It is no position in which one wants to be found, but failing to elevate an NFL football team as a leader is often inevitable. There is some gray area from coach to coach and situation to situation so we have included a ‘temperature check’ with each struggling leader taking several factors into account. Five flames indicates imminently getting fired and, of course, one flame denotes just slight uncertainty. Let’s look at some coaches who are feeling the heat and examine their potential saving grace if any.
NFL Coaching Temperature Checks
Temperature Check: 4.5 flames
Team Record: 11-26
The Panthers, after moving on from current Commanders coach Ron Rivera, had hearts in their eyes when looking at Matt Rhule. The former Baylor coach had a phenomenal 2019 season with the Bears and finished with an 11-3 record (bouncing back from a 7-6 season a year prior). His college win percentage was .522 whereas he currently sits at a bleak .294.
There have been problems on all sides of the ball with minor blazes of hope sprinkled in over the last few years. Rhule’s inability to make decisions (look at the four quarterbacks who have suited up for him in four years) has frustrated fans and, obviously, Panthers GM David Tapper. Though Tapper has recently downplayed any big coaching moves, I think we can all sense what is about to go down barring an unlikely turnaround. It would be assumed that Rhule has the highest chance of a mid-season ousting.
Baker Mayfield could have potentially been the coach’s knight in shining armor, but the team looks to be going in a bad direction.
Temperature Check: 3.5 flames
Team Record: 26-26-1 (0-1 in playoffs)
Similar to his six-year stint at Texas Tech where he went 35-40, Kingsbury is once again a reflection of his record: average. Sure, we are only a quarter of the way through the season but had Kyler not done Kyler things against the Raiders in week three we would be talking about a 1-3 team. You can have ugly wins, but you cannot expect miracles to carry you through a season.
Many believed the powerhouse QB/coach duo was going to tear through the NFL like a battering ram. We suspect the Arizona GM saw success from the young, fiery, offensive-minded Kyle Shanahan types and drank the juice.
Kingsbury is known for hot starts that tend to dwindle by mid-season. Now, the league is watching his seat warm up despite his contract extension through 2027. His saving grace? Kliff can hang his hat on improving the team each year he has been in the driver’s seat. With that being said, it seems like winning the competitive NFC West (all 2-2 at the moment) could buy him some precious time.
Temperature Check: 3 flames
Team Record: 21-16-1 (0-1 in the playoffs)
Some may say that the Dallas Cowboys have one of the most impressive rosters in the entire NFL. Despite the demoralizing week one injury to franchise quarterback Dak Prescott, backup Cooper Rush has won every start bringing the ‘Boys to a 3-1 start.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made a public statement in the offseason reinforcing his confidence in the former Packers Head Coach currently in his third year with Dallas: “I want to be real clear. He wouldn’t be sitting here today if I didn’t think he was the man to lead this team to a Super Bowl.” This is after criticism of their home loss to the 49ers in the 2021 Wild Card round. McCarthy is no stranger to the big dance as he took Aaron Rodgers and the Pack there in February of 2011, ultimately bringing home the Lombardi trophy to Green Bay.
Big Mike’s biggest criticism tends to be his ability to manage games down the stretch and make good decisions in the two-minute game. Whether it’s wasting timeouts, questionable player discipline in big games or head-scratching final plays MM has given the world plenty of ‘WTF’ moments.
Given the 3-1 start, I can’t see any impending action from Jones anytime soon. To be fair, Dallas has been dealt a difficult hand with injuries to key players like Tyron Smith, Jayron Kearse, and of course Prescott. Cooper Rush may have saved McCarthy’s NFL tenure, as he has been on a winning streak since taking over on offense.
Temperature Check: 3.5 flames
Record: 15-22 (0-1 playoffs)
The former face of the Carolina Panthers has not had the most fruitful time in Washington. Riverboat Ron is an extremely likable guy across the league to both players and coaches, but it seems like he has struggled to get the team’s footing.
While the Commanders, formerly the Redskins and then Football Team, have had a pretty rough go for decades, it seems as though his seat may be warming pretty rapidly. Rivera’s two predecessors (Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden, respectively) averaged four-year shifts so this third year is somewhat of a desperate performance.
It does not help Rivera’s case that the NFC East has really turned a corner this year with a sneaky resurgence from both the Eagles and Giants. In classic Washington fashion, the team has struggled with finding a stable leader under center totaling SEVEN starting QBs in less than three years.
After the stunning Carson Wentz trade was announced this offseason, everyone knew this could be Ron’s last stand in the NFL if he could not put together a respectable season.
Temperature Check: 4 flames
Record: 119-73-1 (10-7 in playoffs including SB win in 2013)
In regards to Pete Carroll’s time in Seattle, let’s just remember that all things in life have an expiration date. Some would assume two Super Bowl appearances and eight trips to the postseason would be immunization for many, many years. The 70-year-old may be near the end of his Seahawks journey as owner Jody Allen seems to be ready for an assessment by the end of this season.
Maybe the departure of Russell Wilson was half of Carroll’s magic, but it would not surprise us to see a total rebuild from top to bottom sooner rather than later. The season is salvageable among a tied-up NFC West, but it appears that without a playoff appearance we could see Carroll on his merry way.
Temperature Check: 2.5 flames
Record: 9-12 (no playoffs in 2021)
It would be a disservice to some of the most successful teams in history to give up on a coach after less than two years. This IS just year two for Arthur Smith at the head of the table in Atlanta. Nobody doubts the renovation that the Falcons are currently undergoing.
With the exits of Julio Jones and Matt Ryan in back-to-back seasons, GM Arthur Blank has a plan to build up through the draft in coming years. So, while a 2-2 start isn’t dreamy, it also isn’t a death sentence for an organization that is self-aware.
The next couple of seasons in the NFL will give their 2021 third-round draft pick, quarterback Desmond Ridder, time to develop. As they continue to add weapons (Drake London, anyone?) to this roster we should see the dirty birds get a little filthier over time. It would be a total shock to see Smith get the axe after this season as he should realistically have another one or two years to put together a formidable squad.
Do coaches get too much praise when teams are thriving? Oftentimes. Should the head coach get the brunt of the blame when things are spiraling? In a lot of cases, yes. The talent that resides on any of the 32 rosters in the National Football League is abundant. It is a matter of finding the leader who can put together the puzzle in a novel fashion and keep competitors on their toes.