As a sports writer and, in a broader sense, a citizen of this blue marble we call Earth, every day presents new challenges. Not all dilemmas are created equal, obviously. But you can understand why I’d feel a bit conflicted about Black Monday. For certain fan-bases, the day of reckoning can be a catharsis of sorts. I don’t want to speak for all Browns fans, but I feel pretty safe in saying that most of them won’t miss Freddie Kitchens, who squandered the team’s most talented roster in years (if not decades). But what a certain segment of the population might forget is that as much as you may have hated Kitchens’ play-calling or Jason Garrett’s maddening decision to bench Amari Cooper late in the Cowboys’ recent loss to Philadelphia, they’re still people. Bad coaches maybe, but good people with families, now staring unemployment square in the face.
Most will land on their feet but this isn’t a day for victory laps. Even if a firing is warranted—and most are—can you imagine the pain of having your dream job, a position you’ve worked your entire life for, ripped away from you while having your failure broadcast to anyone with Wi-Fi and a cable subscription? Whatever public humiliation you may have experienced in life, whether it was a prom disaster or bricking that all-important free throw in the state title game, at least Adam Schefter didn’t tweet it out to his nearly eight million followers. Some good can come from Black Monday—Bill Belichick wouldn’t be the coaching juggernaut he is if he hadn’t taken his lumps in Cleveland first. But I think NFL Network’s Jane Slater, who spent her Monday camping out at Cowboys headquarters in anticipation of Garrett’s expected firing, may have articulated it best in this tweet.
For the sake of preserving one’s sanity in a cutthroat industry, it’s probably best for coaches and athletes not to get too attached to the teams they represent. It’s just business, they’re told. Playing at the highest level of professional sports is a privilege, not a right. Everyone who’s ever stepped foot in an NFL locker room knows it could all be gone tomorrow. But unfortunately for the newly unemployed likes of Pat Shurmur and Freddie Kitchens, knowing that won’t make today, tomorrow or the rest of this week any easier. All I’m saying is, let’s not lose sight of the human element and maybe save the grave-dancing for another day. Fair enough? Now let’s give the ol’ Coaching Carousel a spin.
Gone but Not Forgotten
Oh, what a long, strange journey it was for Jay Gruden, who was fired midway through his sixth season in Washington. Gruden wasn’t a liability, but he also wasn’t a difference-maker, finishing his Washington tenure with a single playoff appearance, which came when the Redskins snuck in as last-gasp division champs in 2015. They exited the postseason as feebly as they entered it, getting their bells rung in an opening-round loss to Green Bay. Gruden’s insistence on starting low-wattage journeyman Case Keenum, mere months after Washington spent a first-round pick on Dwayne Haskins, proved to be the final nail in his Redskins’ coffin. Washington played out the stretch with interim coach Bill Callahan in the driver’s seat, winning just three of its last 11 games while ensuring the No. 2 pick in April’s draft (I hope Chase Young likes crab cakes). Wherever the Redskins go from here, it won’t involve Bruce Allen, whose 10-year reign as team president ended with his dismissal Monday morning. Chronicling all of Allen’s gaffes would give me carpal tunnel, though the gross mishandling of Trent Williams (which he claims led to his cancer diagnosis) and Kirk Cousins’ free-agent exodus both stand out as embarrassing missteps.
It’s rare for a coach to be one-and-done—most front offices would rather get a root canal than admit they hired the wrong person. But when you fail as spectacularly as Freddie Kitchens did in one year atop the Browns’ chain of command, that’s all you get. Kitchens was so out of his depth as a play-caller (his infuriating goal-line sequence against the Rams would drive any Browns fan to madness) and locker-room peace-keeper (Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry spent much of the year in open rebellion of their head coach), you almost felt bad for him. Simply put, Kitchens wasn’t ready and all of us should have seen it coming. Kitchens’ resume was the weakest of any head coach in recent memory—the 45-year-old ascended to the head-coaching ranks with less than a year of NFL coordinating experience. In retrospect, hiring Kitchens just because Baker Mayfield liked him may have been a tad shortsighted. Live and learn, right?
If you’re like me, you probably still have a plate or two of holiday goodies sitting in the fridge. They may survive another few days, but even the most savory, delectable Christmas dessert has an expiration date. That’s something leftovers and NFL coaches have in common—even the good ones go stale. Under new ownership and headed for a lengthy rebuild, Carolina decided it was time to wipe their coaching slate clean, canning Ron Rivera after nearly nine years at the helm. Arguably the most successful coach in franchise history (you could also make the argument for John Fox), Rivera led the Panthers to a conference title and three division crowns during his Carolina reign, though he never bagged the big one, coming up short in his lone Super Bowl appearance (Cam Newton is still aching from Von Miller’s tour de force performance). Rivera’s luck ran out in Carolina but it looks like he’ll have a new home soon as the Redskins are expected to coronate him as Jay Gruden’s successor in the coming days.
UPDATE: Rivera's five-year deal will be announced Wednesday.
New York Giants
Pat Shurmur’s time in East Rutherford came … and then it went. Two years of blood, sweat and tears and only nine wins to show for it. Turns out a .281 winning percentage won’t keep you employed very long in the Big Apple, where the only thing higher than expectations are the buildings in midtown … and maybe the price of rent. Shurmur tried to buy himself another year by wrestling the quarterback reigns from Eli Manning in favor of flip-cup enthusiast Daniel Jones, but he needed more than one trick up his sleeve. We knew New York would be in for some lean years in the post-Odell Era and having Saquon Barkley’s season hijacked by a high-ankle sprain certainly wasn’t how the Giants’ drew it up. But after going a combined 9-23 in New York, the same record he posted in his previous stint with Cleveland (at least the man is consistent), it’s clear Shurmur is better equipped for coordinator duties than he ever was for the head-coaching chair. The Giants could have and likely should have moved on from erratic GM Dave Gettleman, but that would have made too much sense.
Jason Garrett, Cowboys (for now)
While fellow hot-seaters Adam Gase and Dan Quinn appear to have paddled to safety, Jason Garrett is still navigating a sea of uncertainty. Garrett’s firing seemed like a foregone conclusion after Dallas finished a disappointing runner-up to Philadelphia in the NFC East but Jerry Jones now seems torn on the matter, dragging his feet as media members circle the Cowboys’ facility in search of answers. Perhaps some clarity will come after Tuesday’s meeting between Jones and Garrett, their second sit-down in as many days. It’s hard to envision Garrett, whose contract is set to expire soon anyway (January 14), leaving Tuesday’s meeting with his job still intact. Allergic to winning big games, The Clapper has underachieved on a grand scale in Dallas, winning all of two playoff games in his decade atop the Cowboys’ coaching totem pole. Jones knows he should have ended this charade years ago. America’s team needs a new voice. Prolonging the inevitable will only hurt the Cowboys, limiting their available options on the coaching circuit. But can Jerry muster the inner courage to fire someone who’s been part of his life for over 20 years? Time will tell.
Doug Marrone, Jaguars (until he’s not)
While Garrett Watch continues in Dallas, the Jaguars find themselves in a similar bind, weighing whether to keep Doug Marrone or offer him as the sacrificial lamb for another lost season. Clearly change is afoot in Duval—executive VP of football operations Tom Coughlin got the axe last week after the NFLPA won a grievance against the Jaguars for levying fines that violated the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Coming off a miserable 6-10 campaign that saw Jacksonville’s once dominant defense revert to 24th in yards allowed, Marrone could be headed for the same fate as Coughlin, though it appears he’ll have a chance to state his case Tuesday when he meets with Jaguars upper management. With uncertainty at quarterback (free-agent flop Nick Foles didn’t measure up in his debut season) and a secondary reeling from the loss of tent-pole Jalen Ramsey, whoever coaches the Jags next year will be inheriting quite the fixer-upper. ESPN reported over the weekend that Marrone would be let go at the conclusion of Week 17, though that assertion proved premature.
UPDATE: He's baaaaaack.
On the Docket
It’s still early in the process, but teams with vacancies are already gauging interest in available candidates while beginning to submit interview requests. Some candidates have games to prepare for this week, which could lead to scheduling complications. However, finding the right fit will always take precedence, no matter how long the wait. Below is a running list of all the coaches who have either received or accepted interview requests.
Washington Redskins: ex-Panthers coach Ron Rivera (interviewed Monday)