Back in late September, before terms like racist, bullying and leadership void became buzzwords associated with the Miami Dolphins, Jeff Ireland seemed to be comfortably lodged on his general managerial throne.
With the Dolphins off to a 3-0 start, news broke in the Miami Herald that Ireland, over the offseason, had signed a contract extension ensuring he'd "be with the team through at least the 2014 season."
That assessment reaffirmed the words that Ireland's boss, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, had uttered about his top football employee the previous month: "I think he's doing a great job, and I'm committed to Jeff Ireland."
A lot can change in seven weeks, and with the 4-4 Dolphins reeling from four defeats in five games -- and with the organization now the subject of a league-ordered independent investigation into a seemingly toxic locker-room culture -- Ireland's job security is far more tenuous.
As I stated Sunday on NFL Network's "NFL GameDay Morning," there's a growing belief in league circles that Ireland won't survive past this season. The same logic applies to Joe Philbin, the second-year head coach hired by Ireland, especially given the potentially inflammatory Sun Sentinel report that suspended guard Richie Incognito acted at the behest of coaches when allegedly harassing teammate Jonathan Martin.
Incognito, in his first interview since his suspension, sidestepped a question from Fox Sports' Jay Glazer over the weekend as to whether or not his superiors ordered a "Code Red" -- a reference to the movie "A Few Good Men."
Yet this much is clear: As the Dolphins endure an investigation that could rival those involving the NFL's two most conspicuous scandals of the 21st century -- the 2007 Spygate saga in New England and the pay-for-injure imbroglio in New Orleans -- it's quite possible that damaging and embarrassing information will surface, and someone likely will have to pay.
That someone, of course, won't be Ross. While the coaches and chief front-office executives of the Patriots and Saints survived their aforementioned scandals, let's remember that both Bill Belichick and Sean Payton were Super Bowl winners with exceptional clout in their respective organizations.
Ireland, whose reported extension was a one-year deal that put Ross on the hook through the end of the 2014 season, and Philbin, a first-time head coach who went 7-9 as a rookie in 2012, don't exist on that same plane.
As the Dolphins prepare for Monday night's road game against the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you can place the soon-to-be-singed butts of Ireland and Philbin firmly on the hot seat, along with those of many of their counterparts around the league.
Who else? Glad you asked. After all, it's never too early to start speculating about job security in today's NFL. Before we get to our weekly hierarchy of incisive inquisitions, here's a temperature-coded list of coaches and GMs who shouldn't feel overly comfortable with seven weeks remaining in the regular season:
Philbin, Dolphins. Though Dolphins players reportedly voted Incognito to the coach's six-player "Leadership Council," it's also clear that the polarizing lineman was viewed by Philbin as an influential locker-room force -- and that alone could seal the coach's fate, especially if the team fails to make the playoffs.
Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Let us count the ways. Though sources say the Glazers, who own the Buccaneers, are inclined to let Schiano coach out the season, two things could speed up his departure: lopsided, embarrassing defeats and open dissent from current players. Let's see how Tampa Bay fares against Philbin's team on national television.
Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings. He's rightfully regarded as one of the finest men in the profession, and the 10-6 playoff season he finessed out of the 2012 Vikings in his second full year on the job was somewhat remarkable. However, Frazier might have raised expectations unduly; this year's 2-7 start does not bode well for his prospects beyond 2013. Even though Minnesota rallied to defeat Washington last Thursday night, Frazier's late timeout calls were the subject of much scrutiny. Barring a dramatic turnaround, owner Zygi Wilf is expected to make a change and go after a hot, young coordinator as Frazier's replacement.
Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans. The good news: The eighth-year head coach returned to the team Monday, eight days after suffering a scary mini-stroke at halftime of the Texans' nationally televised game against the Colts in Week 9. The bad news? Houston has lost seven consecutive games, and as my colleague Ian Rapoport reported Sunday, there's a great deal of organizational frustration surrounding Kubiak's coaching. The fact that the Texans, after a long climb that had them looking like Super Bowl contenders at this point last season, have regressed sharply is a problem for Kubiak, whose team has lost 11 of its last 15 games (including the playoffs). The coach's quarterback of choice, Matt Schaub, has regressed even more sharply -- and now plays behind an undrafted second-year pro, Case Keenum. And lest you think Kubiak's health issues will cause owner Bob McNair to view him in a more sympathetic light, remember what happened to Mike Martz. He left the Rams while suffering from a bacterial heart infection five games into the 2005 season, missed the rest of the year -- and was fired the day after the 6-10 campaign concluded.
Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders. The Raiders have had some encouraging moments in Allen's second season at the helm, and offensive coordinator Greg Olson has been a vast improvement over Greg Knapp, the man Allen incomprehensibly tapped for the spot in 2012. Yet the Raiders are 3-6, are seemingly going nowhere for an 11th consecutive year and have an owner, Mark Davis, who grew conspicuously frustrated during last year's 4-12 campaign.
Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans. Halfway through the season, the Titans were a pleasant surprise at 4-4 -- and then Sunday happened. Tennessee lost to the Jaguars again (in its past 22 games, Jacksonville has two victories -- both against Munchak's team) and quarterback Jake Locker went down with a season-ending foot injury. Oh, and owner Bud Adams' recent passing triggered an ownership transition that might provoke a desire for change. This situation could get bad in a hurry.
Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins. His team is 3-6, the same as it was at this point last year before rallying to win seven consecutive games and an NFC East title. If Washington goes the other way in 2013 or stays stuck in neutral, Shanahan might not make it back for a fifth season. What once was considered his greatest selling point -- the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach's mentorship of NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III -- ultimately might doom him, as the tension that sources say exists between Shanahan and his quarterback increases.
Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are 5-5 and tied for first place in the NFL's worst division. If they don't win the NFC East -- if they end up missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season -- I can't see Garrett surviving. Owner Jerry Jones already divested his coach of offensive play-calling duties after the 2012 campaign; the next thing to go would be Garrett's headset.
Rex Ryan, New York Jets. He has done a fabulous job in 2013, fending off the train wreck that many of us saw coming via strategic and motivational magic. The Jets are 5-4 and surprisingly in the thick of the AFC playoff race, and now it is generally presumed that Ryan will be back in 2014 for a sixth season. I wouldn't be so sure. If the Jets, who lost by 40 points to the Bengals two weeks ago, start playing down to their talent level, it'll be Ryan who gets the blame in the Big Apple rather than first-year GM John Idzik, who might well want to bring in his own guy. That said, Ryan might get this team into the postseason and score an extension from owner Woody Johnson.
Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons. Yes, he has had a great deal of success in Atlanta, including five consecutive winning campaigns, four playoff appearances and a near Super Bowl berth a season ago. And yes, GM Thomas Dimitroff declared after the Falcons' Sunday loss to the Seahawks that "Mike's going nowhere." This is consistent with what Dimitroff has told me in recent weeks, as Atlanta (2-7) has continued its rapid descent. My only caveat: Though Dimitroff surely would fight for Smith, the coach he hired after taking over the franchise in 2008, Falcons owner Arthur Blank could overrule the GM and force the issue.
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers. This one seems crazy -- the Panthers (6-3) won their fifth consecutive game Sunday, upsetting the 49ers in San Francisco, and look like a potential playoff team. Yet, if Carolina faceplants over the next seven weeks, Rivera likely will get the blame, and first-year GM Dave Gettleman (who in July told the Charlotte Observer, "Now it's time to win") will get to pick a coach of his own choosing.
Ireland, Dolphins. Or, as he's increasingly known in South Florida, Fireland.
Rick Smith, Houston Texans. If the Texans' downward spiral continues, Smith might be cleaned out along with Kubiak -- though the GM has a better chance of surviving than the coach he hired. Then again, Smith's most recent high-profile free-agent signee, Ed Reed, is shaping up as an outright disaster, and that doesn't help his standing.
Mark Dominik, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Personally, I'd keep Dominik, who has drafted reasonably well in Tampa Bay and acquired some impact veterans (Vincent Jackson, Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson) since the Glazers began spending more aggressively following the 2011 season. Dominik wasn't the driving force behind the hiring of Raheem Morris, Schiano's predecessor, but he certainly deserves blame for the current coaching debacle -- and the Glazers might decide to bring in a powerful coach who handpicks his own GM.
Ruston Webster, Tennessee Titans. Two words: New owner. If Tennessee misses the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, we'll see if Adams' son-in-law, Tommy Smith, values continuity or goes for wholesale change.
Reggie McKenzie, Oakland Raiders. McKenzie certainly has behaved like a man who's confident he'll be back for a third season, but I wouldn't be so sure. When the prevailing narrative is a constant woe-is-me moan that scapegoats the owner's late, legendary father -- and the team isn't winning -- the man sending out that message might not be as secure as he thinks.
Rick Spielman, Minnesota Vikings. The current thinking is that Spielman, unlike Frazier, is positioned to survive this year's mess in Minnesota. If things get really, really ugly for the Vikings, however, Wilf might opt for a more comprehensive housecleaning.
And now ... The Questions:
4) New England Patriots: Should Ryan Mallett and Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks pitch a buddy sitcom called "Living The Dream" or what?
5) New Orleans Saints: Which Sean Payton punking of ex-boss Jerry Jones was more severe: the Saints' NFL-record 40 first downs Sunday night against the Cowboys or the guzzling of the last bottle of Caymus Special Selection at St. Elmo Steak House during the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine?
8) Indianapolis Colts: Were those the 2011 Colts who suited up against the Rams on Sunday -- and if Indy puts forth a similarly pathetic performance in Nashville on "Thursday Night Football," will someone write a sad country song in response?
14) Arizona Cardinals: If I'd told you the Cards were going to score more points than Larry Fitzgerald would have receiving yards in Sunday's victory over the Texans, would you have thought I was crazy?
16) Philadelphia Eagles: What was a greater cause for celebration for Riley Cooper: scoring five touchdowns in the past two games or learning of Richie Incognito's racially charged voicemail to Jonathan Martin?
20) San Diego Chargers: If tailgaters can be cited for throwing the football in the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot for the sake of preserving public safety, shouldn't a similar ordinance have existed for balls thrown inside the stadium during the Ryan Leaf era?
21) St. Louis Rams: Whose mirror-smashing fit caused a more pronounced awakening: William Hayes' after the Rams' defeat to the Titans, or Ann Margret's in "Tommy"?
28) Minnesota Vikings: If the Vikings had blown a late lead to the Redskins after some questionable clock-management decisions last Thursday night, would Wilf have been tempted to put Frazier in a permanent timeout?
Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.