An impending NFL season welcomes hope for all 32 franchises. September represents a fresh start and a much-needed clean slate, especially for those who failed to qualify for the postseason in 2021. While the offseason allows for self-evaluation and roster tweaking via the NFL draft and free agency periods, the actual campaign will quickly separate contenders from pretenders.
Several squads are entering a crucial season in 2022 and various head coaches find themselves on the hot seat as a result. Instant success is a requirement in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. Last season, Urban Meyer was the first head honcho fired after placing himself in controversial situations (Jon Gruden departed before Meyer did but Gruden “resigned”).
At least one NFL head coach is fired mid-season on a nearly annual basis. BetOnline recently updated their odds for which coach may fall victim to a short leash in 2022. The odds are as follows:
- Matt Rhule, Panthers Head Coach (+300)
- Mike McCarthy, Cowboys Head Coach (+500)
- Pete Carroll, Seahawks Head Coach (+600)
- Frank Reich, Colts Head Coach (+700)
- Ron Rivera, Commanders Head Coach (+800)
- Kevin Stefanski, Browns Head Coach (10/1)
- Dan Campbell, Lions Head Coach (10/1)
- Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals Head Coach (12/1)
- Mike Vrabel, Titans Head Coach (12/1)
- Robert Saleh, Jets Head Coach (14/1)
- Arthur Smith, Falcons Head Coach (14/1)
THE FAVORITE AND MY PICK: MATT RHULE
Panthers Head Coach Matt Rhule may consider himself fortunate that he’s even receiving another opportunity to usher Carolina forward in 2022. Rhule has compiled an abysmal record of 10-23 (.303) since taking over for the beloved Ron Rivera, having won five games apiece across his first two seasons in charge. Another similar campaign makes it impossible to envision Rhule returning to the Panthers for 2023 and his chances of surviving the 2022 campaign in its entirety remains in question.
Rhule has undeniably been saddled with below-average quarterbacks throughout his time in Carolina, but the 2023 season is expected to welcome more of the same. Starting quarterback Sam Darnold remains in place via the fifth-year option. Darnold will earn more than $18 million in 2022, fully guaranteed. Rumors linking the Panthers and a trade for Baker Mayfield continue to run rampant, but how much of an upgrade Mayfield represents over Darnold is a fair question worth asking following his disappointing 2021 season.
The Panthers have routinely failed to field a quality offense under Rhule and hiring Ben McAdoo as the new offensive coordinator doesn’t lead to much hope for improvement, either. Rhule is the overwhelming favorite to be the first NFL head coach fired in 2022.
DON’T SLEEP ON: KLIFF KINGSBURY
Kingsbury’s seat may low-key be as hot as any coach in the NFL entering the 2022 season. Despite beginning the 2021 campaign a perfect 7-0, the Cardinals crawled to an 11-6 finish by dropping four of their final five regular-season contests. Kingsbury’s Cardinals were then easily brushed aside by their arch-nemesis Los Angeles Rams to the tune of 34-11 in the wild-card round. In 2020, the Cardinals missed the postseason after finishing 3-6 following the Week 8 bye. In 2019, Kingsbury’s first season as Arizona’s head coach, the Cardinals finished an abysmal 2-7 in their final nine contests. Second-half collapses have become all too familiar under Kingsbury’s tutelage and patience is surely beginning to wear thin inside Arizona’s headquarters. Ironically, it could be a first-half struggle that costs Kingsbury in 2022.
The Cardinals will also be without superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins for the first six games of the 2022 season following a suspension for violating the NFL Performance Enhancing Drug policy. Hopkins’ early-season absence makes Kingsbury’s job considerably more difficult.
Kingsbury could find himself in legitimate trouble if the Cardinals stumble out the gate. The schedule-makers didn’t do Kingsbury and the Cardinals any favors, either. Arizona’s first five games include a gauntlet of matchups against the Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Rams, Panthers, and Philadelphia Eagles. A 1-4 start could have Kingsbury looking over his shoulder.
A WORTHY DARK HORSE: ARTHUR SMITH
It qualifies as a bit surprising to witness Falcons Head Coach Arthur Smith appear near the bottom of this list as a coach that’s less likely to be fired mid-season than say Mike Vrabel or Frank Reich. Let me preface my selection by stating the following. Smith is a fantastic leader and coach who unfortunately finds himself in a terrible situation that was rather unpredictable. The Falcons currently lack proven talent at nearly every important position, particularly at quarterback, wide receiver, and EDGE defender. The 2022 Falcons carry the appearance of a horrid football team. For that reason alone, Smith should rank slightly higher.
A broken relationship with franchise quarterback Matt Ryan forced a trade before the Falcons were adequately prepared to replace him. Falcons General Manager Terry Fontenot responded to Ryan’s untimely departure by signing former first-round bust Marcus Mariota to a two-year bridge contract. Fontenot also drafted Desmond Ridder with a third-round selection. Mariota is a reclamation project and Ridder is an unknown commodity. It makes up one of the worst quarterbacking situations across the league in 2022. Furthermore, Falcons star receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for the entire 2022 season, making things go from bad to worse.
The majority of these occurrences were completely out of coach Smith’s hands. It’s possible Smith is afforded some extra rope, as the Falcons’ ownership and front-office brass shouldn’t possibly expect Smith to field a legitimate postseason contender in 2022. Slow-burn approaches aren’t often the preferred method of NFL teams in relation to head coaching success, however. Smith shouldn’t be coaching for his job in 2022, but history indicates otherwise.