Bad NFL Coaching Fires

Seven NFL teams changed head coaches at the end of last season (including the New York Giants, who canned head coach Ben McAdoo following Week 13). That's pretty typical. There were six new coaches last year, seven in 2016, seven in 2015 ... seven is a pretty standard number in today's league. But what makes this year remarkable is how few of the firings appear justified.

To be fair, one of the new head coaches, former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, is replacing a coach who retired. The Arizona Cardinals are the oldest team in the NFL, actually preceding the league itself, though they've moved from Chicago to St. Louis to Phoenix. In their century-long history, Bruce Arians is the team's winningest head coach. He retired with a 58-33-1 record and two Coach of the Year awards. He had only one losing season, 7-8-1, and leaves some big shoes for Wilks to fill.

Arians cited health issues (he needed surgery to remove a cancerous piece of his kidney) as prompting his retirement, and three other head coaches, including McAdoo, were fired for understandable reasons. But what about the other three?

The Detroit Lions fired head coach Jim Caldwell, who was 36-28 and had three winning seasons in four years, after a 9-7 campaign. Do the Lions think their roster, which produced all of two Pro Bowlers last season, is so stacked with talent that back-to-back 9-7 seasons is underachieving? Caldwell is the first Lions coach with a winning record since Buddy Parker more than 60 years ago.

When you fire a coach after a winning season, it's usually because expectations are high, because you think you have a great team. The Lions went 7-9 in 2013, the year before they hired Caldwell. They went 18-14 his first two years, lost Calvin Johnson to early retirement, and maintained that 18-14 record the next two seasons. Obviously you'd like to see progress, but Johnson's retirement, injuries to Ziggy Ansah, a tough division, and some personnel mistakes that weren't Caldwell's fault would all seem to explain why Detroit hasn't turned into a Super Bowl contender.

I've never been a big Jim Caldwell fan, but his record merited more respect, and the team's impatience and lack of consistency will likely hurt it in the long run. I'm skeptical that new HC Matt Patricia will win 36 games in the next four years.

During the playoffs, I wrote in depth about the Raiders' inexplicable decision to (1) fire their most successful coach in the last two decades, and (2) replace him with Jon Gruden, making Gruden the highest-paid coach in NFL history. His contract is for 10 years, and I'd say there's about a 90% chance he doesn't make it halfway through.

His predecessor, Jack Del Rio, signed a four-year extension in February and only lasted for 20% of it. The Raiders lost their last four games in a row, but Del Rio still walked away as the first Raiders coach with a winning record (25-23) since Gruden himself left 17 years ago. Al Davis may be gone, but his son Mark remains dedicated to the family tradition of firing every coach who shows signs of making the team good again.

The most egregious firing, though, was that of the Tennessee Titans' Mike Mularkey. The Titans haven't won double-digit games in a decade. They went 9-7 in 2013, then back-to-back losing seasons got head coach Mike Munchak fired. His replacement, Ken Whisenhunt, lasted just 23 games, going 3-20. Mularkey, promoted to replace him, went 2-7 over the final nine games but showed enough to keep the job and rewarded the team's faith in him, leading Tennessee to back-to-back winning seasons and the team's first playoff win since the 2003 season.

But Marcus Mariota hasn't turned into Tom Brady yet, so Mularkey hit the trash heap. Seriously, the Titans went 13 seasons without winning a playoff game, and fired the coach who finally led them to a postseason victory one week later. I have no words for how dumb that is.

Too many team owners and general managers are destructively impatient, certain that quick fixes to their problems are out there, if only they try often enough, fast enough. It doesn't work that way.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site