It is a regrettable fact of life in the NFL that the holiday season is also the firing season. Either you or someone you care about is on the proverbial hot seat, facing a firing and all the consequences that come with it. There's a reason coaches refer to the day after the regular season ends as Black Monday.
Anyone working for any team whose season ends Sunday is vulnerable. It doesn't matter why you didn't make the playoffs; factors like how many of your key players were injured or the amount of time remaining on your contract are irrelevant. This year is no different, with one job already available (with the Houston Texans) and nine more rumored to be opening soon.
I understand why there's a groundswell of support for change in many of these places. Change is appealing and novel, and it often brings hope. There's something cleansing about a fresh start, especially after a long and disappointing season. Change also, undoubtedly, makes for better headlines and better talk-radio fodder. It signifies action on the part of the decision-maker, be it an owner or a general manager. It also usually falls right in line with the conventional wisdom.
But here's the thing: Conventional wisdom is often wrong.
Take two of the winningest coaches of the 1960s: Tom Landry and Hank Stram. Both were heavily criticized early in their careers. After Landry's Cowboys went 4-10 in 1963, many thought he'd be fired. Instead, the Cowboys gave him a 10-year (yes, 10-year) contract extension -- and Landry went on to win two Super Bowls in 29 seasons. In Kansas City, many were calling for Hank Stram's job after a third consecutive disappointing season in 1965. Instead, Lamar Hunt stuck with him -- and the Chiefs went on to qualify for two of the first four Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl IV. In today's hair-trigger environment, these illustrious coaching careers likely would've ended before they started.
Want more recent examples of patience? After Bill Cowher went 6-10 in his 12th season, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney faced widespread criticism for retaining him. But Rooney stayed the course, and the criticism faded a bit two years later -- when Cowher and Co. hoisted the Lombardi trophy at Super Bowl XL.
Today, in the media-saturated world of the NFL, where every single story is almost always over-covered, the demand for change is greater than ever. But sometimes, the right move is to make no move at all. A lot has been written recently about coaches who need to go and coaches who are about to go. But in just about every case, I think there's a reasonable argument for staying the course.
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Here are nine coaches on the hot seat -- along with an explanation as to why each coach might deserve to keep his job:
1) Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Schiano was brought in as the anti-Raheem Morris in 2012. Under Morris, Tampa Bay had become player-friendly to the point that the inmates were running the asylum. Schiano's methods might seem extreme and draconian, but the Bucs have become a more disciplined unit, cutting ties with Josh Freeman, who, just a few months ago, was thought to be the franchise quarterback. Job No. 1 is to decide if Mike Glennon is indeed their signal-caller of the future and, if he's not, determine who should be. Either way, the core of what Schiano has built will have to be the basis for success in the short term -- and success is something of which Tampa Bay is desperately in need.
Schiano is two years into building his kind of team, and -- with the way the Bucs kept fighting despite their awful start -- you can see the club beginning to reflect his personality. The first half of the season was marked by Freeman's meltdown and subsequent exile; the second half was marred by the loss of running back Doug Martin. Schiano deserves another year, at least.
2) Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
Shanahan is an established winning coach who has a proven structure and authority. Regardless of what anyone can say about the Redskins, there is no question about who is in charge. Of course, no team can succeed without productive quarterback play. This season, Redskins signal-caller Robert Griffin III labored heroically just to return to the field -- but he lacked that crucial fifth gear, and started getting beaten up as the team's offensive line broke down.
Shanahan and owner Daniel Snyder won't be vacationing together anytime soon, but both the coach and the quarterback have earned another season -- one in which RGIII is truly healthy -- to be adequately judged.
3) Dennis Allen, Oakland Raiders
Before the 2012 season, Allen was thrown into the bottomless pit that is the Oakland Raiders. General manager Reggie McKenzie made the hard cap decisions that left the Raiders' cupboard largely bare this year, while marquee running back Darren McFadden has been banged up for the majority of the season.
Oakland still makes too many mistakes, and the team cannot feel confident about its current quarterback situation. The Matt Flynn gamble this year didn't work out any better than the Carson Palmer gamble did previously. But the Raiders have shown an ability to compete against tough teams, and there's no clear benefit in firing Allen, who is just two years into the job. Give him one more year to see if he can put himself and the organization up over the edge.
4) Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings
After the Vikings' great run last year, some made the mistake of thinking Minnesota was closer to the top of the league than it actually was. Quarterback Christian Ponder took a step back this season, and running back Adrian Peterson couldn't repeat his superhuman 2012 performance, but we started to see flashes from rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. In knocking off the Philadelphia Eaglesin Week 15, the Vikings showed they could neutralize a strong offense -- and that they hadn't given up on Frazier. Like Shanahan, Frazier brought the team to the playoffs just one year ago, and he deserves another chance.
5) Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Walsh believed no coach could stay productive in a job for more than 10 years. Certainly, there are exceptions, but they can be counted on a single hand. Still, after winning two Super Bowls in the previous six years, a case can be made that Tom Coughlin -- along with quarterback Eli Manning -- should get the benefit of the doubt as he wraps up his 10th season in New York. It might be time to use a scorched-earth approach with regard to the Giants' veterans, but Coughlin probably deserves a shot at being the agent of change rather than the victim of it.
The Giants couldn't overcome their awful start, but they have good talent and some emerging young receivers. Coughlin has meant too much to the organization to be sacked after what will be just his second losing season in a decade.
6) Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans
Like most of the teams on this list, the Titans simply need to solidify the quarterback position. Locker showed signs of being the right man for the job before his foot injury. Given the uncertainty that already exists with the passing of owner Bud Adams, plus the season-wrecking injury to Locker, the smart thing to do is to give Munchak -- who's been with the Oilers/Titans for 30 years, including 12 as a Hall of Fame offensive lineman -- another chance.
7) Rex Ryan, New York Jets
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Ryan has exceeded everyone's expectations for the team this season, having rebuilt his defense into a nearly dominant group. If former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum took the blame for the drafting of Mark Sanchez, then it's probably too early to call Ryan's rookie QB, Geno Smith, a bust. With the Jets hovering around .500 this year, Ryan has certainly earned himself another season. The Jets will be better with Ryan carrying on next season than they would be if they rebooted and started over with anyone else.
8) Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
In many ways, Garrett is the perfect coach for Jerry Jones, who wants to be owner, general manager, director of personnel and head coach -- and probably wants to call plays, as well. No coach understands and tolerates Jones better. Jones likely won't find a better partnership if he makes a change.
9) Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions
When Schwartz came on nearly five years ago, he faced as tough a turnaround job as there was in the league. Do we remember how bad the Lions were in 2008?
Should Detroit (7-8) have a better record this season? Probably, but Schwartz has built a strong, talented team that is still maturing. With his skill players in their prime and the defense showing signs of rounding into shape, there's a case that the smartest thing to do is stay the course.
Will all of these coaches keep their jobs next Monday? Probably not, but the owners and GMs who hold steady will find that, while their offseason might be less interesting, they will start the 2014 campaign with more stability and cohesion. Patience can pay off, especially when everyone else is changing direction with the prevailing winds.