It is July 2, not Jan. 2. Discussing potential regime changes in the NFL seems a bit awkward. Then again, this planning period before training camp -- the deep breath before the plunge, as Gandalf once deemed it -- can have a significant impact on what could be a coach's last stand.
New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin subtly tweaked his approach following a bitterly disappointing 2006 season that caused many to call for his head. Bill Cowher toned down his piss-and-vinegar style after three straight playoff-free seasons midway through his tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And, if you watch the "America's Game" series on NFL Network, you're very familiar with a constant refrain among players: "It all started in training camp."
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Several coaches are hanging out at last-chance saloon this offseason. Frankly, I'm not too keen on speculating about who will get fired. High coaching turnover is not conducive to success in the NFL. Yet, the lay of the land in today's league is what it is. Owners and general managers get impatient and let go of people.
So consider this a rundown (in alphabetical order) of six coaches in tenuous situations heading into the 2013 campaign. These guys must right the ship -- or least take a step forward -- in the coming season. Otherwise, we all know the score.
Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders
Allen only has been in Oakland for one season, and given the talent on his current roster, you'd think the guy would get some leeway. But leeway and NFL coaching go together like Axl Rose and anyone else.
Playing speculator here, Oakland will have 14 new starters in 2013. GM Reggie McKenzie is trying to build things the right way. Question is, how patient will owner Mark Davis be if the Raiders go 2-14 and are awful on defense again? The team showed how patient it was with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, who was canned after one shoddy season in Oakland.
Take this to the bank: It will reflect more poorly on Allen's regime if the defense gives up another 443 points than if the free-agent acquisition at QB doesn't work out.
Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
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In the wake of back-to-back 8-8 seasons that both ended with Week 17 losses in de facto NFC East title games, the writing is on the wall in Dallas: .500 football is not good enough.
Garrett will continue to implement the offense during the week, but he won't be calling plays on Sundays, as offensive coordinator Bill Callahan is taking over that role. The plan is to have Garrett focusing on overall game management.
With an owner who refuses to hire a football-minded GM and essentially makes many decisions that are typically left to head coaches (like picking a play caller), Garrett will have a harder time controlling his own destiny than anyone else on this list. As colleague Solomon Wilcots bluntly told me on the set of "NFL AM" recently: "There are a lot of land mines for Jason Garrett in Dallas."
Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans
While there was speculation Munchak would be out following a 6-10 season in Tennessee, the club decided to fire GM Mike Reinfeldt instead.
The good news: Despite maintaining public silence on the coach's future, owner Bud Adams is giving Munchak a legitimate chance. This shouldn't be a huge surprise, considering the enormous patience Adams displayed with predecessor Jeff Fisher during difficult times in both the mid-1990s and mid-2000s.
The not so good news: With Tennessee passing on the quarterback position in the 2013 NFL Draft, Munchak is tied to the first draft pick of his tenure, Jake Locker. If Locker falls flat -- and the Titans follow suit -- the 90-year old Adams will ask new GM Ruston Webster to pull the trigger. Or he'll just pull it himself.
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is a former player (Baltimore Colts, 1959-60), which gives him a unique perspective on what needs to happen on the field. Ditto Rivera, who spent nine seasons playing for the Chicago Bears. These guys know that as long as Carolina can't stop anyone when it counts -- lacking that "You'll win over our dead bodies" mindset -- all of this offensive restructuring will amount to diddly poo.
Rivera has gotten two cracks at this deal. The results: 6-10 and 7-9. On the plus side, the Panthers closed out the 2012 season in style, winning five of their last six games, with franchise quarterback Cam Newton showing signs of maturation. The downside: Rob Chudzinski parlayed his accomplishments as Carolina's offensive coordinator into a head-coaching gig with the Cleveland Browns. Mike Shula, who served as the Panthers' QB coach for the last two seasons, takes over the offensive reins. How will this work out? Remains to be seen.
Many speculated that Richardson would fire Rivera upon meeting with the coach in January. While that didn't happen, it doesn't take much reading between the lines to know the leash is short.
Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Owner Woody Johnson hired John Idzik to be GM, then essentially forced him to keep Ryan. Sounds great, right? Yes, except Ryan wasn't offered an extension. That's a vote of confidence without one key ingredient: the vote.
No matter how you feel about Ryan, he has taken this club farther than any Jets head coach since Weeb Ewbank, who called it quits in 1973. Also, bear in mind that Idzik dealt the club's best player, Darrelle Revis. In Idzik's first year as an NFL GM, it's unlikely he would a) blame Ryan for a minor drop in defensive efficiency, or b) fire Ryan after an average season with a rookie QB (Geno Smith) at the helm.
Now, if the defense falls apart or Ryan stubbornly sticks with Mark Sanchez, this is a different matter altogether.
Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions
Lions GM Martin Mayhew is "a football guy." As a former cornerback with the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- and as a guy who owns a Super Bowl ring -- Mayhew knows what it takes to put a winning product on the field. He also has kept mum about Schwartz's future in Detroit. Not that this is unusual. After all, the Lions finished last season with eight straight losses -- after making the playoffs in 2011. Not to mention, some people who follow this organization have doubts about Mayhew's future. For his part, Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. deftly avoided giving Schwartz a vote of confidence in June.
When Schwartz took over as head coach of the Lions in January of 2009, the franchise was fresh off the only 0-16 campaign in NFL history. The new staff quickly displayed keen discernment, addressing fixable problems and eventually leading Detroit to its first playoff appearance in a dozen years. Of course, Lions fans will tell anyone who'll listen that it doesn't take a 10-dollar word like "discernment" to figure out Detroit's two biggest problem areas in 2013: offensive line and the secondary.
Another last-place finish in the NFC North -- which looks likely on paper -- will likely result in Schwartz receiving his walking papers.