Tuesday, December 10, 2002

NFL coaches on the hot seat

The Detroit News

DETROIT - If it's any consolation to Marty Mornhinweg -- and you can bet it's not -- he isn't the only NFL head coach whose job status is dicey.

Another round of high-profile firings is likely to follow a 2002 NFL season that has seen a handful of teams either fall flat, or wobble in ways that could be job-threatening for some respective coaching staffs.

Although the situations vary widely, NFL coaches on potentially thin ice would include Mike Holmgren of Seattle, Dave Campo of Dallas, Dick LeBeau of Cincinnati, Tom Coughlin of Jacksonville, Jim Fassel of the New York Giants, Mike Tice of Minnesota and, possibly, Dick Jauron of Chicago.

Mornhinweg's job future was thought to be reasonably secure a month ago. But a 3-10 record and two bad overtime losses in the Detroit Lions last three games have left him weakened with Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Minnesota still on the Lions' schedule.

Len Pasquarelli, NFL writer for ESPN.com, said Monday he believed Mornhinweg was in serious trouble and that any decision to fire Mornhinweg would likely spell doom, as well, for Lions President Matt Millen.

"To me, those guys are inextricably linked at the hip," Pasquarelli said. "I just don't see how you fire the coach and then keep Millen."

Although he expects some dismissals, Pasquarelli isn't sure this year's housecleanings will necessarily approach the usual six or seven firings that have been the NFL norm since 1990.

"I can't think of more than three or four guys I really believe could be gone," Pasquarelli said, although Mornhinweg is encroaching upon Pasquarelli's sure-to-be-gone list.

Firings that might be imminent include:

- Mike Holmgren, Seattle: He is wrapping up four undistinguished seasons as a one-man overseer of the Seahawks and has nothing close to a playoff spot to show for it. Holmgren wanted full authority when he left Green Bay for Seattle -- and he got it.

Holmgren now is viewed as having too much power and might find that his long-sought "ideal" job turned into a man-eater.

- Dave Campo, Dallas: Campo's problem, summed up in one name, is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Although he didn't utter Campo's name, specifically, Jones came down hard on his coach following Sunday's last-minute loss to San Francisco.

"That was a stupid (censored) ballgame," Jones told the Dallas Morning News.

"The players played well enough to win. We (censored) it up."

The "we" reference was clearly aimed at Campo, although Jones runs the Cowboys and views himself as a kind of ex officio coach. The Cowboys are in the early stages of a restructuring and Jones could decide Campo no longer fits. Jones' problem: The man he probably wants as his next head coach, Norv Turner, isn't likely to sign on when Jones prefers to make any and -- too often -- all key decisions.

- Dick LeBeau, Cincinnati: No job in professional sports is, perhaps, as risky as head coach of the perennially pathetic Bengals, who have a 1-12 record. LeBeau's contract is up at the end of this season and, most likely, so is his ordeal in Cincinnati.

- Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville: The Jaguars are a perplexing team, capable of sterling efforts or hold-your-nose performances on alternating weeks. Wayne Weaver, front-office boss at Jacksonville, loves Coughlin but might have no choice but to appease ornery fans and bring in a new man.

- Jim Fassel, New York Giants: Sunday's victory at Washington could have been a job-saver for Fassel, who needs to finish 8-8 (the Giants are 7-6) if he has any chance to stick with the team. An up-and-down season hit rock-bottom in a loss to Houston two weeks ago. But a break-even season in a division ruled by Philadelphia would probably buy Fassel another year.

- Mike Tice, Minnesota: The Vikings are 3-10 and a shell of their old selves, and no one is necessarily blaming Tice for personnel problems that were obvious before he arrived. But he has not been the kind of commander-in-chief who wins over fans and influences bosses.

The Vikings are in the process of being sold. If Red McCombs hangs on for a few more months as owner, Tice probably stays. A new owner soon would likely doom him.

- Dick Jauron, Chicago: The Bears are awful this year, but an ungodly rash of injuries has been the story on a team that last year was 13-3.

Everyone knows Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo would love to hire a new coach (probably Louisiana State's Nick Saban, an Angelo favorite). The Bears, though, have been playing all their home games in Champaign, Ill., as they await Soldier Field's renovation.

A clumsy excuse for a home field, coupled with a miserable string of injuries, makes it almost a moral imperative that Jauron gets another year. Thus far, the Bears seem inclined to act accordingly.

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