If Wade Phillips had a wicked sense of humor – and since he’s an NFL coach not named Jeff Fisher, let’s assume he’s a tad deficient in that department – he’d show up Sunday afternoon on the Cowboys Stadium sideline wearing a Jon Gruden mask.
Trick or treat, (expletives) …
As we head into the colder, more depressing part of the NFL season for numerous struggling franchises, the promise of a new dude in a headset is the only salvation for some gloomy fans. And while things can change in a New York minute – remember when Tom Coughlin was a goner a month ago, before he was the coach of "the best team in the NFL"? – right now I’ve identified 11 potential regime changes.
That’s more than a third of the league, for those of you too busy to navigate to the calculator on your phones.
Granted, this will be a bizarre offseason, with the specter of an owner-initiated work stoppage likely motivating some organizations to stand pat, rather than going out and signing a splashy replacement to a big-money deal. Also keep in mind that there are always end-of-the-season surprises that alter the landscape, as I was just discussing with Seattle Seahawks coach Jimmy … er, Pete Carroll.
With all of that said, here’s my pre-Halloween list of endangered coaches and some quick speculation as to who might be in line to replace them, in alphabetical order:
• Carolina Panthers: John Fox is in the last year of his contract, and even before he got out of the gate with an 0-5 record, it was generally assumed he’d move on after the season.
Possible replacement: The list will begin with former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who has a home in the state, though a lockout could cause owner Jerry Richardson to go younger and cheaper (think Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell).
• Chicago Bears: If the current trend continues in Chicago, coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo will likely be jettisoned, creating a highly attractive situation for a proven coach with a hand-picked talent evaluator. It likely won’t be that optimal, however, because the McCaskey family aims low and spends little.
Possible replacement: Look for the Bears to lust for ex-quarterback (and current Stanford coach) Jim Harbaugh but to end up with a coach whose wooing requires less heavy lifting, like Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Chargers defensive coordinator (and former Bears linebacker) Ron Rivera or Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
• Cincinnati Bengals: Mike Brown, for whatever asinine reason, didn’t want to pay Marvin Lewis after a coach-of-the-year season in ’09, and now that the Bengals are struggling, it looks like Lewis is a lame duck. Like the McCaskeys, Brown is ultra-cheap. He’s also heavily involved in personnel. In other words, forget about a proven, big-time coach coming here.
Possible replacement: Fewell. Dark horse: Former Ravens coach Brian Billick.
• Cleveland Browns: When Mike Holmgren, after being hired as football czar, allowed Eric Mangini to return as coach, I felt it was only a matter of time – and by the end of the 2010 season, at the latest – before the former Seahawks and Packers coach descended from his upstairs booth, whipped out an oversized play-card and came motorcycle-riding to the rescue. I still think that’s the most likely case, though it’s also possible that one of his coaching buddies will get the call.
Possible replacement: Holmgren is the most logical choice. Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is a possibility, as is Rams receivers coach Nolan Cromwell. Gruden, Andy Reid (if things were to disintegrate in Philly) and John Fox are higher-profile options. Basically, don’t rule out any coach represented by agent Bob LaMonte, who is close with Holmgren.
• Dallas Cowboys: Owner Jerry Jones believes he has a quarterback (albeit a recently injured one) who can take his team to the promised land. If he fires Phillips (and he almost certainly will), his top priority will be to find a perfect match for Tony Romo(notes), in the way that Jessica Simpson wasn’t. Forget the common perception that Jones can’t handle a strong-willed head coach, or that a proven winner wouldn’t put up with Jones as an owner. Think big.
Possible replacement: Gruden. Remember, Gruden thrived under Al Davis – there’s nothing Jones could possibly do as a highly involved boss that could faze him. And Jones is smart enough to give a big personality like Gruden the leeway to do things his way. If this marriage doesn’t happen, look for someone like Ron Rivera (who interviewed the last time around) to get strong consideration.
• Denver Broncos: Up until a week ago, I’d have told you there was no way owner Pat Bowlen would get rid of Josh McDaniels after two years. Then the Broncos lost at home to the Raiders by the unseemly score of 683-11 (OK, it was 59-14, but same difference), and Bill Belichick’s protégé was suddenly on this list. I still think he’ll survive, but he’d better show some improvement in the coming months.
Possible replacement: John Fox. My dark horse scenario? Bill Parcells comes to the Rockies, either as football czar (and hires one of his ex-assistants as coach – maybe Chiefs assistant head coach Maurice Carthon? – as he did with Tony Sparano in Miami), or in a return to the sideline. If it’s the latter, given Parcells’ history, look for the Broncos to make the playoffs in 2011.
• Jacksonville Jaguars: Jack Del Rio is in his eighth season, and the way his team is playing lately, a ninth doesn’t appear likely.
Possible replacement: Marvin Lewis. Another guy to watch is Falcons offensive coordinator (and former Bills coach) Mike Mularkey, whose hiring would pay back Atlanta for having taken away Del Rio’s then-defensive coordinator, Mike Smith(notes), as its head coach three years earlier.
• Minnesota Vikings: While there has been some speculation that owner Zygi Wilf could fire Brad Childress if the Vikes lose to the Patriots on Sunday and fall to 2-5, I think it’s probable that Chilly will at least make it through the season. But if Wilf decides to make a move upon the conclusion of the 2010 campaign (and, likely, the Brett Favre(notes) era), things could get mighty interesting mighty fast.
Possible replacement: Leslie Frazier. The Tony Dungy protégé is a potential rock star – brainy, highly respected in the locker room and prone to the type of professional, even-keeled temperament that would be ideally suited to this veteran team. On the other hand, Wilf could try to woo Dungy (and I think he’ll absolutely make that call) out of the broadcast booth to come to Minnesota, either in a team president’s role or as a short-term head coach, with Frazier being groomed as his replacement. I also believe Wilf will take a run at Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden and would be willing to spend big money for the right guy.
• Oakland Raiders: Yes, I know they just set a franchise scoring record, and coach Tom Cable has this team on the verge of “turning the corner” (just ask him; he says it almost every week). But until this team starts competing on a consistent basis, I’m not buying it. It doesn’t help that the man has been a complete embarrassment in terms of off-the-field behavior, though with this franchise the standards are always skewed in that regard. Still, Cable’s deal is up at the end of the season, and I’ll be surprised if he gets another one.
Possible replacement: Hue Jackson. If you’re wondering why this team suddenly has an offense (the nine-point effort against the 49ers two weeks ago notwithstanding), look no further than Al Davis’ first-year, hand-picked offensive coordinator, who has figured out a way to involve the electrifying Darren McFadden(notes) (a talent Cable largely ignored) and has given a once-moribund offense some rhythm with capable play calls.
• San Diego Chargers: With the Chargers flailing along at 2-5, we all know that Norv Turner is potentially in trouble. The real question: What about general manager A.J. Smith? If owner Dean Spanos fired both men, he could go after the Cowhers and the Grudens of the world, and this would be one of the most desirable jobs in recent memory, offering the chance to work with a fantastic quarterback (Philip Rivers(notes)) and live in America’s Finest City. If Turner goes and the prickly Smith stays, most coaches who’ve earned their chops will shy away from a potentially stifling situation. If I had to make an educated guess, I’d say it’s more likely that Smith stays.
Possible replacement: Brian Schottenheimer. KIDDING! That was to see if you’re still paying attention, or at least to make his father laugh. Let’s try again … Possible replacement: Ron Rivera. Honestly, I don’t know how the man is doing it. Despite a glaring absence of game-changing talent on his side of the ball, Rivera’s defense is the league’s top-rated unit. I’m not sure if he has a good relationship with Smith, but at the very least he’d know what he was getting into, and there’s something to be said for that.
• San Francisco 49ers: I’m reasonably confident that Mike Singletary will survive the season, as long as he doesn’t do something utterly irrational and embarrassing that forces team president Jed York’s hand. On second thought, I’m only somewhat confident that Singletary – who dropped trou in his first game as Niners coach two years ago – will make it through the season. More important, I’m very confident that he won’t be the Niners coach in 2011.
Possible replacement: Jim Harbaugh. This one makes way too much sense. Harbaugh, who has done such a tremendous job turning around Stanford’s program, could slide into this gig without having to call the movers, and if the Niners keep losing, he might even be able to snag his current quarterback, Andrew Luck, with the No. 1 overall pick.
And on that note, I wish all of you the best of luck on your hell-raising but safe holiday weekend.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
The Broncos – coming off one of their worst games ever – will bounce back with a lovely jubbly offensive performance and spank the 49ers in London … With a whiff of desperation in the air, the Bengals will find a way to defeat the Dolphins in a tight battle … The Steelers will overpower the Saints on Sunday night as Ben Roethlisberger(notes) shines in the Superdome.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
Foxborough, for the Return of Randy, the possible end of Brett Favre's Streak (I don't buy it) and what I hope will be a very eventful Halloween. Instead of trick-or-treating or (ahem) decorating houses and cars like the old days, I'll be writing all night. And if someone gives me a Moss Mask, I'll put it on.
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. Bills coach Chan Gailey has no hard feelings toward Chiefs coach Todd Haley, who fired him as offensive coordinator 13 days before the start of the '09 season (and who he'll coach against in K.C. this Sunday).
2. After opening a campaign mailer from California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman on Thursday afternoon, I spent 45 minutes staring at the sunlight reflecting off a photo of her substantial forehead, then celebrated the end of the trance by going on eBay and purchasing "Hypnosis For Beginners."
3. Upon learning that 25 Bears players were denied entry to the Chicago club Angels and Kings general manager Jerry Angelo signed the three bouncers who'd turned away Brian Urlacher(notes), Lance Briggs(notes) and others and installed them as offensive line starters.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
Well, so much for a stress-free Sunday. The Ravens trailed the winless Bills by 14 points in the first half and had to go to overtime before pulling out a 37-34 victory, allowing me to advance to an eighth week (and putting Baltimore off limits for future picks, along with the Steelers, Colts, Saints, Patriots, Falcons and Titans). This week, just for kicks, I'm very tempted to go with the Broncos – yep, the same team that just lost to the Raiders by 45 points at home – because for some bizarre reason I love Denver's chances of getting things right against the Niners at Wembley Stadium. Instead, I'll play things a tad safer and pick against the Bills on the road once more, this time at Arrowhead Stadium. Last year, the Chiefs were my surprise choice to win the AFC West, and they went 4-12. Hopefully they'll make it up to me on Sunday.
FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK
My buddy Malibu is in a major funk, one which relates to the demise of his beloved Chargers and its inevitable residual effect on his fantasy team, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Coming off a defeat that dropped its record to 3-4, Sabbath could likely enhance its chances of beating Bangas this week by benching Ryan Mathews(notes), as the San Diego rookie runs up against the Titans this week. Yet with Matt Forte(notes) on a bye, Malcom Floyd(notes) injured and Donald Driver(notes) banged up and facing the Jets' secondary, Malibu lacks reasonable alternatives. "So I'll just go with Mathews," Malibu said Thursday. "It's all so bleak, dude. The Chargers to me feel like a replacement team with a couple of stars who crossed the picket line. The whole vibe is terrible. They're kicking out [Hollywood producer] Mike Fleiss for smoking a cigarette on a ramp when almost everyone else at Qualcomm is getting stupid drunk in the stands and getting ready to drive home, and they're profiting off of it. I hate it all."
I tried to cheer up Malibu by scouring the waiver wire – he picked up Jason Snelling(notes), who backs up a former Chargers halfback in Atlanta and may help down the road – and talking him into one of the cheekier moves imaginable: Claiming the Broncos defense and playing a unit that last Sunday was on the wrong side of a 59-14 score. (Have I mentioned that I really like the Broncos over the 49ers?) "Trust me," I said. "They're not that bad." He paused to consider the statement before answering: "You know who's bad? The Chargers … "
(As for the very, very good, watch me and Y! Sports guru Brad Evans break down Tony Romo's injury, Peyton Manning's(notes) fill-ins and Moss' return to New England on this week's episode of "Fantasy and Reality". Then watch it again, and forward it to your friends to do the same. We need the clicks. And we'd love your input and questions at email@example.com.)
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Steve Perry. Dude. And for all the San Francisco Giants fans who got emotional while attending Games 1 and 2 of the World Series – especially my 84-year-old father-in-law, Larry Goyette – or monitoring from afar.
THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
In addition to taking over the Pac-10 lead, Cal's 10th-ranked men's soccer team has been ripping up the roadways and going viral. The Bears, spurred by the tremendous coaching of Kevin Grimes, host Oregon State on Friday and Washington on Sunday. Also in Berkeley on Friday night will be a field hockey showdown between Shellie Onstead's Golden Bears and rival Stanford, with Cal looking to complete a sweep of the Cardinal and finish out an undefeated conference season. Onstead's team has won 11 consecutive home matches against Stanford, and if I show up at this game with my high-school-field-hockey-playing daughter in tow, I'll insist on a dirty dozen.
I never, ever miss a Cal-Stanford football game, and this year's Nov. 20 contest in Berkeley will be no exception. After crushing Arizona State 50-17 at Memorial Stadium last Saturday, the Bears have now dispatched all four home opponents by an aggregate score of 189-34. Unfortunately, Cal's game this Saturday will take place in Corvallis, Ore., where the Bears will try not to get pounded by the Oregon State Beavers.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
As I alluded to earlier in this column, McDaniels and Singletary have problems – but it's nothing a couple of jaunts around The Square Mile won't cure. Before their teams meet at Wembley Sunday, I picture the embattled coaches carousing and crooning with abandon while feeling the spirit of Warren Zevon within. And for those of you too young or tragically unaware of Zevon's excellence – well, I don't have time to get into it, other than to note that if you like Kid Rock's "All Summer Long," which overtly steals from (and honors) Lynyrd Skynyrd's insufferable "Sweet Home Alabama," know that it also covertly cops Zevon's timeless keyboard riff. We now present Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and 49ers counterpart Denise DeBartolo York paying musical tribute to Joshie Mac and Coach Sing – and doin' the "Werewolves of London."
Aaahooo, lame ducks in London
Aaahooo, lame ducks in London
Ya hear Sing howlin' about some TV dude
His cross bigger than Big Ben
Jimmy Raye's play calls got mutilated and he snapped
Might drop his knickers again
Yaahooo, lame ducks in London
Yaahooo, lame ducks in London
The kid worships Belichick, thinks he's more fab than Becks
Even David's wife must be offended
You better stay away from Posh
He'll rip your hood off, Josh
Bronco fans would like to see him Bend It
Quack quack, lame ducks in London
Quack quack, lame ducks in London
Well, we saw John Elway walkin' with the queen
Mockin' the lame ducks in London
We saw Joe Montana Jr. walkin' with the queen
Clownin' the lame ducks in London
We saw some lame ducks takin' a long skinny dip in Trafalgar Square
And their smiles were frozen
Aaahooo, lame ducks in London
Lame ducks in London …