Scramble for the Ball: On The Hot Seat
by Vince Verhei and Ben Riley
"We all share in the responsibilities of losing games. That includes the coaches, it includes the players, it includes the administration, it includes the ownership."
-- Rams owner Chip Rosenbloom
"I reached a point where I felt that the whole staff were fractionalized, that the best thing to do to get this thing back was to make a change."
-- Raiders owner (and possible Gangrel) Al Davis
With that, after only four weeks of the 2008 NFL season, two coaches were fired. They won't be the last. The only question is, will anyone else be canned before the season is out? That's impossible to say for sure, but we here at Scramble specialize in the impossible. With that, here's a list of other coaches on seats of various heat, with the odds that they'll be the next to clean out their desk. We remind you, as always, this is for entertainment purposes only; no wagering.
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin
Lifetime Record with Raiders: 5-15
Odds of Being Fired: No bet (it's a virtual certainty he
will be has been fired by the time Scramble runs, perhaps even before this capsule is completed)
Reasons for Firing: Because Al Davis is busy turning the Raiders into the most embarrassing franchise in the NFL. The real question is not why Kiffin
will be has been fired, but why Davis waited so long to make the decision. He now faces what will surely be a protracted -- and probably unsuccessful -- legal battle over the $3.5 million that remains on Kiffin's contract. Remember, the Raiders signed oft-injured wide receiver Javon Walker to a contract with $11 million in guaranteed money. That's actually $7.125 million less than what they gave oft-injured defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, and approximately $10 million less than what Davis shelled out for oft-burned DeAngelo Hall. Way to stand on principle, Al.
Fantasy Impact: Sure enough, as this entry was being written, Davis announced the merciful firing of Kiffin and that he's being replaced by relatively unknown offensive line coach Tom Cable. From a fantasy perspective, this probably won't be good for Darren McFadden's production -- offensive line coaches tend to emphasize good pass protection, and McFadden has struggled with blitz pickups thus far. Relatedly, Justin Fargas owners should feel good about this news, although not enough to justify purchase of Fargas's first CD, Young Hugg in Black and White.
Head Coach: Jim Haslett
Lifetime Record with Rams: 0-0
Odds of Being Fired: 25-1 (After season: 1-1)
Reasons for Firing: Considering that Haslett was never hired to be the Rams' coach, his position as man in charge can't be considered any stronger than tenuous. Haslett does have a track record of being at least a mediocre head coach. He put together a 45-51 record in six years in charge of the Saints, 42-38 if we remove his final, Katrina-ravaged 2005 season. Before that campaign, Haslett's Saints won at least seven games every year, peaking in his first year in 2000 when they won 10 games and then defeated the Rams in the playoffs, the first postseason victory in the history of the franchise. Haslett is only 53 and would likely be a reasonably good coach for at least a few seasons. It's doubtful the Rams would fire two coaches in one season. As an interim coach, though, Haslett is not likely to be brought back in 2009. He's got 12 games to make his case. Our suggestion: Become very, very good friends with Steven Jackson.
Fantasy Impact: Potentially huge; Haslett's Saints teams featured a players like Aaron Brooks, Joe Horn, and Deuce McAllister, guys whose fantasy value usually trumped their real-life value. In the short term, Haslett has put Trent Green back on the bench and Marc Bulger back under center, where he will remain until he inevitably gets hurt again.
Head Coach: Herm Edwards
Lifetime record with Chiefs: 14-22
Odds of Being Fired: 10-1
Reasons for Firing: Why don't we just listen in on the forthcoming conversation between Chiefs General Manager Carl Peterson and Herm in Week 8?
Peterson: Well, Herm, I think you know why I've called you in here. We are sitting at 1-7 and we seem to be shuffling quarterbacks on a game-by-game basis. It is time for us to talk about where this franchise is going and what role you should -- or shouldn't -- play with the Chiefs.
Herm: I understand, coach. Football is a game of the future. It's also the game of the past. And at the same time, it's a game of the present.
So football is really a game of the past, present and future.
My job is to make sure we are prepared for anything that happens in the future. It's also to make sure we are prepared in the present. Now I haven't done a very good job at that. What I have done is control the past to control the present to control the future. So right there, I would say that is something.
Peterson: [Stares blankly]
Herm: Now, could we have done more to control the past? I'm not sure how. We don't have a time machine in the NFL. We can't just go back and undue the mistakes we've made in the past. Would we like to? Of course we would. Who wouldn't like a time machine? Uh, HELLO? It's not a question about time machines. If we had one, we would use it. We don't, so we can't. It's as simple as that really. Football is not a complicated game.
Peterson: Herm, I called this meeting for one reason, and that's to tell you that...
Herm: See, I don't deal with hypotheticals. Some would say it was a mistake to hand the ball to Larry Johnson 400 times in one year. They're entitled to their opinion. That's a hypothetical. I just told you: I do NOT do hypotheticals. We don't know what would have happened if we gave him the ball 390 times, or 382 times, or 371 times, or whatever. But instead WE gave HIM the BALL. OK? That's what happened. Could we have given it to him less? We could have. We also could have given it to him more. How true that is.
Peterson: [Rubs temples furiously]
Herm: You have to remember that no one is harder on myself than myself. Would I tell you that I've made some mistakes? What is a mistake? A mistake is what happens when you do something that you didn't mean to do. When Tyler Thigpen throws the ball into triple coverage while backpedaling furiously, that's a mistake, OK? He's a young quarterback, and he's going to make mistakes. But that's OK. We're all going to make mistakes. That's not the problem. Now, can it become the problem? It depends on whether you are willing to learn from your mistakes. Tyler is willing to learn, and so we're going to keep educating him, and hopefully he won't make as many mistakes in the future, and we won't either.
Peterson: Herm, about your mistakes, that's really why we are here, and the organization has decided that your future is...
Herm: Well, that brings up the time machine again. If we could go into the future, we would, because then we would know the future. We would know the outcome of the game. WE would KNOW who WON the GAME. And that would be helpful to know.
See, it's like have a lottery ticket, one of those scratch-off things you buy at the 7-11. You would have your ticket and a maybe a coin and then you would just scratch the parts of the ticket you need to win. And then you'd get that little silver dusty stuff all over your table. Would it be helpful to use the time machine to know what part of the ticket to scratch? Yes, it would. But we can't do that now, so we just have to scratch what we can scratch and hope it works out. That's the nature of football.
Peterson: [Runs from room with head spinning. Come to think of it, this may explain why Herm still has a job.]
Fantasy Impact: Although the Larry Johnson of 2005 was briefly on display this past Sunday, don't be fooled: He doesn't get to play the Broncos every weekend. Herm's already run Johnson into the ground, and it's hard to see how a coaching change could have any impact on Tony Gonzalez or Dwayne Bowe, the only two players of fantasy interest on this team.
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis
Lifetime Record with Bengals: 42-42
Odds of Being Fired: 10-1
Reasons for Firing: Where to begin? The Bengals are 0-4. They lost to the Browns. His top receiver has crossed the fine line from Prince (eccentric personality adds splash of flavor to elite talent) to Britney (wackjob living on past accomplishents and current tabloid appearances). Chad Ocho Cinco/Johnson has only 116 yards in the Bengals' first four games; they're have been twenty-three 116-plus-yard games by wide receivers this season. Lewis has produced only one playoff season in his five-plus years in Cincinnati, and the defense, supposedly his specialty, is largely to blame; his Bengals have never finished in the top half of the league in either yards or points allowed. Now, Carson Palmer is nursing a sore and swollen elbow that could hamper him for weeks, and every Ryan Fitzpatrick start brings Lewis closer to the unemployment line. (In Lewis' defense, we should note that aside from Cleveland, the other three teams that have beat the Bengals -- Baltimore, Tennessee, and the Giants -- are a combined 9-1.)
Fantasy Impact: If Lewis is canned, it will likely be just the start of a massive housecleaning. Carson Palmer may be the only Bengal who isn't endangered, and Ocho Cinco will be gone for sure.
Head Coach: Mike Nolan
Lifetime Record with 49ers: 18-34
Odds of Being Fired: 5-1
Reasons for Firing: After a disappointing 2007 campaign and a tumultuous offseason that saw him stripped of his general manager responsibilities, Nolan has temporarily quieted the critics after the 49ers' somewhat surprising 2-1 start. Note the key word "temporarily." Although J.T. O'Sullivan is playing well in Mike Martz's offensive scheme, he's already been sacked 19 times, six more than any other passer in the league. There's no way O'Sullivan can survive that sort of pounding throughout the season, and things will go sour very quickly if the Niners are forced to rely on Shaun Hill or Jamie Martin.
Fantasy Impact: If Martz is elevated to head coach, relatively minimal, although one wonders if Nolan's departure might lead Martz to indulge his worst tendencies and relegate Frank Gore to the Kevin Jones Memorial Fantasy Death Heap. This past Sunday, tight end Vernon Davis could be seen taunting his own coaching staff after finally getting a target in the passing game, so clearly there's at least one player on the 49ers rooting for a coaching shakeup. What a bust that guy has turned out to be.
Head Coach: Romeo Crennel
Lifetime Record with Browns: 21-31
Odds of Being Fired: 5-1
Reasons for Firing: When your best season involves career years from your quarterback, top receiver and tight end, and you still miss the playoffs, that's bad. When two of those players fall back to earth the next season, that's substantially worse. Derek Anderson is playing more like the guy who lost a training camp battle with Charlie Frye just one year ago than the guy who threw 29 touchdowns in 2007. Braylon Edwards, meanwhile, has only 95 receiving yards in four games. (Compare that to Hank Baskett, who compiled 90 yards in his first catch.) And the schedule from here gets very, very ugly. After a bye this week, the Browns play the Giants, the Redskins, the Jaguars, the Ravens, the Broncos, and the Bills. That's a combined record of 17-5. With Crennel's only winning season looking more and more like a fluke in hindsight, it seems like the Browns are about to start over -- again.
Fantasy Impact: Forget about the odds of Crennel being fired, we should look at the odds of Anderson being benched. Brady Quinn will probably be starting after Cleveland's next loss -- which will probably come in their next game. Pencil Quinn in for Week 7 against Washington.
Head Coach: Rod Marinelli
Lifetime Record with Lions: 10-25
Odds of Being Fired: 3-1
Reasons for Firing: We'll say this much for Marinelli: He's better than Marty Mornhinweg. That is damning with faint praise, however, and through three games the Lions are winless and off to historically low DVOA levels. While that clearly has as much to do with departed team president Matt Millen as it does with Marinelli, it doesn't help the coach's cause, either. Moreover, the man who hired Marinelli has now been fired. Whoever the new team president is, they're going to want to bring in their own leader. It would take a miraculous turnaround to save Marinelli's job.
Fantasy Impact: The new president and coach are going to wipe the slate clean, which means Jon Kitna's days in Honolulu blue are numbered. (Halloween night in the Motor City will never be the same.) The new regime, unless they are even less competent than the M&M boys, will build around superstar receivers Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson; both are likely to be post better numbers in 2009 than in 2008. Food for thought for next year's draft.
Keep Choppin' Wood
We couldn't decide on KCW this week, and so we have two winners. The first involves one of our pet peeves: teams burning timeouts to prevent delay-of-game penalties, when the timeout is clearly more valuable than the yards saved. This usually occurs in third-and-long situations; why call timeout on third-and-12? Is it really that much better than third-and-17? Yards can be recovered; timeouts are gone forever. Timeouts on first down are usually more forgivable, but not the one Gus Frerotte called against Tennessee on Sunday. With 4:03 left in the game, Frerotte and the Vikings took over, trailing 17-23. Confusion befell Minnesota before they could get a single play off (which is inexcusable on the first play of a drive, but anyway) and Frerotte frantically called timeout before the play clock ran down. This was particularly galling because it left Minnesota with no timeouts. Worse yet, the timeout came with a first down at Minnesota's own 2-yard line; a delay penalty would have been half the distance to the goal. Yes, Frerotte called his team's final timeout to save ONE YARD. This, folks, is poor clock management.
The other winner for KCW is Cowboys safety Pat "12th Man, But Not In A Good Way" Watkins. With 6:58 left in the third quarter in the Redskins-Cowboys contest, the Redskins faced a critical third-and-2. Without a first down, kicker Shaun Suisham would be forced to attempt a difficult 49-yard field goal. After the Cowboys called a timeout, they went into their short-yardage package -- a package which typically does not involve Watkins. Nonetheless, it apparently didn't occur to him that he should be watching this play from the sidelines, and thus the Cowboys were flagged for 12 men on the field. A few plays later, Suisham booted a a gimme field goal that ended up providing the Redskins with their 3-point margin of victory in a 26-24 surprise road win. Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips said later, "I can't understand how two players playing the position could be standing out there. I can't fathom that." Us neither.
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QB: How screwy was Week 4? Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers as the biggest losers among quarterbacks -- with a pair of 8s. Yes, EIGHT. That's what happens, though, when Kurt Warner mixes seven turnovers with 472 yards and a pair of scores, and Kyle Orton offsets four turnovers with three touchdowns. You're left with Ryan (no turnovers, but no touchdowns and only 158 passing yards) and Rivers (one touchdown, two picks) somewhat erroneously labeled as "losers." In Week 4, everybody won.
RB: The Cleveland Browns rank 23rd in rush defense. Facing that stalwart line, Chris Perry rushed 12 times for 28 yards. He also had 15 yards receiving -- on five catches. He added a fumble, his fourth of the year. He scored a 1. Loser!
WR: Harry Douglas' game against Carolina was actually worse than his 8-yard, 0-point statline would indicate. Douglas caught two passes in five targets. That's a 40 percent completion rate, 4.0 yards per completion and 1.6 yards per attempt. A sixth pass thrown Douglas' way was picked off and returned for a touchdown, but the play was wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty. One of the worst games a wideout can have.
K: By rule, there should be a Ram in these standings every week. This time it's Josh Brown's turn. He went 2-for-2 on extra points, but missed his only field goal attempt to finsh with a 0.