NFL hot seat: Seven coaches who may be in jeopardy in coming days

The NFL regular season will effectively come to an end Sunday night, the fate of the suspended Week 17 Bills-Bengals game notwithstanding.

However, whatever happens with Buffalo and Cincinnati, their head coaches aren’t in jeopardy of losing their jobs. That won’t be the case elsewhere in the league, where the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts already have vacancies after firing their sideline bosses during the season.

More openings will doubtless follow as ‘Black Monday’ draws near.

Recent history suggests there will be a half-dozen openings or more by mid-month. (Ten HC jobs changed hands last offseason, though not all were created by a firing. Of the league’s 32 clubs, 24 have switched head coaches at least once since the 2018 offseason.) This is also the time of year when speculation tends to run especially wild, Bill Belichick’s job security with the New England Patriots even questioned in some quarters in recent weeks … if before his team was on the verge of snatching a wild-card berth.

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But who’s most likely to be coaching for the final time with his current team this weekend? Here are seven coaches of the non-interim variety (listed alphabetically) who could be on the hot seat:

Dennis Allen, New Orleans Saints

Replacing a local hero like Sean Payton was always going to be a tall order no matter the successor. But a team that finished a tiebreaker shy of the postseason in 2021 and largely returned intact has been one of the league’s bigger disappointments, eliminated from playoff contention last weekend despite playing in what’s arguably been the NFL’s weakest division. The offense has struggled without Payton, and Allen’s defense – on the periphery of elite in recent years – hasn’t been able to pick up enough of the slack.  Challenging circumstances to be sure, but it wouldn’t be a stunner if Allen winds up collateral damage for a veteran-laden roster that seems ripe for an overhaul in 2023.

Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Despite an 8-8 record, his team is headed to postseason – essentially because the Saints and the rest of the NFC South have been so generally uninspiring. Still, the Bucs haven’t been the same team they were in Tom Brady’s first two seasons, when they were a combined 24-9 in the regular season and won Super Bowl 55 following the 2020 campaign. But lately, the 45-year-old quarterback has repeatedly exhorted teammates on the sideline but often to little avail. The offense has become completely one-dimensional, and the defense (though ranked eighth) has seemed less than the sum of its parts. And with Brady on the verge of becoming a free agent, there could soon be a lot more questions than answers on Bowles’ pirate ship.

Kliff Kingsbury, Arizona Cardinals

Reality: The fourth-year coach agreed to contract extensions through the 2027 season in March. Perception: An organization that had shown incremental improvement during Kingsbury’s first three years and reached the playoffs last season is currently 4-12 thanks to a six-game losing streak. Perhaps worse are the optics, Kingsbury’s offense middling at best amid underachieving QB Kyler Murray’s constant ranting at his coach and teammates during games – and that was before Murray’s season-ending knee injury. Owner Michael Bidwill has a lot to consider, from the financial hit he’d take by eating Kingsbury’s contract to how attractive this job is – especially given the uncertainty about Murray’s availability and effectiveness in 2023 as he recovers.

Ron Rivera, Washington Commanders

In many ways, he’s anchored this organization – from a football perspective – during his three seasons, which included a surprise NFC East title in 2020 (despite a 7-9 record). Yet the Commanders have fallen out of the playoff picture, apparently to the surprise of Rivera last Sunday, and appear headed to a third straight seven-win season under the veteran coach. Rookie Sam Howell will be the latest dart thrown at the quarterback position, which has been mismanaged under Rivera, who essentially admitted as much himself earlier this season. But perhaps more foreboding could be the potential sale of this franchise if besieged owner Daniel Snyder finally cashes out – the type of hypothetical that often leads to sweeping changes if it comes to fruition.

Lovie Smith, Houston Texans

At 2-13-1, his team sports the league’s worst record. Would it be just to fire Smith after one season? Well, the Texans did just that to David Culley after a 4-13 campaign last year, when former QB Deshaun Watson was an overarching distraction. And going back to his time in Chicago and Tampa, Smith is headed for his fifth consecutive season short of the playoffs as an NFL head coach.

Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers

Given the way the rumor mill churns this time of year, it might seem unfair to mention a second-year coach who’s maneuvered his 10-6 team into the playoff field despite a rash of significant injuries. And yet Staley, who made his bones as a defensive assistant, has watched the Bolts rank 23rd and 19th (currently) on that side of the ball in his two seasons. But more ominous are the continuous rumblings – reported by NFL Network and ESPN, specifically – that former Saints HC Sean Payton, who currently lives in LA while working for Fox Sports, has an eye on this job. Current Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi worked under Payton in New Orleans for 12 years, which suggests a change at the top wouldn’t mean QB Justin Herbert would have to go back to Square One if a regime change equates to Payton’s arrival.

Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Browns 

The NFL Coach of the Year in 2020, when Cleveland won its first playoff game since the Belichick era, Stefanski has certainly been hamstrung under center while waiting out Watson’s 11-game suspension to start this season and then trying to integrate him into what’s largely a foreign scheme to the three-time Pro Bowler. And yet the Browns’ overall talent suggests they should be better than 7-9 (or 8-9 in 2021). It stands to reason that Stefanski should get at least a full season with Watson, who doesn’t seem to have melded effectively with the offense thus far. If Stefanski remains, he’d be the first coach under owner Jimmy Haslam to survive into his fourth year.


Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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