By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Lovie Smith is not going anywhere. At least not this year. The Bears’ collapse this season has little to do with Smith’s mistakes. The season-ending collapse is all about the injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte and the team’s lack of preparation to handle those problems. Are you listening, Jerry Angelo?
But this is the coach-firing season. There is one Sunday left in the NFL season and coaches will be fired within 24 to 72 hours of the last game. Football never stops and if you are not getting better, you are getting worse. Teams have to upgrade their coaching staffs and the end of the 2011 season is really the beginning of the 2012 season for losing teams.
In some cases, coaches will be fired because the general manager wants to point the blame away from himself. In other cases, the move is justified. Here’s a look at the coaches that are in the most trouble heading into the final week of the season.
Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis – It’s easy to point to the Peyton Manning injury to explain away the Colts’ collapse in 2011. However, the immediate response by Caldwell and his staff was to panic and turtle. The handwriting was on the wall in Week 1 when the Colts fell behind by 34 points in the first half against the Houston Texans before losing 34-7. Caldwell had no response and no adjustment. The Colts appeared to be on their way to a win-less season until they broke their 13-game losing streak against the Tennessee Titans and followed that with a win against the Texans. Those were not meaningless wins because they may cost the Colts a shot at drafting Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Caldwell deserves to go, but if owner Jim Irsay wants to get his franchise back, he should clean house and fire general manager Bill Polian. Polian has a solid track record and knows talent, but he is a pompous blowhard who needs to be surrounded with yes men. He’s a classic bully and he appears to be losing his touch.
Andy Reid, Philadelphia – The time has come for Reid to move on. Whether it’s his choice or team owner Jeffrey Lurie’s doesn’t matter. The Eagles were labeled as the NFL’s dream team because the roster appeared to be dominated by All-Pros. However, the 2011 season was nothing but one step forward and two steps back for the Eagles and it’s fairly obvious that players have tuned Reid out. The big problem has been inconsistency. The Eagles have been at their best in wins over the Jets and Cowboys the last two weeks, but they are still under .500 headed into the finale. The Eagles make mistakes at big moments and players are no longer listening to Reid. Give him one or two years off and he may be rejuvenated because he’s got a great mind for the game, but he needs to go now.
Raheem Morris, Tampa Bay – The Bucs have not won a game since mid-October and Morris appears to be clueless as to how to get the team out of its funk. The defense has fallen apart as the Bucs rank 30th in overall defense and can’t stop anybody. As good as Cam Newton is in his rookie season for the Panthers, he looked like a future Hall of Famer against the Tampa Bay defense. The biggest problem Morris had is an inability to work with Josh Freeman. After a very solid 2010 season, Freeman has played like a panic-stricken teenager this year. A 14-to-19 touchdown-to-interception ratio is not acceptable. The rest of the players knew that Freeman was falling deeper and deeper down the well and they gave up on the season. They know it’s time for their coach to pack his bags.
Norv Turner, San Diego – Playing in the AFC Worst should have made it easy for the Chargers to win the division once again, but Turner’s team lacked focus and consistency. The Chargers avoided their usual slow start by winning four of their first five, but a six-game midseason losing streak demonstrated that Turner had lost control of the ship. Turner has proved himself as an offensive game planner over the years, but the Chargers have always come up short in big games and that’s on Turner.
Leslie Frazier, Minnesota – Frazier is on the hot seat after one full season on the job, but getting rid of him at the end of the season may be a mistake. Frazier went with Donovan McNabb at the start of the season and he may have stayed with him a bit too long by giving him six starts, but that’s not an offense that deserves to get him canned. With a 3-12 record heading into the final game against the Bears, Vikings fans are reminded of former coach Les Steckel, who was fired after going 3-13 in 1984 when he replaced the legendary Bud Grant. The big difference is that the Vikings players hated the despotic Steckel and stopped playing for him. The Vikings won on the road last week AFTER Adrian Peterson suffered a torn ACL. They haven’t quit on Frazier and Zygi Wilf would be making a mistake if he fired Frazier.
Getting fired is not necessarily the end of the world. Bill Belichick, Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin are three coaches who have won Super Bowls after getting fired from their first job. It’s a question of figuring out what went wrong the first time, adjusting and then re-inventing your style. It’s not a matter of popularity, either. It’s figuring out what your players do best and then giving them a game plan to use those skills that makes a coach successful the second time around.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.