Landing a head-coaching job in the NFL is hard. Holding onto the thing is damn near impossible.
We see it every year. January rolls around and the NFL initiates a sideline reboot. This past season, eight head coaches were fired during or immediately after the regular season. It was the third time this decade we saw a full quarter of the league's coaches let go. The turnover is staggering, especially when you remember just how many people are affected by the dismissals.
It is with no joy that we report the same thing will happen again in less than five months. More turnover is coming. We can pretend this is the year every front office in the league decides to resist change. But the reality? Recent history tells us six, seven, maybe eight coaching staffs will be kicked to the curb by New Year's Eve.
Tough gig. Great money. Solid perks. But tough gig.
With that in mind, let's survey the NFL landscape in an effort to discern which coaches are the safest and which coaches are in the most danger in this highly unpleasant game of musical chairs. Keep in mind, this is not a prediction of how the 2019 season will go for the coaches and teams found below. Instead, look at it as a survey of their footing as they begin a new journey.
I've organized all 32 coaches in tiers of security. If the first one isn't obvious, you should probably lose your job.
1) Bill Belichick, Patriots
Belichick gets his own category for obvious reasons. No man in the history of the NFL -- save perhaps Vince Lombardi in Green Bay -- has ever had this much job security.
SAFER THAN A UNION DOCK WORKER WITH CONNECTIONS
These guys aren't going anywhere. You hear me? Find your intrigue elsewhere.
2) Sean McVay, Rams
The Rams hit the jackpot in January 2017 when they hired McVay, then a 30-year-old offensive coordinator with the Redskins. McVay helped transform the Rams overnight, turning a perennial doormat into an NFC powerhouse. The Rams showed their commitment to their wonderboy this summer with a contract extension that will keep him on the L.A. sideline through the 2023 season.
3) Sean Payton, Saints
Like his quarterback, Drew Brees, Payton has become an institution in New Orleans. Since Payton and Brees took over the team in 2006, the Saints have won 10-plus games seven different times. They managed that feat just five times in their first 38 years as a franchise. Payton appeared vulnerable after a trio of 7-9 seasons (2014-16), but he has since returned the Saints to powerhouse status in the NFC. Perhaps -- as has been endlessly speculated -- Jerrah might lure his old friend to Dallas, where Payton was an assistant from 2003 to '05, one day. Sean Payton could quit the
Saints. But the Saints won't quit Sean Payton.
4) Jon Gruden, Raiders
Gruden is the only coach in the NFL whose contract makes him invincible -- for now, anyway. The veteran coach is in just the second year of a 10-year, $100 million pact signed in January 2018. With the team in a rebuild, Gruden will be given plenty of time to recommit the Raiders to excellence. There is, of course, the remote possibility that Antonio Brown drives the man back to the booth by Week 8.
5) Doug Pederson, Eagles
Though it isn't baked into any contract, a Super Bowl win provides any NFL coach with an extended grace period. Fairly so, we might add. This is doubly true in the case of Pederson, who ended the Iggles' Super Bowl jinx at 52 years in February 2018. Under contract through 2023 and with much stability in the Howie Roseman-led front office, Pederson need not look over his shoulder.
6) Andy Reid, Chiefs
The Chiefs knew they were getting a quality veteran head coach when they hired Reid in 2013, but Big Red has been even better than advertised. Kansas City has qualified for the playoffs in five of Reid's six years at the helm, and they probably came within an overtime coin toss of reaching the Super Bowl in January. Reid is a gifted offensive mind who makes his assistant coaches better and played a huge role in Patrick Mahomes' ascent to demigod status. There's no breaking up this band.
7) Frank Reich, Colts
Reich is another healthy branch off the Andy Reid coaching tree, by way of Pederson; Reich served as Pederson's offensive coordinator in Philly, and Pederson worked under Reid with both the Eagles and Chiefs. The Colts wanted some of Reid's Chiefs magic when they tapped Reich to replace Chuck Pagano last year, and Reich absolutely delivered in his first season. It certainly helped Reich that Andrew Luck recovered from his shoulder injury, and it's worth noting that Reich will be challenged if Luck's lower leg injury costs him games this year. But Reich and general manager Chris Ballard lead an organization in lockstep entering 2019. Owner Jim Irsay isn't going to mess with that, regardless of Luck's health in 2019.
8) Pete Carroll, Seahawks
Carroll took the Seahawks job way back in 2010 as a two-time loser in the NFL. Even after a hugely successful run at USC, expectations were measured in his return to the pro game. But Carroll has been the heartbeat of a Seahawks team that has been the decade's most consistently competitive franchise in the NFC. Turning 68 next month, Carroll will bounce along the Seattle sideline for as long as he wants. His legacy is secure, and so is his job standing.
9) Matt Nagy, Bears
Yep, yet another branch off the Reid coaching tree. (Something tells us this bodes well for current Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who replaced Nagy when he left that post last year to head up the Bears.) Nagy was a big hit in his first season in Chicago, breathing much-needed life into a previously listless Bears offense. Nagy faces more pressure after last year's 12-4 breakout campaign, but he is very much part of the Bears' present and future. If Mitch Trubisky takes the next step as a quarterback in 2019, Nagy might find himself even higher on this list in 2020.
FEELING GOOD, FEELING SECURE, LIFE IS GOOD
The sky above is blue and the sun is shining bright. Hey, is that a storm cloud in the deep distance? Nah, can't be.
10) Mike Tomlin, Steelers
This would probably be the first year since Tomlin took over in Pittsburgh in 2007 that he doesn't belong in the tier above. Still, Tomlin's seat remains nice and cool, despite last season's dark, playoff-less January. Tomlin has postseason disappointments on his resume, but he also has a Super Bowl title and a .654 winning percentage over 12 years. Steelers fans may grumble, but they could have it so much worse.
11) Bruce Arians, Buccaneers
Though he didn't incur a fraction of the wrath that rained down upon Jason Witten last season, Arians was not particularly impressive in his debut season as a broadcaster. The man's a football coach, and he's back where he belongs, on the sidelines with the Bucs in 2019. Arians took over a team with many question marks, most importantly the open query of whether former No. 1 overall pick
Jameis Winston is a quarterback to build around. If Winston doesn't get it done, you can all but guarantee Arians will get the chance to pick his own guy in 2020.
12) Sean McDermott, Bills
In 2017, his debut season in Buffalo, McDermott guided a talent-deficient Bills team to nine wins and the franchise's first playoff appearance in almost 20 years. The team dropped to 6-10 in Year 2, but the general feel around the Bills is that McDermott has the team going in the right direction, especially on the defensive side of the ball. McDermott will set himself up for years to come if second-year pro Josh Allen can develop into a reliable starter at quarterback. We shall see.
13) Anthony Lynn, Chargers
Things didn't start out great for Lynn in Los Angeles. He lost his first four games as head coach, but the Chargers have gone 22-8 since, including a playoff win over the Ravens in January. Lynn's presence has clearly had a positive impact on veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, who has piled up numbers and slashed his turnover rate in the past two years, throwing 22 combined picks in 2017 and '18 after leading the NFL with 21 in 2016. This is a healthy marriage of coach, quarterback, team.
14) Bill O'Brien, Texans
O'Brien carries the hammer in Houston. The sixth-year head coach has now outlasted two general managers and -- potentially -- the celebrated No. 1 overall pick that joined the team with him in 2014. The Texans went from worst to first in the AFC South last season, and in Deshaun Watson, O'Brien has the best possible defense against the firing line -- a young franchise quarterback on the rise. With the front office in flux, things could perhaps deteriorate quickly if the Texans slump again in 2019, but for the time being, O'Brien sits on the Iron Throne. Hey, we've found a branch from the Belichick tree!
15) Adam Gase, Jets
Gase's biggest ticket to job security is the young quarterback he inherited. The Jets believe they have a future star in Sam Darnold, and Gase will earn himself a long runway with the Jets (get it?) if he can help develop Darnold into a franchise rock. If Darnold fails to meet expectations in 2019 -- and expectations are quite high for the 2018 draft's No. 3 overall pick -- Gase's seat might warm up faster than expected. Remember, the Jets reportedly gave new GM Joe Douglas a lot of money to leave the Eagles. Douglas will be the ultimate architect of this team.
16) Mike Vrabel, Titans
The Titans were unable to return to the playoffs in Vrabel's first year on the sideline, finishing at 9-7 for the third consecutive year. A few years ago, that would have been a record to celebrate for a Tennessee team that went 5-27 over two seasons in 2014 and 2015. Expectations are higher this time around, and Vrabel could find himself in danger if the Titans stumble. The big question: In Marcus Mariota (or Ryan Tannehill), does Vrabel have a quarterback who can get this team over the 9-7 hump?
We'll keep all the first-time head coaches in the same group, because typically there is ample runway in this situation. "Typically," grumbles Steve Wilks.
17) Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals
In truth, Kingsbury is an exception to the rest of the newbies here, in the sense that there is no way the Cardinals will fire him one year after pulling the ripcord on Wilks just 16 games into Wilks' tenure. Beyond that, Cards leadership feels strongly that Kingsbury is their answer to Sean McVay, a gifted young offensive mind who will form a mind meld of devastating proportions with No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray at quarterback. Honestly, I'm tempted to put Kingsbury in the top 10 of this exercise, but I want to be fair to the other guys below. I'm cool like that.
18) Zac Taylor, Bengals
Marvin Lewis lasted 16 years with the Bengals and never won a playoff game. What would Taylor have to do to get dumped after one season? Rob a bank?
19) Brian Flores, Dolphins
Flores enters the fray at a time when expectations are at their lowest for the Dolphins. This is actually a good thing for the rookie coach. Organizationally, the Dolphins have hopped in the organic fish tank, with the goal of building a long-term winner in the post-Brady AFC East years to come. (We assume those years will eventually come.) As long as Flores makes a good impression in his debut season, it makes sense to maintain stability at head coach during this rebuilding period.
20) Freddie Kitchens, Browns
Kitchens is in pretty much the exact opposite position as Flores. He takes over as Browns head coach at a time when expectations around Cleveland have never been higher (in the post-'99 reboot era, certainly). Kitchens is at the controls of a talent-rich roster led by a dynamic young quarterback in Baker Mayfield, who played a big role in Kitchens getting promoted from interim offensive coordinator to head coach back in January. It's all positive, though we'd be remiss to not at least mention how current Browns ownership has employed five different head coaches in six years, including one poor guy who was fired after one year. Thankfully, Kitchens is extremely unlikely to join the Chud Club.
21) Vic Fangio, Broncos
GM John Elway is going to be patient with Fangio, because how sure are we that the Broncos will let Elway pick another coach if this doesn't work? Fangio takes over a Broncos team coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1971 and 1972 (!), and the team was smart to make a number of changes to the operation entering 2019. Joining Fangio as he steps in for the overmatched Vance Joseph are several new starters on offense, including another new starting quarterback in Joe Flacco. Fangio is a defensive mastermind who took the Bears' defense from disastrous to elite over four years. He has the scheme and pieces to work similar magic in Denver. And he'll get the time to attempt it.
22) Matt LaFleur, Packers
The Packers know the clock is ticking on Aaron Rodgers. The legendary quarterback will turn 36 in December, and it's fair to say Green Bay burned a few years of Rodgers' prime sticking with a Mike McCarthy offense that had gone stale. Enter LaFleur, shining son off the McVay coaching tree, who will be asked to reinvigorate Rodgers and the Pack. Rodgers spoke out this week to refute as "fake news" reports of early friction between the veteran quarterback and the newbie coach. We'll choose to believe Rodgers for now, but it will be interesting to watch how this relationship develops.
SEAT PERHAPS WARMER THAN PREFERRED
If you're in this group, there's some reason for concern. Maybe not "Put the house on the market right now, honey!" concern, but concern nonetheless. Head on a swivel.
23) John Harbaugh, Ravens
Yeah, yeah, I am fully aware that the Ravens gave Harbaugh a contract extension in January, one that reportedly keeps him under team control through the 2022 season. That's reason enough to bump up Harbaugh several spots. But we'll keep Harbaugh -- who is 50-46 with one playoff win since Super Bowl XLVII -- right here. With GM Eric DeCosta taking control of the show, this is a time of transition in Baltimore. Harbaugh is the longest-tenured head coach in Ravens history, but you wonder how soon before DeCosta calls for -- and gets -- "his guy."
24) Ron Rivera, Panthers
The Panthers were 6-2 after blowing out the Bucs last Nov. 4. At that moment, they looked like Super Bowl contenders. Then they got obliterated by the Steelers, the health of Cam Newton's shoulder deteriorated and Carolina didn't win another game until Week 17 against the Teddy Bridgewater-led Saints. Speaking of deterioration, if you watched this season of " All or Nothing," you got to see the cheer and optimism erode from the face of new Panthers owner David Tepper, thanks to a stationary camera in his luxury suite. The Newton injury can and has been used as a neat way to write off last season's bitter disappointment, but Rivera is unlikely to have that shoulder to hide behind if Carolina stinks again.
25) Dan Quinn, Falcons
The Falcons finished last season at 7-9, their first sub-.500 season in four years under Quinn. The Falcons were undercut by key injuries on both sides of the ball, and it wouldn't have been a sin if the team had stuck with largely the same group and hoped for better results in 2019. Instead, Quinn made major changes to his coaching staff -- replacing his offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator ... even the longtime special teams coach! These are the actions typical of a head coach who thinks he's running out of time. Perhaps the changes breathe new life into the operation. But if they don't ... who gets fired next?
26) Mike Zimmer, Vikings
Certain teams don't seem to wear the crown of offseason Super Bowl favorite well. With Minnesota coming off the Minneapolis Miracle and an appearance in the NFL's version of the Final Four in 2017, many believed 2018 would be the year the Vikings pulled an Eagles and ended a 50-plus yearSuper Bowl drought. Replacing Case Keenum with Kirk Cousins at quarterback only elevated expectations -- but Minnesota fell weirdly flat last season en route to a deeply disappointing 8-7-1 finish. Entering his sixth season, Zimmer has been a very strong hire overall for the Vikings. You just wonder how patient ownership will remain if the Vikings follow "Waterworld" with "Battlefield Earth."
27) Jason Garrett, Cowboys
Garrett enters his ninth full season on the sideline in Big D with two playoff wins and nary a Super Bowl appearance on his resume. This year's Cowboys are in Super Bowl-or-bust mode. Something has to give. Here's what 76-year-old owner Jerry Jones said last month when asked about Garrett's job security entering 2019 (it should be noted that Garrett was seated directly next to his boss at the time): "There's no secret that the guy to my right here, I want to be the head coach of the
Dallas Cowboys for as long as I'm around to spell it. That would be my goal, and that's no secret, and many of you have written about it in various ways. So let's see what's ahead." Indeed, let's see.
28) Kyle Shanahan, 49ers
The 49ers really want Shanahan to be their answer to Sean McVay, but sooner or later, the organization is going to need to see some results. The Niners are 10-22 in Shanahan's first two seasons in the big chair, and you wonder how tempted ownership will be to move on from GM John Lynch and Shanahan if San Francisco doesn't make its charge in 2019. Having Jimmy Garoppolo on the field for 16 games for the first time in his Niners tenure would be a huge help (probably), and the Niners have talent on both sides of the ball to make the leap. They just have to, you know, do it already.
29) Matt Patricia, Lions
The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after back-to-back 9-7 seasons, hired Patricia, then watched the team backslide into a 6-10 finish in 2018. The former Patriots defensive coordinator is tied to GM Bob Quinn (also formerly of the Patriots) and quarterback Matthew Stafford, who are all under contract through 2022. But it is very possible all three of these men are out of Detroit if the Lions deliver a double-digit-loss encore in 2019. Playing in the stacked NFC North, there is reason for pessimism.
30) Doug Marrone, Jaguars
The Jaguars very nearly beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game in January 2018, but that feels further in the rearview than it actually is. Jacksonville bottomed out during a hellish 2019; the Jags went 5-11, and
Marrone fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and benched one-time franchise quarterback Blake Bortles. Marrone gets a do-over in 2019, bringing back a still very talented defense and improving the quarterback position -- perhaps enormously -- with former Eagles backup-turned- Super Bowl hero Nick Foles. There are expectations that the Jags will be a playoff team again this January. If not, there's a very strong chance Marrone pays for it with his job.
31) Pat Shurmur, Giants
Tony Soprano famously bemoaned his timing as boss of the DiMeo crime family: "It's good to be in something from the ground floor -- I came too late for that, I know. But lately I'm getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over." You wonder if Pat Shurmur can empathize with his follow New Jerseyan. Is Shurmur part of the ground floor of a new era in Giants football -- or is he destined to be remembered as a footnote in a down time in franchise history? His placement on this list tells you what we suspect.
32) Jay Gruden, Washington
Gruden is on the last of his nine lives in D.C. Five seasons, no playoff wins, and three straight years without a postseason berth. The terrible Alex Smith injury further complicated matters, and now the coach finds his fate tied to a quarterback prospect in Dwayne Haskins who may not be ready for prime time. It's all trending in an ominous direction for the Brother of Chucky.