Things are getting grim this time of year. Yes, the holiday season is upon us, but for struggling franchises, it's also the time of year when ownership begins charting an offseason plan and figuring out if their current coach and management team are a part of it.
And the reality is some climates are ripe for change, as Jacksonville proved Tuesday, firing Jack Del Rio after eight-plus seasons on the job.
Watching some of the poor football on display Sunday -- particularly in the early games -- brings the air of change into focus. The uncertainty of the lockout is behind us, and the 10-year picture of the economics of the NFL under this CBA appears bright as can be. Many jobs were saved because of the great unknown of the lockout -- owners didn't know when the season would start and what free agency would look like and how much it would cost to sign draft picks. All of those questions have been answered and, talking to general managers and execs around the league, many would not be shocked if this winter included more front-office turnover than we've seen in quite some time.
Coaches get most of the attention because they are the face of the franchise in terms of dealing with the media. They face the tough questions every week, and fans often think first of the role of the coach when their teams are in peril. But personnel is a huge part of the equation and while some coaches hold dual roles over their staffs and over football operations, not all do. There are a handful of teams where other execs have identified possible front office changes. Let's examine those:
» Oakland will begin its search for a head of the personnel department when the season ends, with Tom Gamble of the 49ers or Reggie McKenzie of the Packers being names their peers believe will end up getting the job. However, especially with the Raiders winning, coach Hue Jackson has a direct line to ownership, his contract does not stipulate he must answer to a general manager, and whomever is hired in Oakland could end up more or less working for the coach. That is why some A-list up-and-comers will steer clear of the job, preferring a situation in which they would have control over personnel.
» Minnesota has tried changing coaches, and certainly the team has fallen far and fast. But I'd be surprised if Leslie Frazier was fired after one full season. General manager Rick Spielman has been on the job for a long time, the roster has decayed over the years, and this team is clearly in rebuilding mode. A move there wouldn't surprise decision-makers around the league.
» Norv Turner will take most of the heat in San Diego and, if this season continues in this fashion, he will most certainly lose his job. But the bigger question is: What becomes of General Manager A.J. Smith? Turner has lost valuable members of his staff, like Ron Rivera and Rob Chudzinski (both now in Carolina), and Smith has allowed a lot of talent to leave in the past few years and failed to replace it. Moving up in the first round for Ryan Mathews has not panned out yet, and recent drafts have been lean; he has never replaced LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Shawne Merriman, Jamaal Williams, Antonio Cromartie, to name a few. His public clashes with Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil a year ago raised some eyebrows, and the roster is not nearly as deep as it was a few years back.
That's not coaching.
Few of the top coaches in the NFL would be thrilled about the idea of working for Smith, given his history with coaches and tough persona, and the Spanos family will have to think long and hard about restructuring their front office, with Smith becoming a polarizing figure with their fan base, which has been frugal at times and is familiar with local blackouts. In this economy, especially, that resonates. The Chargers are another team whose lack of a modern stadium and geography will forever link them with a possible move to Los Angeles, which could play a role in the decision-making process.
» Miami is another front-office situation being watched closely around the league. Recent success aside, it's going to take something special for Tony Sparano to keep his job, and if the Dolphins want a top guy like Bill Cowher, then the front office will have to be overhauled, as well. General manager Jeff Ireland's position will be hanging in the balance, as well, and the reality is that most any coach who comes in there will want to eliminate those brought in by Bill Parcells from the organization if at all possible. That's how it goes.
» St. Louis has failed to capitalize on the gains of 2010, potential franchise quarterback Sam Bradford has suffered, and the team continues to fight for its share of the sports fan base there. A new owner is in place, one who did not hire the coaches or the management team, and the Rams have dropped two straight home games to weak divisional teams. Coach Steve Spagnuolo is most definitely on the hot seat, but general manager Billy Devaney is, as well. Some believe owner Stan Kroenke could sit tight for a year to assess the landscape there in St. Louis, as well as any advances that might occur in regards to a new stadium in Los Angeles, before making changes. But if the Rams are not competitive in their easier portion of the schedule down the stretch, changes would not surprise many.
»There have been rumblings in scouting circles about Bears GM Jerry Angelo possibly retiring at some point in the next few years, and if that job opened up I can assure you it would be coveted. Otherwise, the changes in all likelihood would be coach only.
If the Colts go 0-16 it's going to be awfully difficult to bring back Jim Caldwell, as much as the Polians have told people they don't intend to make a coaching move. The standings could dictate that one be made (I have a hard time seeing owner Jim Irsay parting with the management team of Bill and Chris Polian). Andy Reid could well decide that he's had enough of Philly -- it's been a good, long run there -- and given the issues at defensive coordinator there in recent years, more staff changes can't be ruled out.
» Jeff Fisher would be very attractive to the Cowboys or Giants -- he is very close to ownership there and those jobs would be appealing to him, according to sources. One of them could open up. He'd be a natural fit in either, and he doesn't bring a designated general manager or personnel guy with him, which fits both models there (Dallas doesn't have one, and the Giants are very pleased with the work of Jerry Reese).
» The friction between Todd Haley and Scott Pioli in Kansas City has been talked about in league circles for quite some time; if Pioli could get Kirk Ferentz out of Iowa, I believe he'd hire him. Every move Pioli has made with staff has come out of his Browns/Pats Belichick family tree. His next coach would most likely be, as well (can't rule out Josh McDaniels here, if the Chiefs job opens).
There will be more openings than there are hot coordinators on the rise, which could mean potential jobs for Brian Billick, Jim Mora, Mike Sherman, or perhaps even some consideration for Brad Childress. It will be a unique marketplace if upwards of 10 jobs open in a climate in which so many rising coordinators have already been hired in the past few years, taking them off the market. There are only so many top candidates to go around, and the specter of a host of new GMs could lead to some coaches being hired who aren't on our radar right now.