Time is flying by for the NFL, as the league readies for the calendar to turn from October to November in a few days. And while there are several teams dominating the league, led by the undefeated Arizona Cardinals , there are also those who can’t seem to get their act together for more than a moment at a time — if that. That’s put several head coaches on a very real hot seat as we near the midpoint of the 2021 season, and for varying reasons, with not all of their issues being created equal.
There are those who entered the season on the hot list but have long since escaped it — e.g., Mike McCarthy of the Dallas Cowboys, who sit at 5-1 entering Week 8 — but others are finding it difficult to dodge the flames. And if they can’t right their respective ships going forward, they’ll have nowhere to go but up in smoke.
Let’s take a look at the latest NFL coaching hot seat rankings.
Keep an eye on: Joe Judge, Matt Rhule
It’s tough to argue that many are on a hotter seat than Judge in 2021, depending on how you view the mood of owner John Mara, although he left little room for interpretation going into the season. Mara noted this offseason that “everyone is on the hot seat” in New York — from Judge to general manager Dave Gettleman to himself. Including himself was cute and all from a PR standpoint, but we all know owners don’t fire themselves; they fire everyone else. And considering the wild and whacky training camp the Giants had, one that included a rash of swift and unexpected retirements and at least one practice brawl , Judge isn’t exactly off to a magnificent start in his second year as an NFL head coach.
Add in the rash of preseason retirements, a 1-4 start and the recent antics of rookie first-round pick Kadarius Toney in the Cowboys ‘ throttling of the Giants in Week 5 and, well, you had to wonder if Judge is losing a handle on things in New York. He’d land a bit of course correction in the dismantling of the Carolina Panthers in Week 7, but the Giants are still only 2-5 and their next five games aren’t forgiving. Even if the Chiefs are moving in the wrong direction, they can still be formidable on any given Sunday, and the Raiders and Buccaneers have only three combined losses, plus the Giants can expect the Eagles to play them tooth and nail.
As for Rhule, well, yikes.
Having already entered the season with a lot of expectations after the first failed experiment at QB in the post-Cam Newton era — namely Teddy Bridgewater — Rhule was tasked with rebuilding Sam Darnold , and after a 3-0 start to the season, the wheels are coming off of the former first-round pick. Darnold once again looks like the Jets version of himself, and not a quarterback who can even remotely carry a team without the aid of all-world running back Christian McCaffrey . Darnold was benched in the blowout loss to, guess who, Judge and the Giants in Week 7, and the Panthers are now on a four-game losing streak that might get worse before it gets better. Having finished 5-11 in his first year with the Panthers, if Rhule doubles down with a second losing season, there will be some difficult conversations to come in Charlotte.
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5. Brian Flores, Dolphins
It was all good just a year ago for Flores, who enjoyed a 10-6 finish in his second year as head coach. That was then and this is now, though, and currently the Dolphins are back to their losing ways in 2021, and questions surrounding Flores’ future are now starting to emerge. They’ve won just one game thus far this season — the regular season opener against the New England Patriots — and even that wasn’t entirely impressive, seeing as they scored only 17 points to escape with a one-point victory. They’ve since lost six straight to fall to 1-6 on the year, and although some would blame a bit of it on the loss of Tua Tagovailoa to a rib injury, the counterpoint is that Tagovailoa is also the reason for several of the losses.
But here’s another troubling issue in Miami: they can’t stop anyone from scoring. Flores, a defensive-minded coach with a long resume of coaching up defensive players, is leading a club that allows an average of 29.6 points per game, bad enough for second-worst in the league. And considering they’re only putting up 18.1 points per game, third-worst in the NFL, it’s pretty clear why they can’t get back into the win column. Time will soon tell if they actually pull the trigger on a trade for Deshaun Watson , and if he’ll be allowed to take the field if they do trade for him, but Watson won’t fix every issue in South Florida.
If anything, he’d bring many of his own for them to deal with, in a season that’s seen Flores gone from being praised to being skewered in the course of only a year.
Next five : Bills, Texans, Ravens, Jets, Panthers
4. Vic Fangio, Broncos
No coach has double-dutched his way in and out of this list like Fangio has. He entered the season on the hot seat because of his previous failures, but hopped off after the Broncos went 3-0 to start the year. He’s now thrust back into the fire going into Week 8, though, because their loss to the Browns — without Baker Mayfield on the field — stretched their losing streak to four consecutive games. Now sitting at 3-4 on the year, their decision to trade for Bridgewater has taken center stage. There is no argument that Patrick Surtain II is the real deal, with extra cheese, but there are many who’ll never forgive Fangio and Co. for passing on a quarterback to select a cornerback, no matter who the cornerback is.
That argument in late October is moot, however, because the fact remains neither Bridgewater nor Drew Lock appear to be the answer in Denver, and until that position is sorted out, Fangio will struggle to get wins going forward. And when looking at the Broncos’ next five games, well, Fangio has his work cut out for him. Like Rhule above, Fangio finished with a 5-11 record in 2020 and now sits at 3-4 with all eyes on him to get things turned around.
If he can’t, you can bet the Broncos will start considering who might be able to in the future. They’ve not shown a lot of patience with head coaches in recent seasons, and Fangio is possibly staring at a third losing season in three tries.
Next five : Washington, Cowboys, Eagles, Chargers , Chiefs
3. Matt Nagy, Bears
The fact remains that Nagy is not a bad coach, at least not in general. But it often takes more than love to keep a marriage going, and things are getting a bit thin in the Windy City air, largely due to Nagy’s stubbornness in the face of obvious answers at the quarterback position. To be fair, Nagy did not draft Mitchell Trubisky , nor did he make a trade for Nick Foles , so don’t put those in his lap. He is responsible, however, for sticking with Trubisky as the starter for longer than he should’ve, and he would’ve done the same thing in 2021 with Andy Dalton — if not for Dalton suffering an injury early in the season.
The injury effectively forced Nagy into starting rookie first-round pick Justin Fields , but Nagy was still drooling to get Dalton back into the starting position before eventually caving to the obvious and naming Fields the starter for the remainder of the season. There is still much to sharpen with Fields, though, and things are off to a terrible start in that regard. Showing he can both protect and develop Fields will ultimately be the deciding factor on if Nagy remains head coach of the Bears much longer.
Now on a two-game losing streak, it’s paramount the Bears protect Soldier Field against the 49ers before traveling to meet the Steelers in Pittsburgh. If they can’t take at least one of those games, they’ll find themselves in a must-win against the Baltimore Ravens exiting the bye week; and that’s not what you want if you’re Nagy. And especially not with the rival Lions and currently undefeated Cardinals also on the way.
2. David Culley, Texans
Culley was able to find the fire escape on this list after an impressive win to open the regular season, but the Texans are once again back to their abysmal ways. It’s not entirely his fault, seeing as he has been without quarterback Tyrod Taylor since the Week 2 loss against the Cleveland Browns due to injury. But with Taylor spending most of this season thus far on injured reserve, it was Culley’s job to coach up the next man to win games, and it’s simply not happened. The Texans have now lost six in a row, and they show zero signs of life after scoring only eight combined points in their last two games — being thumped by both the Colts and Cardinals in the process — shortly after putting up zero points in a throttling at the hands of the Bills.
Culley says the team “needs a lift,” and that’s disheartening when it comes from the person tasked with figuring out how to provide said lift. Taylor returns to practice in Week 8, but it’s uncertain if he’ll be ready to take on the Rams , and he’ll have to hit the ground running the moment he steps back in-between the lines for the Texans, because he might be Culley’s only hope to at least make Houston appear competitive over the remainder of the season. Without Taylor, they’ve become nothing more than a scrimmage for opposing teams and, fair or not, this is the situation Culley signed on for, making it his bed to lay in — fleas and all.
There’s only one team worse than the Texans but, then again, it might be a tie.
1. Urban Meyer, Jaguars
When the Jaguars found a way to pull out a narrow win over the Dolphins in London going into their bye week, it became the first good thing Meyer has done for the organization, although it felt more attributable to Trevor Lawrence and the defense than the questionable play-calling of Meyer. Stopping a 20-game losing streak is never a bad thing, admittedly, but if you think it’s enough to get Meyer out of this No. 1 seat, you’re crazy. Given all he’s already put the Jaguars through, he’s going to need a lot more wins before his seat cools even one degree.
If there’s a blueprint for how to do everything right when taking the reins as a first-time NFL head coach, you’d have to presume there’s an antithesis that lists steps for virtually guaranteeing you’ll be fired before you get a shot at Year 2. If the latter didn’t exist before, it does now, and Meyer is the author. Anything Meyer could do wrong after joining the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, he’s either done it, is doing it or will probably get it done in the next several weeks. The Ohio party controversy was simply another feather in his controversy-dipped cap, but the dysfunction began with the hiring, defense of, and immediate firing of Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle — a man with a history of racist accusations against him.
Things continued to spiral out of control from that point to now, as the Jaguars sit at 1-5 on the year with Lawrence, a rookie, showing more composure during the winless stretch than his own coach. Meyer made things worse for himself with postgame quotes that note he “doesn’t micromanage who’s on the field” and that leadership of the team “falls on the players” as opposed to the head coach hired to lead them. He has also come under the probing of the NFLPA after a media gaffe wherein he admitted he factors COVID-19 vaccination into roster decisions.
All of this would be unacceptable behavior for a good coach, let alone one with only one win in his first six tries and whose offense and defense both rank toward the bottom of the league. Meyer has already been put on notice by owner Shad Khan, so figuring out how to stay in the win column is non-negotiable.
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