Analysis | The NFL’s head coaching upheaval might not be over yet

Are Nick Sirianni and Mike McCarthy coaching for their jobs in the first round of the NFL playoffs this weekend? Plenty of people around the league believe it’s possible.

The two NFC East coaches, whose Eagles and Cowboys entered the season with sizable expectations, realize that advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs is a fair standard. And in this league, with coaches always dispensable — there are already eight openings in this cycle — failure to meet reasonable goals can come with a steep cost, even for a coach who made a deep playoff run like Sirianni or racked up impressive regular season stats like McCarthy.

After a 10-1 start, the Eagles have been among the dregs of the NFL during the final third of the season, and whenever a defensive coordinator is fired late in a season with Super Bowl expectations, other uncomfortable decisions are inevitable. Considering that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has never been shy about making bold moves when he sees fit — moving on from Andy Reid; hiring then quickly firing Chip Kelly; moving on from Doug Pederson three years after winning the franchise’s only Super Bowl — this franchise seeking better results through a change should never be shocking. Bearing in mind how many position groups on this roster appear headed in the wrong direction, the regression of quarterback Jalen Hurts and the inevitable changes in the assistant coaching ranks, it’s fair to wonder how content Lurie would be with his 42-year old head coach if the Eagles followed ugly regular season losses to the lowly Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants with a quick ouster by the pedestrian Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Would they think long and hard about making a change if this gets ugly in Tampa?” said one NFL general manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to talk publicly about coaches under contract to other teams. “I think they would. They’re obsessed with winning. [General manager] Howie [Roseman] and that owner are always trying to get better. The [coaching] staff is getting picked apart and some of the [stuff] Sirianni says makes me shake my head. There’s going to be some tough conversations coming.

“If it comes to a head, Sirianni probably thinks he could get another job the next day. But, man, I really don’t think he would. He’s not the kind of guy who’s going to click with every owner. That’s not going to play with everybody, the things he says and how he presents himself. I’m not so sure he’d get one.”

As for McCarthy, I’d be shocked if he kept his job should the Cowboys — who are more than a touchdown favorite over the very young (dare I say, green) Packers — lose on Sunday at home, where Dallas is undefeated. And it has nothing to do with the latest awkward signaling from owner Jerry Jones about his coach — from “we’ll see how each game goes,” to “I couldn’t be more pleased” — and everything to do with things I have reported about the Cowboys situation since this time last year.

Hopes are high for the Cowboys. Can they avoid another playoff heartbreak?

Jones believes he has a Super Bowl roster, again, while McCarthy’s past foibles winning big games and managing high-tension situations remain front of mind. He won the NFC East despite going just 2-2 down the stretch, due largely to Sirianni’s epic collapse, and good luck finding a personnel executive or coach around the league who doesn’t believe that if Jones needed a head coach, he would do whatever it takes to hire defensive coordinator Dan Quinn after Quinn pulled out of head coaching consideration elsewhere a year ago to stay in Dallas.

“Mike needs to win this game, and everybody on that staff knows it,” said another GM, under similar restrictions about speaking publicly. “The next man up is already there.”

Of course, Quinn’s name has also been linked to Seattle — where he rose to prominence — and the coordinator remains close to former coach Pete Carroll and others in the Seahawks organization. But Seattle’s ownership situation is uncertain, and it isn’t clear if the Allen family would be inclined to dip into the Carroll coaching tree for its first major hire since Paul Allen died.

Regardless, the NFL’s head coaching turbulence rarely ends within a few days of the regular season, and I would not be surprised in the least if results this weekend prompt more upheaval.

David Tepper’s Carolina plans

Mercurial Panthers owner David Tepper, a former minority owner of the Steelers, is sending signals to others in the league that he’d like to replicate the kind of coach/GM arrangement and organizational flowchart that Pittsburgh espouses. But it remains to be seen if he gets anywhere close to that.

Carolina’s failed pursuit of Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson last year has not quelled Tepper’s interest in him, and Johnson shares an agent with Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, whom Tepper thinks highly of and whose unit ascended as the lost Carolina season rolled on. Money is not expected to be an object. And bringing in a new head coach with a new general manager would, ostensibly, allow for a firm understanding of the role and powers of each from the jump.

No matter how the GM and coach search goes, former Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan, their assistant GM, has become a favorite of the owner and will probably be sticking around in that front office.

Don’t overlook Jacksonville’s offense

The Jaguars’ decision to fire defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell and his staff, but apparently make no significant changes to the offensive staff, was met with derision by executives I’ve spoken with. As noted in this space, debate on the efficacy of quarterback Trevor Lawrence rages on, and an offense that appeared to have ample weapons never got going this season.

Pederson has a hand in everything going on with the quarterback and offense, and while offensive coordinator Press Taylor earned praise from the head coach, some thought the Jaguars’ introspection should focus on that side of the ball.

“They weren’t great defensively, but that’s pretty rich to blame it all on Caldwell,” the first GM said. “I never understood exactly what Press Taylor did well in Philadelphia, and the offensive play-calling [in Jacksonville] was pretty [poor] from what I could see. I think they fired the wrong guy.”

Notes from around the league

If former Washington linebacker Antonio Pierce is named the Raiders’ permanent head coach, it would not be surprising if former Washington defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is a part of that defensive staff in some capacity. Their bond has always been strong, although the Jaguars are among other teams also interested in Williams. … Wherever former Titans coach Mike Vrabel lands — the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots are the two teams I’ve heard the most buzz about — he’s likely to have some sway as to who comes with him, and Giants executive Ryan Cowden would likely be his top choice as a GM. …

All things being equal, I’m told that the Falcons will value prior head coaching experience far more significantly now than during previous iterations of their head coaching pursuits. Regardless, it’s pretty amazing that CEO Rich McKay continues to oversee that effort, as if he weren’t one of the primary voices putting together failed staff after failed staff. “Nothing sticks to Rich; it’s crazy, man,” the first GM said. “He sits up there and talks about what they need to do, and he’s the guy who paired Arthur Smith with [GM Terry] Fontenot in the first place. He’s the problem.” Other GMs do not believe that Fontenot, who was not on the podium when McKay and owner Arthur Blank addressed the coaching change this week, is certain to keep his job. “I think it depends on the head coach,” the second GM said. “If the guy is absolutely going to be there, he’s up there with McKay and the owner.” …

As previously noted, Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk seemed to have a very high opinion of former Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith when he left to become the Falcons’ head coach. And now he’s out of work. And she needs a head coach. Hmm.

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