The NFL’s coaching carousel has already seen one man ejected from his horse. Jay Gruden, once good enough to make Washington not terrible, was decidedly no longer the man for that job in 2019. He was fired after an 0-5 start that dropped his career coaching record to 35-49-1.
While Gruden was an easy sacrifice to the coaching gods — he’d never won more than nine games in a season and entered the year with the shortest odds to be the first man axed this fall — he won’t be the only one. 2019 has been the backdrop to some truly awful football. Some of this has been by design, but some has been the result of undermanned rosters, poorly planned strategies, and awful execution.
The teams that fall into the latter category will be looking for new options to man their sidelines. As we saw last offseason with the Cardinals and Steve Wilks, a “this is my first year here” excuse won’t necessarily save a struggling coach. Rookie and veteran playcallers alike could wind up on the chopping block as their franchises search for a scapegoat and a fresh start.
So whose seats are growing hottest now that the 2019 season is more than halfway done?
5. Doug Marrone, Jaguars
The Jags have stayed afloat in the AFC South, but Jacksonville remains chasing its 2017 standard in a season it has yet to break through to the sunny side of .500. Marrone is just 9-16 in the season-plus since Blake Bortles stood one quarter from the Super Bowl. Another underwhelming year could convince owner Shad Khan he’s not the right man for the job.
The Jaguars have outperformed expectations on offense, surviving and occasionally thriving despite the early loss of prized free agent Nick Foles behind center. Any unexpected gains from rookie Gardner Minshew have been negated by a step back from a defense that went from a top-five unit in 2018 to a middle-of-the-road group this season. Jacksonville has given up an average of 25 points per game in its five losses. Each of its four wins have come against teams with losing records.
Marrone’s been dealt his share of setbacks, including Foles’ Week 1 collarbone injury and Jalen Ramsey’s trade request and subsequent shipping to Los Angeles. He’s also made some notable positive gains as well — he’s kickstarted Leonard Fournette’s career after two inefficient seasons and built Josh Allen into a defensive rookie of the year candidate. The toughest part of the team’s schedule is over, leaving room for a returning Foles to rally this team back to the postseason.
Marrone’s job may depend on it.
4. Pat Shurmur, Giants
Shurmur carved out some breathing room after his switch from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones at starting quarterback. That helped push New York out to 2-2 to begin the season. Those pluses have been wiped clean as the Giants have spiraled back toward the bottom of the NFC. Shurmur’s job security depends on his ability to develop general manager Dave Gettleman’s prized 2019 draft pick. In his past five games, Jones has been responsible for six interceptions and seven fumbles for a team that has ungracefully bowed out of the playoff discussion.
That lack of efficient quarterback play has torpedoed the rest of the New York offense. Saquon Barkley has only averaged three yards per carry since Shurmur made the transition from Eli Manning to Jones. Although a sprained ankle has played a role in that decreased impact, opposing defenses have had little trouble loading up the box to cut off his runs and daring Jones to torch them deep. With the exception of a four-touchdown game in a loss to the Lions, Jones has struggled to turn these opportunities into big plays.
The Giants’ defense, 28th in yards allowed, has been as bad as expected. That’s something New York can live with in a rebuilding year, but a lack of growth from Jones is not. Shurmur rebuilt his reputation as a quarterback’s best friend while coaching Sam Bradford and Case Keenum to career-best performances in Minnesota. Jones made draft prognosticators look bad through his first two starts; he’s thrown for 5.9 yards per pass in the five games since. If Shurmur can’t make Jones look more like the former than the latter, the Giants won’t have much use for him.
3. Freddie Kitchens, Browns
The Browns took a big risk by promoting Kitchens from interim offensive coordinator to head coach last offseason. While the good-natured assistant was a locker room-pleasing sign of continuity following 2018’s 5-3 finish, he’d never been hired to be a full-time coordinator at any prior stop in his coaching career.
The first half of his head coaching debut indicates he wasn’t ready for any of this. The Browns are worse in the first half of 2019 (2-6) than they were a year ago when they fired Hue Jackson (2-5-1). A defense loaded with young stars has given up 20 points or more to every team it’s faced except the hapless Jets.
Kitchens changed his offense radically to build around Odell Beckham Jr. That unit has combined for seven receiving touchdowns in eight games. He turned Baker Mayfield into a meme.
The Browns entered 2019 primed to leave their unfortunate legacy behind. Instead they’ve regressed back to the Cleveland mean; a team where potential never equals production and the playoffs are a luxury reserved for rivals. Kitchens can write a bad first half of the season off as the result of first-time mistakes — and there have been several — if he can finish his rookie campaign on a high note.
He’ll keep his job through the season at least. If he rides the Browns back to the AFC basement, however, the franchise could wind up looking for a do-over on its most recent coaching hire.
2. Dan Quinn, Falcons
The Falcons have had a former NFL MVP at quarterback for most of the season, one of the league’s most powerful 1-2 combinations at wideout between Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, and a defense built around stars like Deion Jones, Grady Jarrett, and Vic Beasley. And yet Atlanta has exactly as many wins (one) as a Dolphins team that long ago decided victory wasn’t in its best interest in 2019.
Quinn has a few weeks to show signs of life, lest his legacy as the Falcons’ head coach be defined by 28-3. His team may be this season’s biggest disappointment; Atlanta was favored to finish its season with nine wins or more back in August and is currently on pace for … two. The fifth-year coach’s response to this slow start and the loss of Matt Ryan (temporary due to an ankle injury) and Mohamed Sanu (permanently, due to a trade with the Patriots) was to shuffle up his coaching staff without firing or hiring anyone.
That’s effectively rearranging furniture in one of those mock-up homes the U.S. Army built on their old nuclear testing grounds. Five of Atlanta’s final eight games are against teams with winning records, which suggests the Falcons could at least get a top-three draft pick from a season set to end with a coaching search.
1. Adam Gase, Jets
Gase, former Dolphins coach and offensive coordinator of the Broncos and Bears, is the architect behind a Jets team that’s scored eight offensive touchdowns in eight games. His New York squad ranks 31st in points scored and 32nd in yards gained while being the only team in the league to lose a game to the tank-tastic Dolphins.
The problem goes beyond the box score. Sam Darnold, who’d piloted New York in its only win in a Week 6 victory over the Cowboys, has regressed badly since then. He’s thrown eight interceptions in his last three games, including some that make zero sense whatsoever:
Boneheaded decision here by Sam Darnold. What in the world.
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) November 3, 2019
The Jets’ dysfunction hasn’t been limited to just what’s happened on the field, either. Gase was reportedly unhappy with the team’s decision to sign Le’Veon Bell last offseason — a move made by former general manager Mike Maccagnan, who would be fired months later. He’s made that a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Bell has seen his usage plummet under his new head coach and been entirely average in green and white. The team also alienated Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams in the run-up to the trade deadline by listening to trade offers for him.
Just about everything about the Jets is a mess. Removing Gase from the mix would clear some of the debris for a club that’s still trying to figure out exactly where the foundation it should build on is located. The first-year coach could get another chance to replicate the dizzying success he’d found as head coach of the Dolphins (final record: 23-25). But it’s more likely 2019 winds up being a total write-off for New York.