NFL coach hot seat rankings: Adam Gase leads pack of potential firings, Anthony Lynn joins the list

The 2020 NFL regular season is approaching its conclusion and to say it’s been a rollercoaster is a major understatement. Given complications stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, along with a rash of severe injuries to top players around the league, the NFL is dealing with a slew of unprecedented issues as it works feverishly to keep the train on its rails. It has created difficulties for many teams and, as such, their head coaches. But not every coach can use the pandemic to excuse away poor play, especially if they entered the season already teetering on the brink of disaster within their respective franchise — e.g., Doug Marrone with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Adam Gase with the New York Jets. 

With Dan Quinn and Bill O’Brien having already been fired by the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans, respectively, weeks ago, followed by Matt Patricia getting the ax two days after an embarrassing loss by the Detroit Lions, that marks three NFL head coaches who entered the season on our CBS Sports hot seat list and didn’t survive the 2020 season. There is still a list of questions regarding others who should feel anything but comfortable in the final five week, and there can be no doubt that’s the case when it comes to the five individuals listed below.

Every single one of them is operating on borrowed time.

1. Adam Gase, Jets

There is absolutely no reason to allow this circus to continue.

In 2019, all it took was a defeat of the also unimpressive 2019 New York Giants to secure Gase’s job, with team owner Christopher Johnson stating unequivocally there would be no changes at the head coach position last season, despite early struggles. Johnson was clear that Gase would return for 2020, and he has. That’s not the weird part though, considering the team finished with a 6-2 record in their last eight games with Sam Darnold returned from a bout with mononucleosis (OK, that last part was indeed weird, but stick with me on this). Things are made truly strange by general manager Joe Douglas recently marrying himself to Gase for the long haul, and going on to absolve him for much of the blame for what’s happening on the field. 

But for a coach who has obvious struggles with top players, Douglas needs to reconsider his decision.

For example, what was up with the relationship between Gase and All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell? And is Darnold suddenly not good, or is that attributable to Gase? Bell has now been released, not long after Jamal Adams was traded — both after having very public issues with Gase — pushing the Jets deeper into the talentless abyss. Currently sitting at 0-11 on the year following a second loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Jets are now 7-20 in Gase’s first 27 games as their head coach, and an offense that was ranked 31st in the league in 2019 is now ranked 32nd, averaging just 13.8 points and 267.8 yards per game.

Not that there was any armor to begin with, but if there was, it’s been cracking for a while now and even more so with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams taking veiled shots this season at the offense’s inability to stay on the field and score points — alluding to that as one of the reasons his defense is seemingly gassed. Gase finally gave up play-calling duties in Week 7 after passionately saying he never would, only to take them back in Week 12 but then claim he didn’t call any at all, only to then admit a day later it’s a “collaboration” on offense. At this point, to be frank, the Jets and Gase are giving the circus a bad name.

2. Doug Marrone, Jaguars

Enough with the half measures, Mr. Khan.

Seriously, any NFL fanbase deserves better than what the Jaguars have been producing (or rather, not producing) in recent seasons and for most of the club’s existence. The organization has been in an outright tailspin since appearing in the AFC Championship Game following a promising (and exciting) 10-6 season in 2017. There was a ton of promise for the future at that time, but it took an instant for things to implode, and in spectacular fashion. The decision to extend quarterback Blake Bortles was not met well by some players, and the club has since been trapped in toxicity that’s led to the shedding of several All-Pro and Pro Bowl talents, leaving the Jaguars a shell of what they once were in 2020. 

There was Jags optimism after they upset the Colts in Week 1 and hung with the Titans in a Week 2 loss, but it was an ugly home defeat at the hands of the Dolphins in Week 3 that pointed to the direction this season would go. All told, the Jaguars are now 1-10 after losing nine consecutive games, and there’s little that indicates they’ll be able to escape losing each of their final five games to land at 1-15 on the season. Despite this all being glaringly obvious, owner Shad Khan opted to fire only general manager Dave Caldwell following the Week 12 loss to Cleveland Browns, and refused to send Marrone packing with him. Having already fired Tom Coughlin earlier this calendar year followed by shipping out a tremendous amount of disgruntled talent, if Khan truly wants to turn the ship around, tossing Marrone overboard as well will be the right thing to do. 

3. Vic Fangio, Broncos

To be fair, I’ll wipe Week 12 from the record books for Fangio.

That said, his presence on this list has zero to do with the Kendall Hinton fiasco, and everything to do with what happened before they took the field to face the New Orleans Saints with a practice squad wideout taking snaps under center — thanks to all of their QBs going on the COVID/Reserve list. The bottom line is, that notwithstanding, it’s been an up-and-down ride between Fangio and the Broncos, with far more downs than ups thus far. The team enjoyed an upswing on the back end of 2019 after a severely poor start to the season, and it coincided with the return of then-rookie second-round pick Drew Lock from injured reserve — logging a 4-1 record in his first five games as the team’s starting quarterback. That was then and this is now, however, and Lock has regressed under Fangio in Year 2, leading to the latter admitting publicly heading into Week 11 that he’s “very concerned” about the arc of his young QB, having seen him throw four interceptions in a recent blowout loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.

The Broncos are now 4-7 on the season and 11-16 since Fangio took the reins in 2019, which is hardly what general manager John Elway had in mind when making yet another change at head coach — their second in three seasons following the decision of Gary Kubiak to step down due to health issues. Fangio hasn’t much improved the team (if at all) over the era of Vance Joseph, who was fired after two seasons and an 11-21 overall record.

Hint hint, wink wink.

The presence and potential of Lock makes for an intriguing consideration going forward regarding Fangio, who has seen his play-calling brought into question before, and he’s also made several ill-fated decisions late in games that have led to the Broncos surrendering the lead in the final 30 seconds of six games under Fangio. They went on to lose four of those six contests, dropped three of their last four games before narrowly edging the Miami Dolphins in Week 11, and have a brutal schedule that could see them eek out only one more win in the final five games.

Elway isn’t known to be a patient man, and Fangio is truly testing that virtue in Denver.

4. Matt Nagy, Bears

I don’t see this change happening in 2020, but I can’t rule it out either, not after the humiliation suffered at the hands of the Green Bay Packers on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

Nagy is a talented head coach and that much isn’t easily disputed, but he’s got some explaining to do when you consider the Bears have fallen from a 5-1 start to the season to 5-6 after losing five consecutive games, and in worsening fashion. They had two weeks to prepare for the Packers but played like they didn’t care to be on the field at all, leading to Nagy’s blistering post-game comments about effort before circling the blame back on himself. Normally, it’s the Bears defense keeping things close enough for the struggling offense to try and figure things out, but the Packers took that unit to task.

The plan at quarterback might have been sorted out sooner — i.e., the decision to initially bench Mitchell Trubisky — if Nagy hadn’t opted to hold onto him so tightly, and that lengthy hug fueled a disappointing 8-8 finish in 2019 after Nagy’s Bears basically mauled the league en route to a 12-4 record in his first year as the team’s head coach. They’re now facing another potential step back in 2020, aided by Trubisky’s performance against the Packers in place of Nick Foles, further putting Nagy’s arc on a downward trend.

A strong finish to the season will all but delete Nagy from this list, but it will involve nearly running the table to put themselves in position to challenge for a wild card berth. The strength of schedule is a fairly soft one, considering they play the Lions, Texans and Jaguars in their final stretch, so if Nagy can’t mount the troops to — at minimum — defeat those three teams to guarantee an eight-win season, it might be time for a change in the Windy City.

His seat isn’t as scorching as the coaches named above, but he has to get back to winning, and pronto.

5. Anthony Lynn, Chargers

There’s reason for Lynn to not be on this least, but also enough to be included, as Chargers fans can attest.

The reality is Los Angeles has been ravaged by injury and it’s not easy to overcome the loss of Derwin James, Mike Pouncey, Austin Ekeler and the like, and that’s a key driver behind the inability to get the job done this year for Lynn. But as has often been said, good head coaches figure out ways to win games despite it all, evidenced by what’s happening not down the road with the San Francisco 49ers. Also, it’s not simply that the Chargers are losing, it’s how they’re losing. Lynn routinely hasn’t been able to close out games, and as the team sits at 3-8 on the year, they’ve now lost two games in overtime and are averaging a point differential of only minus-4.5 when they do lose. So yes, in maddening fashion, Lynn makes the Chargers hyper competitive, but not for entire games. 

It also doesn’t help that the Chargers dropped four of their last five games.

Lynn’s saving grace might be the development of rookie sixth-overall pick Justin Herbert, whose initial progress was as rapid as it’s been mostly impressive. If the Chargers front office believes Lynn is the right man to help Herbert ascend, and tethers that belief to the fact 2021 will see the return of key players from injured reserve, then Lynn has a chance at returning for what would be the final year of his current coaching contract. No team should be quick to discard a head coach that’s established an instant chemistry with a top-10 quarterback, but when that head coach has a record of 29-30 with your organization, the idea also can’t be easily dismissed.

If Lynn doesn’t figure out how to finish games, he himself might be finished. 

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