NFL head coach hot seat rankings: Mike McCarthy, Matt Rhule on notice ahead of Week 1
Coaching turnover is a fact of life in the NFL, and history suggests at least a half dozen of the current bosses will be goners by mid-January.
Patience is supposedly a virtue, though not one necessarily practiced in the win-soon/now-or-else NFL.
Coaching turnover is a fact of life in the league, and history suggests at least a half dozen of the current bosses will be goners by mid-January.
Ten coaching jobs switched hands in the 2022 offseason, a number bolstered by Jon Gruden's disgraceful midseason ouster in Las Vegas last year, the retirement of Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay and Sean Payton's decision to leave the New Orleans Saints. Since the end of the 2020 season, there have been 17 hires or promotions throughout the league. The Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars are both on their fourth head coach in the past two years.
Yet despite the precarious nature of being an NFL coach, the 2022 season dawns with few apparently in peril. The NFC West looks virtually bulletproof, the Arizona Cardinals' Kliff Kingsbury the only member of that quartet who hasn't taken his team to the Super Bowl. Yet, despite a 24-25-1 mark during his three seasons and nary a playoff victory, Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim were extended through the 2027 season in March – job security rarely enjoyed at this level.
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Undoubtedly, a few months from now, others will not be so fortunate. Our 2022 preseason NFL head coach hot seat index:
5. Robert Saleh, New York Jets
He's embarking on just his second season, but Saleh is coaching in the New York pressure cooker – where the Jets' Todd Bowles and Giants' Tom Coughlin are the most recent coaches to last more than two years. Saleh's predecessor, Adam Gase, didn't make it to Year 3. Still, the fact that Saleh even rates on this list is a testament to the relative coolness of hot seats around the league in 2022. Yet Saleh, a defensive coach by trade, saw the Jets surrender the most points and yards in the league in 2021 on the way to a 4-13 finish. Far more will be expected in the aftermath of a widely hailed 2022 draft executed by GM Joe Douglas, and significant progress by second-year QB Zach Wilson is imperative. It should be noted Gase was hired months before Douglas in 2019, and the GM seems to be in much better lockstep with Saleh, whom he brought into the organization. But a franchise that owns the league's longest playoff drought (dating to 2010) better start gaining altitude.
4. Lovie Smith, Houston Texans
If it's borderline unfair to mention Saleh, then why list Smith, who was elevated from associate head coach/defensive coordinator in February? Well, to suggest that Houston's front office has historically been prone to the unorthodox would be an understatement. Second-year GM Nick Caserio, who's among the many ties the Texans have had to the Patriots over the years, fired David Culley after one season even though the first-year head coach had little talent to work with and came aboard just as QB Deshaun Watson's tenure was unraveling. Smith has a more impressive NFL résumé than Culley, including a Super Bowl trip with the Bears during the 2006 season. However, his last pro HC job ended after two seasons, when he went 8-24 with the Buccaneers, and Smith's ties to Caserio aren't much deeper than Culley's were. The fact Houston scratched out four wins under Culley seemed fairly remarkable ... and that may well be a bar Smith's team can't clear.
3. Ron Rivera, Washington Commanders
From one perspective, the two-time NFL Coach of the Year (both times with Carolina) has secured one division title in two seasons in the nation's capital, the Washington Football Team giving the eventual champion Bucs about all they could handle in the 2020 wild-card round. But the glass-half-empty viewpoint points to Rivera's 14-20 record in Washington and a far less competitive team in 2021 when the defense cratered. There are also major questions about the franchise's management of the quarterback position under Rivera. The team is only 9-19 in games not started by retired Alex Smith, who claimed Rivera didn't even want him on the team amid his amazing comeback from a shattered leg in 2020.
Washington was in striking distance of Justin Fields and Mac Jones in the 2021 draft but didn't move up for either. The Commanders' trade for Carson Wentz this year appeared like a panicked fallback after Russell Wilson was dealt to Denver – especially since Baker Mayfield, Matt Ryan and Jimmy Garoppolo were among options who subsequently became available. In most cities, it would be reasonable to expect Rivera's fortunes to rise or fall based on how Wentz, now with his third team in three seasons, performs in 2022. However, Rivera's ability to cultivate stability and his sterling reputation off the field could buy more time here given the ongoing turmoil emanating from the owner's suite at FedExField.
2. Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers
The latest hotshot coach who's struggled to translate success from the college level, Rhule is 10-23 two seasons into a seven-year contract. Recently acquired Baker Mayfield will become Rhule's fifth starting quarterback in Charlotte and is working with Ben McAdoo, the third offensive coordinator since the start of the 2020 season. A last-place finish and 30th-ranked offense in 2021 belie the talent on this roster, and it should be noted that injuries have limited former All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey to 10 games during Rhule's reign. But the franchise's failed pursuit of Watson is a strong indicator of how badly new-ish owner David Tepper wants to win. If the Panthers aren't competitive, seems likely that Tepper will be taking his second stab at a head coaching hire.
1. Mike McCarthy, Dallas Cowboys
Like everything else in Texas, hot seats and spotlights tend to be a little bit warmer and brighter. McCarthy's 18-16 ledger after two seasons, which included the NFC East crown in 2021, would be acceptable in most NFL locales. Most. But Dallas lost its playoff opener at home last season, a 23-17 defeat to the 49ers, in large part due to the offense's clock mismanagement on the final drive – a sequence that punctuated a season when the Cowboys led the NFL with penalties, about a third of the pre-snap variety. What followed was an offseason when owner Jerry Jones was initially coy about McCarthy's future – while making sure Dallas retained defensive coordinator Dan Quinn – before offering a (dreaded?) vote of confidence to start training camp. "He wouldn’t be sitting here today if I didn’t think he was the man to lead this team to a Super Bowl,” said Jones, whose team hasn't reached the Super Bowl or even an NFC title game since the 1995 season. "And I have choices (that) were there for my use had I wanted them."
For McCarthy's part, he described persistent questions about his job status as "irritating," while also telling The Dallas Morning News that, "It’s a media-driven narrative, or at least a narrative driven outside my realm." (Is it otherwise anywhere else, Mike? But we digress.) Moving forward, McCarthy's team aims to be the first since the 2004 Eagles to repeat as division champions. Dallas will likely have to hold off a talented Philadelphia team that closed the 2021 regular season with a 6-2 burst on its way to a wild-card berth. The Cowboys will have to do so even as last season's top-ranked offense adapts to significant changes in the receiving corps and offensive line, which recently lost perennial Pro Bowl LT Tyron Smith to a hamstring injury that's likely to keep him out until at least December. By that point, America and its Team should have a stronger sense of whether McCarthy's staff has cleaned up the self-inflicted issues that have played too big a part in holding this team back and whether or not winter is coming for its coach.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.