Note: This article originally appeared on our nationally-themed site, FranchiseTagged.com.
Black Monday will occur again in about nine months — an annual NFL event. Ordinarily, about five or so (sometimes less, sometimes more) head coaches are terminated while a new man or woman is tapped to lead the future.
This year will be no different as the league returns closer to normalcy. Based on efforts to widely distribute the coronavirus vaccine, the NFL plans to have somewhat full attendance in stadiums, so things like homefield advantage will be prevalent. Too, expectations will be elevated and pandemic “excuses” won’t be in play. Perhaps some coaches could use the oddities of 2020 to buy more employment years when their respective teams underperformed, but the 2021 season will look more familiar to 2019 than 2020.
These are the coaches on the proverbial hot seat — ranked in ascending order of “the need to win in 2021.”
5. Jon Gruden (Las Vegas Raiders)
Gruden’s tenure in Las Vegas is different than the rest of the folks on this list. He is the beholder of a humongous contract, and it is unclear if the Raiders brass would kick him out before his decade-long deal experiences a sunset.
Since he returned to Raiders and ushered in the with-herculean-stakes Khalil Mack trade, the Raiders have tallied these win-loss records: 4-12 (2018), 7-9 (2019), 8-8 (2020). Gruden’s Raiders have been just good enough for the 57-year-old to escape wrath. What’s more, there is improvement albeit very teensy.
The record must “jump” to 10-7 in 2021 — which would likely plop him into the postseason for the first time since 2005 (with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). You remember 2005: Henry Ruggs III was six years old.
4. Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals)
The Cardinals have gone and done it. Their recent transactions have been so splashy and star-studded — the acquisition of former Houston Texans personnel, DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt — that winning is required. With names like Hopkins, Watt, and Kyler Murray — playoff appearances must commence at some point.
And, that’s now. Coaches probably deserve a leash longer than three years, but this one is different because Arizona will “go find someone who can” win if Kingsbury emanates something akin to 8-9 or 9-8 win-loss flatulence. That won’t cut it in Kyler Murray’s coming-of-age third season.
In all likelihood, Murray will take his next developmental step, and Arizona will reach the playoffs. But if they do not, there is probably a better human to coach this team than Kingsbury.
3. Mike Zimmer (Minnesota Vikings)
As a head coach, Mike Zimmer has never had a bad season. He’s authored two 7-9 seasons — one in his rookie year, the other during the pandemic. Instead, he alternates mediocre seasons will damn-good ones. Zimmer is a better football coach in years that end in an odd number — if that can be believed. The Vikings reached the playoffs in 2015, 2017, and 2019.
If the Zimmer-Vikings do not win a postseason game this season, the product will be officially stale. He has commanded the team to the league’s eighth-best record since his arrival in 2014. Minnesota reached an NFC Championship in 2017 but hasn’t quite replicated that quasi-storybook endeavor.
This is a package deal for the Vikings. Not necessarily general manager Rick Spielman — but Kirk Cousins. Zimmer and Cousins’ fates are tied to each other. 2021 will be a referendum.
2. Vic Fangio (Denver Broncos)
Much like Cousins and Zimmer, Broncos skipper, Vic Fangio, is likely tied to Drew Lock — by no fault of his own. Lock was an Elwaysian draft pick, and now Elway is allegedly in the background as the puppetmaster. Denver hired George Paton as general manager from the Vikings a couple of months ago, so Paton is in charge of the roster.
As a measure of good faith, Paton is probably giving Fangio and Lock one audition to prove Elway knew what he was doing. Think of it as an act of fairness. Hopefully for the Broncos sake, Fangio and Lock tear the mountains up, and then Paton need not get rid of anybody. But, to be clear, Paton is new to this gig. Leaders typically like to choose their own people in order to effectuate success.
Paton inherited Fangio and Lock. If they underwhelm in 2021, well, he will uproot them and do it his way.
1. Matt Nagy (Chicago Bears)
The hottest buttocks award goes to Matt Nagy. Truth be told, he could have been jettisoned earlier in the year, but he will [somehow] get another look in 2021. Nagy arrived in 2018 like gangbusters, fostering a 12-4 record in Chicago. After that, the Bears have actionized two consecutive 8-8 campaigns.
Nagy was theorized to be an offensive guru — an understudy of Andy Reid in Kansas City. In 2019, the Bears ranked 29th in points scored. Last year, they “improved” to 22nd in the league for the same metric.
Unfortunately for their sake, the Bears missed out on the Russell Wilson Sweepstakes and instead signed Andy Dalton. Nagy and Dalton — together — will determine Nagy’s 2022 employment status.
His seat is the toastiest in the NFL.