Zorn, Phillips, Cable on firing line
Before season's midway point, several coaching jobs are in peril
It's that time of year again -- the point in the NFL season when we officially can start wondering about which head coaches are on the hottest of hot seats.
Remember, we saw three different teams (the Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers) fire head coaches during the 2008 season. We also have to assume a few frustrated owners already have considered dumping their own underachieving coaches this fall. That's how it works in the league these days; patience is a much harder virtue to find in the men who do the hiring and firing.
We already know that Washington's Jim Zorn has faced the most speculation about his future. He already had his share of detractors before the Week 6 home loss to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs.
But Zorn is not alone.
There are a few coaches who are heading for their own hot seats because of rough starts -- including the San Diego Chargers' Norv Turner and the Carolina Panthers' John Fox -- and a handful of others who already should be concerned about their job security. Here's one view of who should be most fearful of an impending pink slip:
1. Jim Zorn, Washington Redskins (2-4 in 2009; 10-12 in two seasons with team):
How He Got On The Hot Seat: First, the Redskins have won just four of their past 14 games. They also have an offense averaging just 13.2 points a game and they have yet to score more than 17 points in a contest this year. If that wasn't bad enough, Zorn benched starting quarterback Jason Campbell in the loss to the Chiefs -- a move that should be interpreted as desperation -- and Zorn later had his play-calling duties stripped of him by Vinny Cerrato, the team's executive vice president of football operations. Even though Zorn is a likable guy, he just seems like a man who's in way over his head.
How He Can Survive: Unless Zorn has compromising photos of Redskins owner Daniel Snyder tucked away in a safe place, this is going to end in a parting of the ways. Snyder already has had four other coaches since purchasing the franchise in 1999, so one more change at the top won't be hard for him to stomach. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising --- as some already have wondered -- if Snyder fires Zorn during the Redskins' bye week following an ESPN "Monday Night Football" game against Philadelphia on Oct. 26. At least the same players who've been calling for some idea on Zorn's fate would have a clearer understanding of who will be running the team through the rest of the season.
Prediction: Zorn might be dismissed before November. There can't be a Redskins fan out there who believes Zorn will coach all 16 games this year.
2. Wade Phillips, Dallas Cowboys (3-2 in 2009; 25-12 in three seasons with team)
How He Got On The Hot Seat: Phillips took a talented team and led it into mediocrity in record time. For those who have forgotten, the Cowboys had 11 players selected to the Pro Bowl during Phillips' first season in 2007 (when the Cowboys won the NFC East). Since that time, this team has been just 12-9, and it's hard to even remember the date of Dallas' last significant victory. What Phillips has proved over the past two years is that it's time for a new man to lead this team.
How He Can Survive: It's fair to say Phillips has to lead this team into the playoffs and win a postseason game to secure any future beyond this season. Of course, there's also no reason to think the Cowboys can pull off such a feat. Quarterback Tony Romo has been too inconsistent, and the chemistry of this team has been far too shaky. Oh yeah, they also play in a division that already has two strong postseason contenders in the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.
Prediction: Phillips will last through Week 17 -- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has gone on record promising that much -- but he'll be gone once his contract expires at the end of the year.
3. Tom Cable, Oakland Raiders (2-4 in 2009; 6-12 overall in two seasons with team)
How He Got On The Hot Seat: He landed on the griddle by becoming the latest man to accept a head-coaching position from Raiders owner Al Davis. The last four head coaches in Oakland -- Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell and Lane Kiffin -- all have spent two years or less on the job, and there's no reason to think Cable will be any different. The only reason he landed the gig was that he happened to be on site when Davis dumped Kiffin last season. And now that the Raiders are likely to endure their seventh straight season with double-digit losses, Davis already might be thinking about the next candidate for the job.
How He Can Survive: In fairness to Cable, the Raiders' 13-9 win over Philadelphia was impressive. Even if you factor in the Eagles' making a cross-country road trip, this was a game that should have been an easy victory for Philadelphia. Now is that an indication that Cable might lead this team to more wins like that this season? No. It's really just an attempt to show some kindness for a man who might not be around Oakland much longer.
Prediction: Davis dumps Cable after the season.
4. Dick Jauron, Buffalo Bills (2-4 in 2009; 23-31 overall in four seasons with the team)
How He Got On The Hot Seat: Jauron has led a young team that has yet to take any major strides in development. The Bills never have won more than seven games during his tenure and he wasn't helped by their vanishing act after last year's 4-0 start. This season has seen more disappointment, including a feeble offense, a heartbreaking season-opening loss in New England and an inexcusable 6-3 defeat at the hands of a Cleveland Browns team that fields one of the league's worst defenses.
How He Can Survive: A 16-13 overtime win over the New York Jets in Week 6 took some sting out of that loss to the Browns. But it's hard to think the Bills can start rolling now. Jauron has had plenty of time to make his mark on his team. So far all we know is that the Bills aren't responding to his methods.
Prediction: Another embarrassing loss like the one against the Browns will seal his fate before season's end.
5. Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans (0-6 in 2009; 128-108 in 16 seasons with team)
How He Got On The Hot Seat: Fisher is off to his worst start ever in Tennessee. Some of the losses were explainable, but the 59-0 Week 6 loss to the host Patriots officially raised the heat on him. Titans owner Bud Adams told The Nashville Tennessean that he hasn't guaranteed Fisher's future beyond this season. The owner added that he's never been so perplexed by his team's play, especially because Tennessee went 13-3 in 2008.
How He Can Survive: Fisher has to find some way to jump-start this team. That New England game was the first real example of how far the Titans have fallen. It's one thing to lose a close game at Pittsburgh. But a blowout loss to a division rival like Indianapolis and a full-scale throttling by the Patriots means the Titans just can't compete. At this point, Fisher probably has to win six or seven of his final 10 games to feel safe.
Prediction: Fisher is too good of a coach to go out like this. He will find a way to resuscitate this squad.
Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.