Extra Points: 'Tis the season to think about next season
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - There are no more five-year plans in the NFL.
While worst to first isn't exactly expected these days, it's the goal of every franchise which isn't playing meaningful football during the holiday season.
Of course logic says if you go from the outhouse to the penthouse, sort of like the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs, who finished 2-14 a year ago and are now closing in on the AFC's No. 5 seed with a 10-3 mark under first-year coach Andy Reid, that means a few teams who enjoyed a nice view from their suite 365 days ago are currently living in squalor.
The Atlanta Falcons were a play away from the Super Bowl last year and are now in the NFC South basement. Washington and Houston are another pair of 2012 division winners who have made the ignominious trip from first to worst.
The Texans were in fact the two-time defending AFC South champions until officially giving up that crown to Indianapolis on Sunday, which clinched the honors despite being trounced by Cincinnati 42-28. That, however, was just bookkeeping for Houston, a team many thought was a legitimate Super Bowl contender until a 2-0 start morphed into a franchise-record, 11-game losing streak.
Veteran coach Gary Kubiak paid the price on Friday, a day after the Texans' latest loss to equally inept Jacksonville on "Thursday Night Football." The trip to the unemployment line came just 33 days after Kubiak was stricken with a mini-stroke during halftime of the Texans game against Indianapolis on Nov. 3, and magnifies just how much of a bottom-line business the NFL really is.
"The last straw was losing (to the Jaguars)," Texans owner Bob McNair said. "We have a lot better talent than Jacksonville," We are so disappointed and shocked by what has happened. Gary accepted it and understands the situation."
There are two schools of thought when a coach is fired during the season. The more conventional one is what's the point? Texans interim coach Wade Phillips certainly didn't improve things when Kubiak was out with his health problems the first time and it's unlikely anything changes now. The counter to that is the moving forward-mantra, and the fact that there are three games left to evaluate every remaining player and coach in the organization.
McNair believes the Texans' disastrous 2013 season is a hiccup and not a trend so he has been pretty clear that he wants to replace Kubiak with someone who has experience as a coach in the NFL, meaning no Chip Kelly-type flavors of the month like Baylor's Art Briles or Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin.
"We would like someone who has had head coaching experience, but has also had NFL experience," McNair said. "It's a combination of those two things would be the ideal situation and there are people who meet those conditions."
The only people sure to get interviews are Phillips, a former head coach in Denver, Buffalo and Dallas as well as an interim-mentor in New Orleans and Atlanta, along with ex-Chicago coach Lovie Smith, a Texas native.
Others who will reportedly be under consideration re Denver defensive coordinator and former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio as well as Ken Whisenhunt, the current Chargers OC and ex-Cardinals head man, plus current Redskins pilot Mike Shanahan,
"Experience shows that those people who were selected to be a head coach in the NFL, met with more success if they had head-coaching experience," McNair said when explaining his thought process. "If you take someone who has been a coordinator, you're basically moving them from a lower level of management, let's say, to a higher level of management that they've never been in before. So, there's a question mark as to whether they can elevate their performance to be able to handle those additional responsibilities."
We will be hearing plenty of other philosophies from management across the league in the coming weeks because Kubiak is hardly going to be the only coach filing a change of address form.
Here's a capsule look at some of the NFL's embattled coaches who should consider updating the resume while they still have a little time left:
DEAD MEN WALKING:
Mike Shanahan - Washington Redskins - The fact that Shanahan is believed to be on McNair's aforementioned short list in Houston tells you all you need to know about his future inside the Beltway. In fact some are convinced Shanahan is putting more effort into his exit plan in D.C. than his game plans for the moribund 3-10 'Skins.
More than a few think Shanahan himself leaked a story to ESPN through long- time sycophant Adam Schefter, claiming he nearly quit back in January before the team's wild card loss to Seattle over concerns with the relationship owner Daniel Snyder had with quarterback Robert Griffin III.
"It's not the right time or place to talk about my relationship with Dan Snyder," Shanahan told reporters after Sunday's 45-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Of course quitting before a playoff game is a ridiculous and implausible course of action for any NFL coach and would have destroyed whatever reputation Shanahan has left. The story was floated to incense Snyder, who can certainly be unhinged at times, and get Shanahan out of a mess he helped create and into a soft landing spot in Houston, although McNair's supposed interest is probably overblown.
"Some Redskins officials questioned the timing and motivation behind those sentiments becoming public, the people with knowledge of the situation said, with some suggesting Shanahan -- or someone close to him -- was behind the story," wrote Mark Maske of the Washington Post wrote. "The Redskins officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said a parting of the ways between the team and Shanahan was increasingly likely."
Increasingly likely is code for a fait accompli.
Whether you believe the conspiracy or not, Shanahan need not worry, his actual performance guarantees his eventual exit in Washington, whether it's on Monday or after the season.
Leslie Frazier - Minnesota Vikings - Yeah, the Vikings probably should have won in Baltimore on Sunday if it wasn't for Pete Morelli's crew tilting the field for the Ravens' in four or five key spots but that doesn't change the fact that Frazier is a defensive guy whose defenses have turned fourth-quarter collapses into some kind of twisted art form. That and the fact Frazier refuses to acknowledge Christian Ponder can't play make him unemployable in 2014.
Greg Schiano - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Hindsight says Schiano may have been right in pulling the plug on Josh Freeman, a tremendously talented quarterback who from all accounts just doesn't do his work off the field, for rookie Mike Glennon. The controversial coach also deserves a ton of credit for keeping his team fighting hard after a dismal 0-8 start. That said, Schiano has always been his own worst enemy and he showed up in Central Florida as such an unlikable guy that it's almost impossible for Tampa Bay to sell him to its fan base moving forward.
IT'S PLAYOFFS OR BUST:
Jim Schwartz - Detroit Lions - If you pick in that top 10 of the NFL Draft consistently, you'll probably accumulate enough difference-makers to make a postseason run every now and again, and the Detroit Lions have done exactly that.
Few teams across the NFL can match what the Lions roll out on Sundays. Four players on Detroit's roster were picked by the Lions in the top five overall -- Calvin Johnson (No. 2 in 2007), quarterback Matthew Stafford (No. 1 in 2009), defensive end Ndamukong Suh (No. 2 in 2010) and defensive end Ziggy Ansah (No. 5 in 2013). Add in Reggie Bush, who was selected No. 2 overall in 2006 by New Orleans, and solid picks like Nick Fairley (No. 13 in 2011), offensive tackle Riley Reiff (No. 23 in 2012), linebacker DeAndre Levy (No. 76 in 2009) and safety Louis Delmas (No. 33 in 2009) and it's pretty evident Detroit is the most talented team in the North from one through 53.
Under Schwartz however, Detroit remains an undisciplined bunch which lacks consistency and mental toughness as evidenced by the disastrous loss in the "Snow Bowl" in Philly on Sunday.
The Lions are still atop the NFC North at 7-6 and control their own destiny if they take their final three games (vs. Baltimore, vs. NY Giants, at Minnesota). If they lose one, however, the Bears or Packers (who meet each other in Week 17) can win the North by running the table, a scenario which would prove to be fatal for Schwartz and one more than plausible, especially of the Packers' Aaron Rodgers can get back on the field for Week 15.
Joe Philbin - Miami Dolphins - Philbin is coaching with a small margin of error because the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin nonsense painted him as the kingpin of an organization which allowed meatheads like Incognito to run roughshod over gentle souls like Martin and other minorities in the locker room. It's an unfair portrayal but life is rarely fair, meaning Philbin is no Morelli fan today because he has to outlast Baltimore for that final wild card spot in the AFC.
Jason Garrett - Dallas Cowboys - December looms for the Cowboys. Dallas entered Week 14 in the top spot in the NFC East and in control of its own destiny. All the 'Boys have to do is finish things, starting Monday night in Chicago where Dallas faces off with a Bears team minus its leaders on both offense and defense, quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs.
Here's the problem, though. Dallas is just 13-17 in the month of December since Tony Romo took over as the team's starting quarterback in 2006, and Romo himself is 11-15 as a starter with some high-profile missteps.
Philadelphia's win on Sunday puts the Eagles one-half game ahead, pending the 'Boys' bout in the Second City but the Cowboys currently hold the tie breaker thanks to a 17-3 win in the City of Brotherly Love back on Oct. 20 along with a perfect 4-0 division mark. A Week 17 matchup with the Eagles in Dallas still remains on the schedule, however, and another hiccup in a high-profile spot could force Jerry Jones' hand with Garrett.
After all Jerry can't fire the GM, can he?
Ron Rivera - Carolina Panthers - Rivera was on shaky ground entering the 2013 season but a franchise-record eight-game winning streak and the presumed playoff berth that came with it seemed to alleviate any job security issues.
However, that postseason spot is hardly guaranteed any longer after a 31-13 drubbing at the hands of Drew Brees and New Orleans on Sunday night. If the Panthers check their rear-view on Monday, they will see San Francisco matched them at 9-4 and Arizona and Philadelphia moved to 8-5 with Dallas also having a chance to reach that same plateau with a win over banged-up Chicago on Monday night.
Carolina's schedule is favorable down the stretch with home games against the NY Jets and Saints followed by a Week 17 trip to Atlanta. That, however, means a collapse would look even worse for Rivera.
WALK AWAY GRACEFULLY:
Tom Coughlin - New York Giants - Two-time Super Bowl winners deserve career dispensation cards and Coughlin is in that club but at 67 years of age and with 10 years under his belt in New York, it's conceivable Coughlin has reached his expiration date with the Giants. This is not and will never be a firing scenario but general manager Jerry Reese may try to talk Coughlin into walking away gracefully.
LIVE TO SEE ANOTHER DAY:
Mike Smith - Atlanta Falcons - Free-falling from 13-3 to 3-9 is usually grounds for a pink slip but Smith accrued enough goodwill in the form of a 56-24 career mark with four 10-win seasons before this debacle to get one last chance to turn things around in 2014.
Dennis Allen - Oakland Raiders - Allen is a nondescript guy treading water in Oakland but until GM Reggie McKenzie gives him a legitimate NFL quarterback, which will never include a third-round supplemental pick or a former walk-on at Penn State, to work with, it's unfair to hold his less-than desirous 8-20 record against him.
12/09 12:32:50 ET