The Atlanta Falcons showed spirit in Monday night’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, and at this point, “spirit” might be enough to win the dreadful NFC South.
At 5-8, the Falcons remain ahead of the Saints in the South, thanks to a Week 1 overtime win. But with expectations high in Atlanta, that’s definitely not good enough. And after finishing 4-12 last season – and losing the crucial support of several ATL strip clubs this year – it appears it’ll take a miracle for coach Mike Smith to keep his job.
Should the Falcons fire Smith, some believe they’ll look to soon-to-be-deposed Jets coach Rex Ryan, who would certainly acquaint himself with the folks at The Varsity. But is he the right man for the job? Well, he’s everything Smith isn’t – just compare their appearances on Hard Knocks – and he could be just the spark the franchise needs. After all, the Seahawks pulled the trigger on Jim L. Mora after one season, brought in Pete Carroll from USC and won a Super Bowl.
What other coaches could be joining Smith on the unemployment line, and who could be waiting in the wings to replace them? Here’s my take.
Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins
The rift between Gruden and management may be irreparable no matter what happens in the final three games this season. If Robert Griffin III had simply been drafted second overall in 2012 with no trades involved, they could look at him as any other third-year player and potentially move on. Instead, Griffin has basically been Washington’s first round pick in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Amid rumors that Gruden’s relationship with the front office has gone sour over differences of opinion on Griffin’s future with the team, nothing short of 1.21 gigawatts will be able to go back and fix this situation. And if someone has to go, I’m willing to bet it’ll be Gruden: The University of Michigan has reportedly been in contact, and at least there he will have total autonomy – so long as he figures out a way to beat Ohio State.
What will the Redskins do then? Well, if they don’t name Griffin as a player/coach, they might turn to his old mentor, Baylor’s Art Briles.
The 59-year-old coach led the Bears to an 11-1 record and a much-discussed “co-championship” in the Big 12. It wasn’t enough to get Baylor into the College Football Playoff – Briles blamed regional issues within the selection committee – so perhaps he realizes he’s done all he can do at the school, and would want to re-team with his former Heisman-winning QB in the nation’s capital. Then again, we basically saw this same situation play out a decade ago in D.C. with Steve Spurrier, and the less said about that debacle, the better.
Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
Lewis has the Bengals in first place yet again, but right now, he’s sweating like Jeff Hornacek shooting free throws at hot yoga. Despite a strong relationship with owner Mike Brown, at some point, he’s got to show he’s capable of taking this team to the next level – like winning a playoff game, for starters.
He might be the best coach in franchise history, but when your franchise hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990 that’s not saying much. With such a talented roster, the Bengals should be running with the big dogs of the AFC. We’re still waiting for them to get off the porch.
So perhaps it’s time to shake things up in the Queen City, and native son (and Buckeye legend) Jim Tressel might be the man for the job. Sure, he hasn’t coached since his dismissal from Ohio State in 2011 and is currently the president of Youngstown State, but would the allure of a coaching job with a good in-state NFL team be something that could bring him out for one more ride?
Though Tressel doesn’t have any NFL experience outside of a short stint as a consultant with the Colts in 2011, he was a proven winner in college for 25 years and might be able to breathe life into Andy Dalton, something that even scientists said was impossible.
Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears
Three games into his coaching career, Trestman was on fire – since then, his tenure in Chicago has basically turned into a dumpster fire.
The Bears started 3-0 under Trestman in 2013, but are just 10-16 since, and a franchise once known for defense is now a gaping hole larger than the Grand Canyon, with twice as many visitors finding pay dirt. Chicago didn’t give up fewer than 20 points in any game last season and are dead-last in points allowed this year at 29.1 per game.
The Bears gave up 93 points to the Green Bay Packers in two games this season, 51 to the Patriots and 41 to the Cowboys. They’re 2-4 at Soldier Field, and for all their talent on offense – including four skill players that could make the Pro Bowl – they are just 18th in scoring.
So, yes, Trestman is toast. Who could replace him? Believe it or not, it could be Bears Hall of Famer Mike Singletary.
Sure, his stint as 49ers coach was probably best remembered for the time he dropped his pants as a motivational tool, but some believe Singletary had more to do with San Francisco’s recent success than he gets credit for.
He had coached up linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks, and had defensive players like Justin Smith, Dashon Goldson, Isaac Sopoaga and Nate Clements playing well. He was smart enough to know Alex Smith was a bum. The 49ers started 0-5 in 2010, but won five of their next 10 games before Samurai Mike was chopped after Week 16. Perhaps now is the perfect time for him to land back in Chicago. Imagine how much he’d yell at Jay Cutler.
Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts
How could a coach be fired if he makes the playoffs in each of his first three seasons? If a better candidate comes around.
The Colts may have the inside track on another AFC South title, but they’re too frequently torched by teams like the Broncos and Patriots (Indy has lost its last seven regular season games when giving up more than 30 points). New England emphatically ended their 2013 season with a 43-22 playoff thumping in the playoffs, and while the Colts have proven they can score, can Pagano take this team to the next level?
If not, I know a guy who could: Jim Harbaugh.
After three trips to the NFC Championship Game and a Super Bowl appearance, it appears Harbaugh’s abrasive ways will force him out of San Francisco at the end of the season, which is good news for the Colts. Harbaugh not only coached Andrew Luck at Stanford, he’s proven adept at getting the most out of QBs like Rich Gannon, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. He knows how to coach up a defense, and he played for Indianapolis from 1994-97.
It might be the perfect match. And what of the opening in San Francisco? Well, Pagano would be available.