The 2016 NFL season kicks off Thursday night and while many are excited for the return of professional football, several head coaches have to be nervous to open the campaign.
The following five coaches have the hottest seats in the league at the start of this season and each of them need to win games in a hurry if they want to remain in their current jobs.
5. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis Colts
Pagano is a great guy with an inspiring story but he’ll need to produce this year if he wants to keep his job. Rumored front-office in-fighting almost led to Pagano’s departure after a disappointing 2015 season, but the Colts decided to keep him around. While general manager Ryan Grigson and owner Jim Irsay should shoulder much of that blame, Pagano has done himself no favors.
With quarterback Andrew Luck now the highest-paid player in NFL history, expectations in Indianapolis are sky-high. The Colts reached the playoffs in the first three seasons of Pagano’s tenure with an 11-5 record in each campaign. In 2015 they went 8-8 in a weak division. That’s unacceptable given the young offensive talent the team possesses. This year has to be different if Pagano wants to keep his job.
Instead of being fired after last season, Pagano got a four-year contract extension. While that would typically provide some job security, Jim Irsay is the NFL owner most likely to go all Hank Scorpio. He would have no problem firing a head coach who wasn’t producing, no matter what his contract situation was.
4. Jeff Fisher,
St. Louis Los Angeles Rams
I have no idea how or why Fisher still has a job. A throwback to the old school, the 58-year-old California native’s style wouldn’t seem to fit the Hollywood vibe the newly-moved Rams are aiming for. Heck, it didn’t fit the vibe in St. Louis either, where Fisher posted a dismal 27-36-1 record in four seasons.
Entering his fifth year for the Rams, the man with the most well-groomed mustache since William Cutting will have to show some improvement. I mean, he has to, right? Then again, I would have fired him two years ago so I have no idea what Stan Kroenke and Les Snead are thinking, or what Fisher has over them.
3. Gus Bradley, Jacksonville Jaguars
Bradley hasn’t been dealt a great hand with the perpetually rebuilding Jaguars, but a 12-36 record in three seasons has him squarely on the hot seat. The 50-year-old first-time head coach needs to turn things around this season after a 5-11 record in 2015.
The Jaguars have made a significant investment in their defense this offseason. They spent $178.3 million in free agency and added Malik Jackson ($42 million guaranteed) and Tashaun Gipson ($12 million guaranteed), while selecting Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, and four other defenders during the 2016 NFL Draft. With all that cash spent on defense and with a defensive-minded head coach, the Jags have to be better than they were in 2015 when they ranked 24th in the NFL (375.0 yards per game).
Jags owner Shahid Khan wants to win now. If Bradley doesn’t deliver this year he could find himself becoming the most intense Pop Warner coach in the country.
2. Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
If apathy could take human form, it would be Mike McCoy. A respected offensive coordinator who somehow dealt with Tim Tebow being his quarterback and survived, McCoy has accomplished almost nothing during his three years in San Diego. Despite solid talent on both sides of the ball, the 44-year-old posted two 9-7 seasons before going 4-12 in 2015. He has one postseason appearance to his name and that came in 2013, during his first season.
McCoy and general manager Tom Telesco’s fates are likely linked. But given the general incompetence of San Diego’s ownership and front office, it’s not surprising both were retained after a dismal 2015 campaign. This season has to be their final shot to get things together. With a vote on a new downtown stadium set for November, the Chargers have to start winning now.
1. Jim Caldwell, Detroit Lions
The 2015 season opened with high hopes for the Lions. They were coming off an 11-5 season, and Caldwell appeared to have his team primed for a big year. Despite an expensive roster and a wealth of talent, the Lions disappointed (as they always seem to do) and limped to a 7-9 record. Calvin Johnson — the franhise’s best player since Barry Sanders — retired this offseason and there’s no way they can replace the kind of threat he was on offense.
Detroit has had just one winning season since 2008, if the franchise wants to change its fortunes, a radical new approach needs to be implemented. Caldwell isn’t that. Neither is perpetually-underachieving quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford actually put up solid numbers in 2015 (4,262 yards, 67.2 completion percentage, 32 touchdowns, 13 interceptions), but during an 0-5 start to the season he was horrendous. After that, the Lions were all but out of playoff contention.
Caldwell seems like a good man and the 61-year-old has been coaching football since before I was born. That said, if the Lions don’t make the playoffs this year he’ll be the nicest guy at the unemployment office.