Best and Worst NFL Coaches: The Dirty Dozen Rankings
Coaches know their eventual fate the day they are hired. Almost all will be fired within a few years unless they do something very difficult, like win a Super Bowl. Or ride off into the sunset to pursue better causes, as Tony Dungy did.
So maybe Jeff Fisher's time has come.
He is, after all, the longest-tenured coach in the NFL, in his 15th season with the same franchise going back to 1995, when he took over for Jack Pardee with the Houston Oilers. Coaching certainly is a "what have you done for me lately" business -- never mind that the Titans started 10-0 last season and finished 13-3 -- they lost their first playoff game to Baltimore and are 0-6 this year, including that horrendous 59-0 blowout in Foxborough last week.
So folks in Tennessee are upset, including Bud Adams, who founded the franchise in 1960 and has seen enough to know that firing your coach, especially in midseason, doesn't solve much. In fact, the Titans' troubles may stem from the fact that Detroit fired its coach after last season -- Jim Schwartz, Tennessee's former defensive coordinator, now coaches the Lions and Chuck Cecil, his replacement with the Titans, doesn't seem up to the job.
Yet Fisher remains one of the league's most respected coaches, co-chairman of the NFL's Competition committee and a consistent winner -- even with the 0-6 start, he's 128-108 with five playoff wins and a trip to the Super Bowl after the 1999 season.
On the other hand, maybe it's time for him to leave -- voluntarily. Jim Mora (the elder) once suggested that seven or eight years is probably the longest a coach can stick with one franchise. Your message gets stale, he said, the fans get tired of you and so do your players. This was after a midseason public meltdown in New Orleans, where he stepped down in the middle of his 11th season with the Saints after going 93-78 for a franchise that had never won before.
But leaving out Fisher and some of the new guys trying to turn around terrible teams, here's a look at the best and worst of the current coaches.
1. Bill Belichick, New England: No brainer. OK, he's not Mr. Warmth. And he's bent the rules. So has almost every successful coach. Does anyone really think that three Super Bowl titles and an unbeaten 2007 regular season were the result of taping opponents' signals? He assumes he's smarter than anyone else and maybe he is -- although on one day in February, 2008, he wasn't as smart as ...
2. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants: The kind of old school coach who truly does "play 'em one at a time.'' This week is an example -- after his defense was shredded by Drew Brees and the Saints, he didn't rant. He simply went about trying to fix problems in the secondary. Remember that he had Jacksonville in the AFC title game in its second year as a franchise. And outcoached an overconfident Belichick in the Super Bowl. Even his quizzical looks at officials on the sideline reflect something -- he wins more challenges than almost any other coach. And his self-examination at age 60 when he nearly got fired after the 2006 season was totally against his character. The result showed it worked.
3. Andy Reid, Philadelphia: He's below Coughlin because he hasn't won a Super Bowl. But he's been to five NFC championship games in the last nine seasons. And in his 11th season he's 110-72-1 playing in a very competitive division. The folks in Philly who'd like to see change might change their minds the minute a new coach loses. Besides, Reid is about to get a contract extension. He sometimes seems wed to the pass, but is clearly a solid coach.
4. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh: When Bill Cowher stepped down, Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm was supposed to step up. But this "remarkable young man,'' as Dan Rooney called him then, stepped into the Steelers' office and the search was over. Whisenhunt and Grimm went to Arizona and did fine, but Tomlin, at 36, beat them in a Super Bowl. A "players coach'' who knows exactly when to stop being a players coach -- ask Limas Sweed, whose penchant for dropping important passes got him demoted and then benched. Sure other coaches do it, but it's harder when you're only a few years older than your players.
5. Sean Payton, New Orleans: Always a smart offensive mind, he was done in last season by his defense. So he gave up $250,000 of his salary to help lure Gregg Williams to run the defensive unit. Over six weeks, he has the best team in the NFL. Enough said.
6. Mike Smith, Atlanta: A generic coach with a generic name who was literally unknown when Arthur Blank hired him after the 2007 season? He had no chance at any other job and he stepped into turmoil created by the downfall of Michael Vick. Yes, he had the good fortune to have Matt Ryan left for him in the 2008 draft, but he also had the foresight to start him right away. Like Coughlin, an even-keel guy who might challenge Payton's Saints in the NFC South, and certainly has an excellent shot at his second playoff berth in two seasons as a coach.
6a. Josh McDaniels, Denver: Normally, I'd never put a first-year coach with a six-game track record on a list like this. But the six games are all wins, when the expectations after a chaotic offseason were for just the opposite. Belichick offspring have not been especially successful. He looks like he will be.
27. Brad Childress, Minnesota: This may be unfair. It probably is unfair. But watching Childress try to "manage'' the game and clock against the Ravens last week was painful. Playing for a field goal with more than two minutes left and one of the best late-game quarterbacks in history on your side? And winning only because the other guys missed a makeable field goal? He always seems insecure, which is why a team which might have the NFL's best talent might not go very far into the playoffs.
28-29. (tie) Wade Phillips, Dallas and Norv Turner, San Diego: There's a reason why Jerry Jones hired Phillips after Turner turned him down after Bill Parcells left -- Jones wants to coach his team. Phillips is a first-rate defensive coordinator and Turner is one of the NFL's better offensive minds. Both are nice guys. There's truth to the adage: "Nice guys finish last.''
30. Tom Cable, Oakland: OK, he may be over his head because Al Davis wants someone who will do what Al Davis wants. And yes, he outcoached Reid in the Raiders' win over Philly last week. But good coaches don't get in fights with assistants (although again, it's the Raiders.) Just part of a long, sad story in the East Bay.
31. Eric Mangini, Cleveland: His record isn't awful -- 24-30. But it's getting worse. Might be a mole planted by the Jets, who fired him last year and let the Browns grab him almost instantaneously. Now he's traded them Mark Sanchez and Braylon Edwards. He also treats his players like high schoolers -- laps around the field for minor mistakes, as he did last year with Brett Favre when Favre fumbled a practice snap in his first week with the team. Players don't have to always love their coaches (see Belichick and Coughlin) but if they don't, the coaches had better win.
32. Jim Zorn, Washington: Had never even been a coordinator when Dan Snyder hired him to be one two winters ago. When Snyder couldn't get a legitimate candidate to come to Washington, he made Zorn the head coach. Zorn has already been demoted -- Sherm Lewis, who was calling bingo games in Michigan, is now calling plays. Zorn probably will be put out of his misery during the bye week after Monday night's game.