the AFC. 

9 – Russell Wilson has as much riding on this season as any other player in football

An ESPN article detailing the genesis of the split between Wilson and the Seahawks this week made it abundantly clear Wilson felt Seattle was holding him back and the Seahawks felt like Wilson’s contract was about to be holding them back. The Broncos gave Wilson everything he wanted: weapons, protection, a scheme built around him and a massive extension. Now it’s up to Wilson to deliver. 

The veteran has been a little Jekyll and Hyde the past couple of seasons — racing out of the gates in 2020 before faltering down the stretch, then battling through one of the worst stretches of his career in 2021 after a finger injury. The Seahawks saw that as signs of Wilson’s deterioration. And it’s true, he’s not the same player he was 10 years ago or even five. But Wilson and the Broncos believe he’s still capable of elite quarterback play, and it’s up to them to prove it in 2022. 

10 – 2022 Award picks

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