Commentary

Chopping season for head coaches

Can Marvin Lewis and Jeff Fisher -- among others -- avoid losing their jobs this season?

Originally Published: December 25, 2010
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

Now that we've seen three head coaches fired already this season -- Dallas' Wade Phillips, Minnesota's Brad Childress and Denver's Josh McDaniels -- it's time to start wondering who else needs to be concerned about their job security over these next two weeks.

There should be no real surprises at this stage. The Vikings canned Childress after he reached the NFC Championship Game last season and earned a three-year extension. Denver gave up on McDaniels after he'd coached less than two seasons. Even Phillips' ouster was mildly stunning given how unwilling Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been to banish coaches before a season's conclusion.

So in what has become a tradition around the NFL, it's time to look at the remaining candidates on the hottest of hot seats … along with what it might take for them to stay employed with their current teams.

The hottest coaching seat belongs to:

1. John Fox, Carolina Panthers: It's a foregone conclusion that Carolina won't bring Fox back next season. The Panthers have just two wins and this team rarely has shown signs of life. Even though Fox has led Carolina to a Super Bowl and three playoff appearances in nine seasons, he also might fall into the category of "been-there-too-long" when owner Jerry Richardson decides his fate.

On top of that, this is a young team trying to develop a quarterback (Jimmy Clausen) and Fox is in the last year of his contract. At this stage, it's hard to see an argument to keep him.

What will it take for him to stay: A minor miracle. This team bottomed out weeks ago and all those empty seats at the Panthers' home games surely haven't eased Fox's problems.

[+] EnlargeCable/Singletary
Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesRaiders coach Tom Cable (left) and the 49ers' Mike Singletary have had inconsistent seasons.

2. Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans: Once again, this was supposed to be the year the Texans turned the corner and made the playoffs. Instead, they're right back in a familiar place: playing inconsistent football for a coach who has one winning season in five years on the job. What hurts Kubiak even more is there's plenty of talent there (except when it comes to pass defense). That's likely the way owner Bob McNair will see things when it comes time to determine Kubiak's future.

What will it take for him to stay: It would help if Bill Cowher took Houston off his wish list of teams that he'd like to coach someday. Since Cowher's wish list surfaced -- Cowher reportedly also likes Miami and the New York Giants -- there's no way McNair will overlook the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Texans fans would never forgive him for passing on that opportunity.

3. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals: What started as a season filled with optimism quickly devolved into one Bengals fans would love to forget. In the process of going from AFC North champion in 2009 to 3-11 afterthoughts this season, Lewis finds himself more vulnerable than ever. Granted, he has led Cincinnati to two playoff appearances in his eight seasons after they had endured a 15-year postseason drought (between 1991 and 2006). But Bengals owner Mike Brown might be losing patience here. This team had too much talent to wind up in the AFC North cellar.

What will it take for him to stay: Some perspective from ownership. As bad as Cincinnati has been this season, Lewis is still the best coach they've had in that franchise since the days of Sam Wyche. He changed the losing culture in that organization and it might not be that easy to find another coach who can be equally effective with a notoriously cheap ownership.

4. Mike Singletary, San Francisco 49ers: No coach on this list has been more disappointing this season. The 49ers had their best shot in years to win the NFC West title. But then they opened the season with five straight losses and fielded an offense so feeble that Singletary had to fire coordinator Jimmy Raye after three games. Forget that the 49ers, now 5-9, still have a shot at winning their division. This whole operation has been a mess from Day 1 and that doesn't bode well for Singletary's future with the organization.

What will it take for him to stay: The 49ers have to win the NFC West to give Singletary some security. Otherwise, it's easy to see the 49ers moving on without him.

[+] EnlargeEric Mangini
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesCleveland coach Eric Mangini has impressive upsets but owns a losing record.

5. Eric Mangini, Cleveland Browns: This guy has appeared to be a lame duck from the minute Mike Holmgren became his boss last December. To his credit, Mangini hasn't put an entirely lousy product on the field. The Browns have upset the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints and they also took the New York Jets to overtime before losing. The only problem is that it's been hard to find too many other high points as Cleveland has struggled to a 5-9 record, one that includes recent losses to the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati.

What will it take for him to stay: It's pretty rare that a new team president is willing to keep a coach he didn't hire. Mangini won't be the exception to that rule.

6. Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans: Fisher has the longest tenure of any current coach with an NFL team (more than 16 seasons), but that might be a strike against him. Owner Bud Adams may be in the mood to make a change for change's sake, especially because Fisher can't seem to get along with Adams' favorite player, quarterback Vince Young. Throw in Tennessee's disappointing 6-8 record -- which included a six-game losing streak at one point -- and you can see the stars aligning against Fisher's future with that franchise. Then again, he's been on the hot seat before and managed to survive.

What will it take for him to stay: This one is the toughest call. Fisher has been with the Titans since they arrived in Tennessee, but he needs to resolve his issues with Young to ensure more security. The only upside here is that Fisher wouldn't be unemployed for long if Adams dumped him.

7. Tom Cable, Oakland Raiders: In fairness to Cable, he's only on this list because he works for Al Davis, who fires coaches about as frequently as Lindsay Lohan winds up on TMZ. The reality is that Cable has managed to keep Oakland in contention for its first winning season since 2002. He also has put a tougher product on the field, as the Raiders are at their best when their offensive and defensive lines get after opponents. That being said, the Raiders could fall apart in the final two games and create more uncertainty for their coach.

What will it take for him to stay: With a 7-7 record, Cable already has done enough to deserve another year at the helm. Besides, Davis really has a reached a point where it's hard to think of anybody else who would want that job.

Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.