Coaches on the Hot Seat

Scout.com takes a midseason look at NFL head coaching changes that possibly could take place this offseason - or even sooner than that. One top candidate for the firing line is a former 49ers head coach who certainly hasn't done anything to enhance his reputation since he was dumped by San Francisco three seasons ago after taking the Niners to their last playoff berth.

COACHES ON THE HOT SEAT

Mike Tice/Minnesota:
There hasn't been a coach that's more on the hot seat than Tice since…... well Tice last season. The much-maligned coach might have saved his job last year only with a quality road win in the playoffs at Green Bay.

The expectations for this team, even without star receiver Randy Moss, were very high this season. Some close to the team say that Tice didn't work the team as hard in this past training camp than in previous summers, rather choosing to make sure the team stayed healthy to start the season. The poor 2-5 start certainly raises more than an eyebrow on the Vikings' situation and when you consider they have a new stadium on the horizon and ownership, it makes coaching on a one-year deal that much more tenuous.

While many see Tice being replaced before the season ends, owner Zygi Wilf remains steadfast on Tice keeping the job through the end of the season. The only viable candidate to replace him currently on the coaching staff is defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, who those close to the team say the players would back if such a move were to be made. Cottrell was one of three "finalists" identified for the 49ers' head coaching job during the interview process to replace Steve Mariucci after he was fired by the team in 2003.

Steve Mariucci/Detroit: He came in to his third season with the team with an 11-21 record, and the underachieving Lions find themselves with a 3-5 record at midseason and two games out of first place in the weak NFC North.

After six tumultuous seasons in San Francisco, during which he presided over the fall of the dynasty and a quick climb back to respectability, Mariucci took over a bad team in Detroit, so the expectations weren't high for his first two seasons. However, after what looked to be a pretty solid draft and a very active free-agency period, the expectations were greatly raised coming in to the 2005 season, particularly with the demise of perennial divisional contenders Minnesota and Green Bay.

Marriucci's inability to get good results from the quarterback position - most notably Joey Harrington - has been part of the issue. And Mariucci's insistence on signing free-agent QB Jeff Garcia, who looked washed up last year, hasn't proven to be a good move as of yet. At this point, Mariucci's reputation as an offensive guru is highly in question.

The offense, as a whole, had much bigger expectations for this season but they haven't come close to being met. While the receivers have been injured, those who have watched Detroit's game films have pointed out more than once that, despite their size, they still are having problems getting off of press coverage. While the nucleus of their group of receivers is very young, that's not a good sign. It goes to coaching.

Overall, president and CEO Matt Millen also has to shoulder some of the responsibility as team observers note that,while Millen looked to have some strong drafts and free-agent periods on paper, some of those players have yet to pan out.

And the coach Millen signed to a fat five-year contract three years ago isn't panning out, either.

Dom Capers/Houston: He's on the hot seat, obviously, because the expectations for this team are much higher in the expansion franchise's fourth season. A record of 1-7 with just 107 points scored at midseason won't help get that dreaded vote of confidence, either.

Capers, obviously knowing he's in a tight spot, already fired his offensive coordinator, Chris Palmer. This moves speaks of a desperate attempt to not only salvage the season but to put the blame on someone else. The fact is, the team that general manager Charley Casserly has put together isn't as good as he or anyone has expected thus far and by the looks of things, it likely won't get that much better.

Casserly made a dreadful mistake when he traded for underachieving cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who has been replaced as a starter by Demarcus Faggins, a player who has no business starting for any team. A league personnel evaluator pointed out that it's one thing to give up a conditional draft pick - which could escalate depending on playing time - which would have been the smart thing for Casserly to do in this situation. That would have protected the club should Buchanon turn out to be a disappointment. To give up two first-day picks (second- and third-round selections) for an overrated and unproven player like Buchanon was foolhardy, and it could ultimately prove to be a nail in Capers' coffin.

Mike Martz/St. Louis: At first glance, his excellent coaching record coming in to the season of 54-33 shouldn't put his job in jeopardy. However, a closer look at what has transpired since he took over the head job in 2000 could change the perception.

Martz inherited an excellent array of offensive personnel and, since he was the team's offensive coordinator before he was named head coach, not much was going to change there. Many point to his unorthodox game-day coaching and his odd use of timeouts as part of his downfall. Others point to Martz not practicing his players hard enough during the week. Others will say he had a contentious relationship with the front office.

The bottom line is Martz is a bright offensive mind who might not be the best head coach in the world. Still, as the saying goes, offense sells tickets so he won't have a hard time getting a head-coaching job next year if he's no longer with the Rams.

Possible landing spots for Martz would be Houston or Detroit if those jobs open up. Forced to miss the remainder of the season because of health issues, Martz is not getting much support from particular front-office types, so he could be gone after the season.

Norv Turner/Oakland: Like the other teams listed above, the expectations for the Raiders were much higher this season because of their draft and free-agent moves. The team, while showing marginal improvement, still reached midseason with a last-place 3-5 record in what could be the NFL's toughest division.

Those who have examined their personnel say don't expect much better results the rest of the way. When you look at the other teams in that AFC West, there isn't a feeling that Oakland can compete with any of them over the long haul.

While he's only in his second season with the team, it will be difficult for Turner to come back for a third season in 2006 unless the team makes a hard run at a wild-card playoff berth. From the looks of things, that's probably going to be a chore. Turner may have to win at least eight games to come back for another season because of the higher expectations for the team, not to mention a meddling owner not known for his patience.

Jim Haslett/New Orleans: It seemed that he got off the hot seat last year when general manager Mickey Loomis and Haslett ironed out their differences. However, Haslett hasn't yet gotten the contract extension he's been looking for. Both sides had extensive talks before training camp started but never reached an agreement on a new deal. The team looks just as bad as it did last year, and the Saints have lost four in a row and already are virtually out of playoff contention in the tough NFC South. Nobody around the league believes this team is playoff caliber.

You don't have to look far to find out the Saints' problems reside mostly on the defensive side of the ball. It has gotten so bad that the coaches are rotating backups in at linebacker because of poor tackling by the starters. And on offense, QB Aaron Brooks continues his regression instead of progressing.

Some around the league believe that Haslett could still come back for another season due to the devastation and tragedy that New Orleans has faced because of Hurrican Katrina, and the fact that the coaching staff has been displaced because of it. Still, the same problems that plagued the team last year are happening again. With little help left on the horizon, it's hard to imagine that Haslett will get an extension, meaning he'll likely be looking for another job next season.

Brian Billick/Baltimore: His coaching record is good, but the expectations the last two seasons clearly haven't been met. Billick was widely looked at as a bright offensive mind when he came over from Minnesota to coach the team in 1999. However, the passing game hasn't really ever taken off and the Ravens have been winning with defense and a strong running game ever since.

With the defense not playing up to its usual level this season due to injury and possibly age, more pressure has been put on the offense to perform and that hasn't happened.

The quarterback play has been a constant disappointment since Billick took over (Elvis Grbac, Trent Dilfer, Chris Redman, Anthony Wright, Kyle Boller to name a few) and it has been more glaring this season because of the poor performance of RB Jamal Lewis.

The constant struggles of the passing game and not meeting expectations of new owner Steve Bisciotti could put Billick's job on the line after the season unless he gets Baltimore's 2-6 midseason record turned around in a hurry.

POTENTIAL HEAD COACHES

Jim Fassel/Offensive Coordinator/Baltimore:
He accepted the offensive coordinator position with the team after being a consultant last season. Fassel believes that if he can get Baltimore's offense back on track it will help his stock around the league. So far, it hasn't happened, but the talent at receiver is much better this season. His real chore will be to get third-year QB Kyle Boller to raise his play to an acceptable level.

Fassel's offenses with the Giants struggled in the red zone in his last few years there so some around the league are still wondering how he'll be able to solve that problem with another team.

The bottom line is that he was very successful at one time with the Giants and took them to a Super Bowl so that cache will still hold a lot of weight with prospective employers.

Many have speculated than once Tice is either fired or doesn't have his contract renewed that Fassel will get serious consideration due to new owner Zygi Wilf being a Giant fan for a long time before taking over the Vikings. Wilf was also said to be at the 2000 NFC Championship game where the Giants won decisively over the Vikings. The struggles of the Ravens' offense won't help matters, but because he has head-coaching experience, Fassel still figures to be on the short list of some owners.

Brad Childress/Offensive Coordinator/Philadelphia: He interviewed for the Cleveland head coach opening earlier this year and is known as one of the better offensive game planners around the league. Most league insiders believe he'll be on the short list of many teams for vacant openings early next year.

Russ Grimm/Offensive Line Coach/Pittsburgh: He was given the title of assistant head coach last year in addition to coaching the offensive line and Grimm is very well thought of around the league. The Hall of Fame finalist interviewed for the Cleveland head-coaching job earlier this year. Grimm is a disciplinarian who should get a realistic chance at a vacant job next season.

Gregg Williams/Assistant Head Coach-Defense /Washington: No can deny that he's a great defensive mind. Williams has essentially put together one of the league's best defenses with mediocre personnel. No matter what injuries he has on defense, Williams has been able to figure out a way to control opposing offenses. A true testament to Washington's 3-0 start this year was its defense, which kept the team in every game no matter who the opponent was.

Williams didn't do a great job in his first go around as a head coach, but neither did Bill Belichick. Look for Williams to get more than one interview for a head-coaching job next season. The Redskins defense has been struggling of late but that shouldn't be an issue. Williams does as well as he can with the talent he has.

Kirk Ferentz/University of Iowa head coach: He was an assistant under Bill Belichick with the Browns and has done a very solid job at Iowa. He had already turned down head–coaching overtures from NFL owners in the past but the money has gotten so good on the pro level that he may say yes this time.

Gary Kubiak/Offensive Coordinator/Denver: He has turned down more than one chance to be a head coach. Kubiak has done a good job of learning the West Coast offense from head coach Mike Shanahan over the years and most around the league believe he's more than ready to be a head man if he wants a top job.

Jim Schwartz/Defensive Coordinator/Tennessee: He's viewed by many around the league as one of the brightest young defensive minds. Schwarz is seen as a future head coach who should get at least a few interviews early next year. He was one of five candidates interviewed by the 49ers last year before they hired Mike Nolan.

Jerry Gray/Defensive Coordinator/Buffalo: The former NFL defensive back has been with the team for a while and has done a pretty good job of keeping Buffalo's defense playing at a solid level. He has been challenged this season due to the free-agency defection to Minnesota of DT Pat Williams and the loss of WLB Takeo Spikes due to a season-ending injury. Many around the league believe he'll be a head coach in a few years.

Eric Mangini/Defensive Coordinator/New England: He's the sexy name around the league but probably is at least a few years away from getting serious consideration for a head coaching position. Mangini is in his first year running the Patriots' defense so he still has a lot to prove, but he did a solid job with their defensive backs before the promotion earlier this year.

Al Saunders/Offensive Coordinator/Kansas City: Most around the team believe that he'll replace head coach Dick Vermeil as Kansas City's next head man once Vermeil decides to retire. Saunders was a head coach once in his career with the Chargers for a brief time but that was almost 20 years ago. He's known as one of the best offensive play callers and has coached many key positions on offense and has coached under many of the league's best offensive minds over the years. It wouldn't surprise anyone if Saunders gets the call to take over the team once Vermeil calls it quits.

Some of the other names that have been mentioned to take over the job once Vermeil retires are Jets' head coach Herman Edwards, who played for Vermeil with the Eagles. Edwards signed an extension last year with the Jets. Baylor University head coach Guy Morriss, who also played for Vermeil, and North Carolina coach John Bunting also have been mentioned as candidates to replace Vermeil. All but Saunders and Edwards appear to be long-shots at this point.


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