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NFL - Gathering Around the Fire

By Craig Hardesty
Friday, December 14th, 2001

Before every season begins, hope springs eternal in each of the NFL camps that this will be "the year." Every head coach assembles (or reassembles) his staff and works countless hours preparing what they believe will be the ultimate strategies on offense, defense, and special teams that will lead their team to the promise land.

Roster moves are made, players are brought in and released, all in hopes of finding the right mixture that will bring their organization the ultimate victory. Coaches spend the entire spring and summer training camp period envisioning a day in January when the will be hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy high above their heads - the ultimate reward in football and arguably in all of sports.

Once the season begins, however, the hopes of many teams begin to gradually fade as the losses continue to pile up. As team after team falls out of playoff contention as the games roll by, a lot of those same coaches that were dreaming of playing in January for a championship ring are now just hoping to still be employed at the end of December.

At this point in the NFL season, hopefully your favorite team is setting up to make its final push towards the playoffs and ultimately, the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this is also the time when speculation begins to boil about which coaches may be getting their pink slips in a few weeks.

Here are some of the early candidates of coaches that may be getting the axe at the end of the season:

Jim Mora (Indianapolis Colts) - Sure, the Colts had to trudge along with numerous injuries on their roster, including star running back Edgerrin James for most of the season. And yeah, Peyton Manning looks more like he is playing "three flies up" than trying to complete passes to his receivers. But part of the job of the head coach is to keep the team together when things go wrong, and Mora hasn't done a good job of that at all. Besides, even if the Colts did make the playoffs this season, everyone knows that Mora can't win a playoff game.

Tom Coughlin (Jacksonville Jaguars) - Talking about closing the window of opportunity! When Jacksonville first entered the league, Coughlin looked like the tough and hardened leader that his young team needed to make it to the top. But even though the Jags have made it to the AFC Championship game twice since 1995, they have not been able to make that final step towards football immortality. In fact, Jacksonville now seems to have become stale, and so has Coughlin's almost military style of coaching.

Tony Dungy (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) - Okay, enough is enough. Dungy has been given every opportunity to take this above average team to the top, and it seems that nothing has happened. Even with upgrades at quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive line, the team looks no better now that it has in past years. If the Bucs don't improve during the remainder of this season and at least reach the Super Bowl, Dungy will have come to the end of his rope in Tampa Bay.

Marty Mornhinweg (Detroit Lions) - In this age of parity in the NFL, it seems almost as impossible to lose every game as it is to win every game. But somehow, the Detroit Lions seem determined to have a winless season. Heads will certainly have to roll in the Motor City, and who believes that first year GM Matt Millen is going to fire himself? So although this disaster of a season may not be entirely his fault, Coach Marty will probably be the guy who falls in Detroit.

George Seifert (Carolina Panthers) - What a difference an organization makes! If people in tobacco country were expecting a 49ers-like championship run out of Seifert, they must be ready to burn their Panthers gear by now. Seifert should thank his lucky stars for Detroit's misery - if it weren't for the Lions, his Panthers would surely be the laughing stock of the league.

Mike Riley (San Diego Chargers) - Though the Chargers started the season 5-2, they now are spiraling out of control towards another losing season having lost their last six games. Even with the signing of stars like Doug Flutie, Marcellus Wiley, and LaDainian Tomlinson, the Bolts are still finding ways to turn the ball over and lose games. Almost everyone in San Diego thinks Coach Riley is a swell guy and decent coach, but the Chargers may need more than that to get where they want to go.

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