If Todd Bowles were a cat, he’d be on his ninth life. Forget hot seat—Bowles would be lucky to have a bean bag to sit on after Sunday’s debacle against Buffalo. It takes a special brand of awful—we’re talking Jeff Fisher-level ineptitude—to get walloped by the Bills on your home turf. But when you take a beating at the hands of Matt Barkley, who I assume was playing Red Dead Redemption in his PJs when the Bills called to offer him a job two weeks ago—that’s when it’s time to go into hiding.
Bowles barely survived the Bills-pocalypse and another letdown after the bye (the Patriots await them in Week 12) could cost him his job as the Jets’ head coach, a position he’s held since he was chosen as Rex Ryan’s successor in 2015. Bowles could take a page out of George Costanza’s book by taking up residence in the handicap bathroom or ducking phone calls from GM Mike Maccagnan (“Believe it or not, Todd isn’t at home”). But whatever coping mechanism he uses to survive the final handful of games (assuming he’s allowed to finish out the season), we all know how this story ends. It ends with his Wikipedia page reading “former Jets head coach.”
Bowles’ tenuous employment status has been a hot topic on sports radio this week, but let’s not act like he’s the only coach fighting for his job. The NFL is littered with in-over-their-head coaches waiting to get chopped down. The list is longer than a Tolstoy novel. Bowles may be the flavor of the month (camera pans to him on the cover of “Not Quite Fired Yet Quarterly”) but in the vast sea of vulnerable, fighting-for-their-life head coaches, he’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Meet Jason Garrett (or as Mike Lombardi mockingly calls him, the Clapper), an underachieving teacher’s pet Jerry Jones can’t seem to quit. Despite a roster flush with talent including a jet-fueled running back (Ezekiel Elliott), a pair of All-Pro linemen (Zack Martin and Tyron Smith) and a quietly star-studded defense (Byron Jones, DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee and up-and-comer Leighton Vander Esch), the Cowboys still find themselves wallowing in the depths of mediocrity. There’s an expiration date for coaches and it’s pretty evident Garrett has reached his. The Cowboys used to be synonymous with excellence, but under Garrett they’ve been a perennial flop, reaching the postseason in just two of his eight seasons at the helm. We know Jones and Garrett go way back—Garrett was Troy Aikman’s backup during the Cowboys’ glory years—but how long can this charade continue?
We’ve seen this movie 100 times before. Every week, like clockwork, Garrett falls asleep at the wheel, making some inexplicable coaching decision that costs the Cowboys dearly. The fan-base rightfully calls for his head and Jerry does nothing about it, instead appearing on any talk radio show that will have him, praising Garrett as if he were the spiritual successor to Tom Landry. It’s The Emperor’s New Clothes played out in real life but instead of roaming the halls in his birthday suit, Garrett is parading around Cowboys HQ in a Bose headset. The clapper is as dangerously unqualified as any coach in the biz, yet his reign continues day after day, repeating over and over like the Groundhog Day sequel we never asked for.
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But maybe the dam is finally starting to break. The finger-pointing began during the bye week when the Cowboys pinned their early failures on O line coach Paul Alexander, booting him from the premises. Rumors swirled that OC Scott Linehan could follow him out the door, though Jones hasn’t started the paperwork yet. The Cowboys of yesteryear are gone. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten aren’t walking through that door. Neither is Tony Romo. The purge is coming. We’re in the last stretch of a zombie thriller and Garrett, red hair and all, is still breathing. Can he make it to the end of the movie? That’s up to King Jerry.
While Garrett clings to life in Dallas, long-time Packers head honcho Mike McCarthy finds himself mired in a similar predicament up north in cheese country. Like a desperate voyager sipping the last drops from his canteen, McCarthy is in deep peril. When the curtain closes on the legendary career of Aaron Rodgers, his decade-plus tenure in Green Bay will go down as one of the great tragedies in all of sports. There’s an argument to be made (though I wouldn’t bring it up within 100 miles of Foxboro, Massachusetts) that Rodgers, the colossus of cool, is the greatest quarterback, at least in terms of pure talent, that any of us have ever seen. Even Tom Brady’s master strokes seem labored in comparison to Rodgers’ supreme effortlessness. No quarterback has ever looked smoother or more precise than Rodgers in his monumental dominance.
And yet, Rodgers’ trophy case includes just one lonely Lombardi Trophy while Brady’s Patriots are running out of space for banners at Gillette Stadium. Even Eli Manning, the living embodiment of average, has more rings stashed in his safe deposit box than the inventor of the discount double check. It’s sad to think that Rodgers’ incredible legacy may someday be undermined by his lack of championships. The fact that he hasn’t collapsed from carrying the Packers on his shoulders all these years is a testament to his impressive resiliency. Rodgers has climbed many a mountain since arriving as the Packers’ starter in 2008, but this one might be the tallest he’s ever had to scale. Looking at the current standings, the 4-5-1 Packers face an immense burden heading into the season’s final stretch. Trailing the Bears and Vikings in their division, it will take a sorcery act of epic proportions for Green Bay to claw its way back into the NFC playoff discussion. When the football gods present you with a generational talent like Rodgers, anything short of the postseason isn’t just a failure, it’s grounds for impeachment. And after Thursday’s nightmare loss to the Seahawks, the Packers should seriously consider voting their flawed head coach out of office.
Hindsight is always 20/20 but McCarthy’s choice to punt on fourth-and-two with Green Bay behind in the fourth quarter was much more than a false step—it was a slap in the face, a middle finger to one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever walk this earth. Rather than trusting the comeback king himself to pick up two measly yards, McCarthy decided to pocket his ace in the hole and let his defense take center stage. How’d that work out, Mike? I’m sure many coaches would have made the same decision—going for it on your own 33-yard-line is inherently a risky proposition—but none of those other coaches have a trump card like Aaron Charles Rodgers. Imagine squandering such an exquisite weapon, extinguishing the flame of a living legend week after week. That’s like having Superman show up to save the day and telling him, “You know what, Clark. Why don’t you head home? I think we’ve got this one.” If this were a one-time miscalculation, a rare bad call from an otherwise sturdy NFL mind, we’d be having a different conversation. But McCarthy has routinely buried the Packers with his frequent gaffes, ranging from dismal clock management to head-scratching personnel decisions. Which reminds me, how in God’s green, grassy earth did it take the Packers this long to feature Aaron Jones? And no, Jamaal Williams being a better blocker than Jones isn’t a valid excuse. Green Bay’s ship is sinking but does anyone trust McCarthy to paddle the Packers back to shore? I know I don’t.
I doubt Dirk Koetter owns ice skates—he probably wouldn’t have much use for them in Florida. But with the thin ice he’s on in Tampa, it might be time to buy a pair. When Koetter began his Tampa Bay tenure a few years back, it looked like the Bucs were finally on the up-and-up. With No. 1 pick Jameis Winston showing star quality, the Buccaneers were a near playoff team in 2016, finishing the year at 9-7 with nowhere to go but up. Since then it’s all unraveled. The Bucs have returned to their cellar-dwelling ways, a fractured franchise on the precipice of another teardown. It took four years for them to see the light but it seems the Bucs have finally discovered that Winston, an off-field head case with a penchant for untimely turnovers, isn’t the answer. That’s a hole the Buccaneers will need to plug up at some point—veteran gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick is doing his best to fill that void right now, though the Harvard man is well aware that he’s just a placeholder.
But offense is far from the Bucs’ biggest problem—few defenses have fared as disastrously as Tampa Bay’s this season. Tampa’s nonexistent secondary has become target practice for opposing quarterbacks. Of the nine signal-callers the Bucs have faced this season, over half have cleared 300 yards passing including Drew Brees, Nick Foles, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Mitchell Trubisky. Opposing QBs have compiled a ludicrous 122.3 quarterback rating against the Bucs this year, easily the league’s highest. Tampa Bay’s defense hasn’t been quite as laughable since defensive coordinator Mike Smith was thrown to the wolves, but their red-zone offense has been (0-for-5 against the Redskins last week). And how about their stagnant ground game anchored by undrafted Auburn product Peyton Barber (3.7 yards per carry) and second-round reach Ronald Jones, neither of whom catch passes?
Not all of that is Koetter’s fault but it feels increasingly like the Bucs are due for an overhaul and when teams decide to press the reset button, that change usually starts at the top. Koetter’s latest moves—his flip-flopping at quarterback and last week’s hostile takeover of play-calling duties from OC Todd Monken—wreak of desperation. The panic has begun in Tampa and like Henry Hill in Goodfellas, Koetter knows he’s not out-running the helicopter.
This year’s coaching carousel figures to be one of the wildest we’ve seen in recent memory. Hue Jackson already bit the bullet in Cleveland. With long-time GM Ozzie Newsome riding off into the sunset after this season, John Harbaugh’s future in Baltimore is as bleak as ever. Vance Joseph has been constantly outfoxed since his arrival in Denver and John Elway’s patience is wearing thin. Meanwhile Matt Patricia has the look of another ex-Patriot trying and failing to be a carbon copy of Bill Belichick. From terse, posture-related media exchanges, to making his team practice in a snowstorm (you play in a dome, Matt), it’s taken only a few short months for Patricia to reveal himself as a catastrophically poor fit for the Lions organization. Bengals boss Marvin Lewis, who was brought back in a stunning upset last year, is another coach who could be sent packing on Black Monday, if not sooner. With forward-thinking, analytics-minded coaches becoming the norm across football, there’s no need to hang onto relics of yesterday in the name of loyalty. A tectonic shift is happening in the NFL and I doubt it will include the overmatched, under-prepared likes of Garrett, McCarthy and others who share an outdated way of thinking.
What’s the fantasy rub?
It’s hard to say if there will be another midseason firing, but the few we’ve seen already have brought sweeping changes to the fantasy-sphere. For example, Cardinals offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was let go largely because of his patently bizarre handling of David Johnson. His successor, former NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich, has righted that wrong in short order by feeding Johnson an exhausting 48 touches over his last two games. He’s also made better use of DJ’s receiving skill set with Johnson pulling in 11 grabs for 126 yards and a touchdown during that stretch. We’ve seen a similar transformation in Cleveland, where newly-installed OC Freddie Kitchens has immediately resurrected Duke Johnson. Ignored during the brief and ill-fated Todd Haley administration, Duke has spouted off for 132 yards and three touchdowns in two games since Kitchens’ promotion. The winds of change are swirling and, with a little luck, those changes could help your fantasy team down the stretch.