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NFL Black Monday: Which head coaches should be most concerned about their futures?

By Emile Avanessian

Published: 15:00, 8 January 2022

Black Monday.

It has an ominous ring, doesn’t it?

Granted, some of that sting may be mitigated by association with its cousin on the calendar, Black Friday, which conjures images of fashion and consumer electronics at cut rate prices. However, for a handful of NFL coaches each year, Black Monday offers no such delights.

Black Monday is the day after the final weekend of the NFL regular season, on which that aforementioned handful of NFL coaches is informed that their services will no longer be required.

The 2021 season has already witnessed the departure of two high-profile, highly-paid coaches. In late October, less than four years into a 10-year, $100 million contract, former Raiders HC Jon Gruden ‘resigned’ when it was revealed that he not only holds some troubling, retrograde (racist, misogynist, homophobic) opinions, but had felt comfortable expressing those opinions, via email, to employees of the NFL.

For Urban Meyer, meanwhile, it was, well… everything.

From the moment Meyer arrived in Jacksonville, the college football legend was tasked with saving a moribund Jaguars franchise, but nothing went right.

He hired (and quickly fired) a racist strength coach. Then, after a brutal start to the season, he embarrassed himself and the franchise with some untoward extracurriculars at his own steakhouse. He also literally kicked the kicker at practice and abused his own coaching staff.

In short, he never gained the respect of his players, and tried to rule the franchise as his own personal fiefdom, rather than a workplace in which he was surrounded by other competent adults.

As we head into the final week of the regular season, there are (by my count) eight coaches whose names we’ll see bandied about on ‘coaching hot seat’ lists. Three of these guys – Washington’s Ron Rivera, Detroit’s Dan Campbell, and Houston’s David Culley – ought to survive the axe.

In Rivera’s case, though Washington has won just 13 of the 32 games for which he’s been in charge, his 2020 team won a division title, and gave the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers a stern test in the playoffs.

In 2021 the team has been wracked by injuries, most notably in Week 1, to starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Beyond all of that, Rivera is extremely well-regarded around the NFL and, by all accounts, a good man. For a franchise – and an owner in Daniel Snyder – that’s embattled as any in the NFL, a respected, steadying influence like Rivera is great to have around.

In the cases of Campbell and Culley, both are first-year coaches who inherited rosters bereft of talent, and with no expectation of meaningful success. That both of their teams played hard, turned in some solid performances, and even registered a couple of impressive wins represents a certain degree of success. Both coaches will likely be given the opportunity to make use of top five draft picks in the upcoming NFL Draft.

That leaves, however, a handful of head coaches who will enter (and exit) this weekend with legitimate concerns about their futures.

Mike Zimmer (Minnesota Vikings)

In many ways Mike Zimmer does not cut the figure of a coach who is about to be shown the door. He doesn’t, by all accounts, have a rocky relationship with either ownership or General Manager Rick Spielman, and his three 10-win seasons – and two division titles (in eight years) – on the Minnesota sideline are more than the combined total of his three predecessors. And he did, after all, guide the Vikings to the 2017 NFC Championship Game.

The four years since, however, have consisted of three playoff absences, and 2021 will mark the team’s second consecutive losing season. With a roster that boasts a good-to-very-good (and very expensive) quarterback in Kirk Cousins, a standout running back in Dalvin Cook and one of the NFL’s best one-two receiving punches in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, as well as a defense to which considerable resources have been committed, that’s not good enough.

Neither is the fact that the 2021 Vikings didn’t simply struggle to consistently perform at a high level, but rather were defined by their disappointing inconsistency. A saving grace for Zimmer is that nine of the ten losses were by a single score – a more fortuitous season could have turned many of those defeats into Ws.

While retaining Zimmer is hardly a disastrous option, it’s tough to shake the sense that things are getting a little stale in Minnesota, and that a fresh voice might get more out of the talent on hand.

Matt Nagy (Chicago Bears)

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Matt Nagy.

It feels a bit strange even laying out the case for why the Bears might want to move on from Nagy, because it’s frankly surprising that they’ve not done so already.

The 2018 season, in which the Bears won 12 games and the NFC North was clearly an aberration. The two 8-8 seasons that followed – the second of which brought with it a play-off berth – were hardly disastrous, but this team is trending in the wrong direction. The 2021 Bears have won just six times and are atrocious offensively.

Given what we’ve seen the last three years, there’s little to suggest that Nagy is the man to help rebuild this franchise or guide Justin Fields’ development.

Joe Judge (New York Giants)

While the team itself didn’t have a great deal of expectations entering the season, the vibe around the Giants in the preseason was one of optimism – a fair bit was down to head coach Joe Judge.

Despite a lacklustre record in the 2020 season, his players played hard for him and, by all accounts, at no point did lose the locker room. The 2021 season has been an unmitigated disaster for Big Blue. In Judge’s defense, the Giants have lost every would-be playmaker on their offense for at least some portion of the season. Chief among these losses has been Daniel Jones, the fourth-year quarterback who may or may not hold the future (and a significant chunk of the salary cap) of this franchise in his hands.

On the one hand, it’s possible to give Judge an incomplete grade for 2021 and justify his return. However, the deteriorating results and completely dispirited performances as this season has worn on, combined with Judge’s own defensiveness regarding his position, suggest that this relationship might not have long to run.

Matt Rhule (Carolina Panthers)

Nearly three ago, Matt Rhule was actually the Giants’ top choice when Judge was hired, but opted instead to go to Carolina. After back-to-back of 5-11 seasons – the first of which saw the end of Ron Rivera’s reign in Carolina – 2021 seemed as though it would be the year the Panthers turned a corner.

They traded for former Jets QB Sam Darnold, had a premier playmaker in Christian McCaffrey, and an exciting young defense. They jumped out to a 3-0 start, and looked destined for a special season. 

Unfortunately, once McCaffrey was lost to injury, Donald reverted to his Jets form, and the Panthers have since lost 10 of 12 games, and will finish this season no better than 6-11. There’s a good chance that Rhule gets a third season at the helm. However, with new ownership in place, winning barely a third of his games is not going to buy him job security for much longer.

Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks)

In many ways Pete Carroll is the extreme example of Mike Zimmer. No coach in Seattle Seahawks history has achieved what Carroll has. He’s developed a number of overlooked and low-round draft picks into superstars – most notably legendary Legion of Boomers Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman and, of course, quarterback Russell Wilson. He’s won a Super Bowl, and came within a couple of yards of winning a second. Carroll’s CV in Seattle is unimpeachable.

However, the Seahawks have failed to recapture the magic of the glory days for a couple of years, and now find themselves thin on offense average on defense, with a no-longer-young (and increasingly frustrated) Russell Wilson possibly eyeing greener pastures, and no first-round pick with which to replenish the roster

This isn’t to say that Pete Carroll necessarily must be fired, or even that it would be deserved, but given everything going on with this franchise, it feels as though a transition might be in the cards. There’s also a possibility the 70-year-old hangs up his playsheet at the end of the season.

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