Thursday marks the start of another National Football League season. The NFL is celebrating its 100th year and kicking it off with NFC North rivals, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears. During a season of celebrating the league’s deep roots, a quarter of the NFL’s franchises are welcoming a new coach in 2019. Being a head coach in the NFL means yearly changes in the coaching carousel. Ahead of the kickoff to 2019, we take a look at three coaches who can already feel their seat getting hotter.
Can’t Keep Pounding
At the end of the 2015 season, the Carolina Panthers found themselves a handful of plays away from their first championship. A ferocious Denver defense shut the door on the Panthers. Since that February day, the Panthers have not been able to replicate the consistency of that season. Regardless of ownership, the blame is thrust on the head coach. Ron Rivera enters his ninth season as Panthers head coach. In the previous eight seasons, Carolina finished with a winning record, thrice.
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The biggest issue for the Panthers is the health of quarterback Cam Newton. Unfortunately, Rivera is unable to block or make plays for his dynamic quarterback. Carolina’s offense during the Rivera-era is consistent in its inconsistency. Since 2011, the Panthers offense has finished the season in the top-five in points scored, just twice (2011 & 2015), while averaging a 12th ranked finish. Entering 2019, the Panthers have offensive weapons expected to improve after a middle of the road performance last season. It’s playoffs or bust in 2019 for Rivera, barring a late-season collapse as a result of a Newton injury.
Houston Texans head coach, Bill O’Brien, is the perhaps most successful head coach on the Bill Belichick coaching tree. O’Brien’s Texans have made the playoffs in three of the last five seasons. In each of those seasons, Houston won the division but was unable to move beyond the divisional round. It is the last part that puts O’Brien on this list. Houston has underwhelmed in the postseason. Their only victory came against a Raiders team in 2016, a team without starting quarterback Derek Carr. Houston has its own franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson.
Perhaps the biggest indictment on O’Brien comes in the yo-yo like performances of his teams. Houston consistently looks like world-beaters one week, then appear lost, the next. Part of the issue with Houston is the lack of a legitimate offensive line. This does not entirely fall on O’Brien as he is not the general manager. However, his lack of pressure applied to make the right personnel decisions are at least partially in his control. As it stands, the Texans are a directionless canoe. There are people furiously attempting to row, putting all their energy into getting things moving. However, there is no unity in the movement and the canoe lurches in every direction as a result.
If You’re Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands
Since becoming the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Garrett has posted just a single losing record. A four-win season in 2015 fell more on an injury to quarterback Tony Romo than the deficiencies of the head coach. In eight full seasons as the head coach, Garrett’s Cowboys have made the playoffs in 2014, 2016, and 2018. Dallas has yet to make it past the divisional round.
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The Cowboys have one of the best rosters in the NFL. Talented teams need to win or risk being dismantled. With many of his players on their first or second contracts, Garrett’s own time is running out. A championship isn’t a prerequisite to return in 2020, but a deep playoff run is much needed. Barring a significant injury to quarterback Dak Prescott, the Cowboys should be in contention for the NFC East crown. Owner Jerry Jones has been patient with the failures of his Cowboys. Garrett would be wise to avoid relying on Jones’ temperament to keep his job.
The start of the season creates a reset for many head coaches. However, there are always a few who bring their baggage from previous years. Each of the three coaches discussed today, bring the baggage of underperforming. Each of the teams has the talent to make moves in the postseason. The question will be which of these teams will follow through with their potential. If one of these teams can’t do it, the coaching carousel will have open seats by the end of this season. We’ll be back at the quarter-point of the season to see which coaches are on the hot seat and which are getting warmer.