By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) NFL coaches face incredible pressure to put a winning team on the field and produce championships.
The growth and power of the Super Bowl has made the NFL even more of an all-or-nothing league than it has ever been. Vince Lombardi’s philosophy that winning isn’t everything, but it’s the only thing – which he later regretted saying – has never been more true.
Coaches who take losing teams and make them playoff teams have done nothing but buy themselves time. You have to win a Super Bowl to matter in the NFL. With that as a backdrop, here are the 10 coaches under the most pressure heading into the 2012 season:
Rex Ryan, New York Jets – Ryan doesn’t do himself any favor by talking so much and his penchant for letting everyone know how good his team is and what it’s capable of doing on an every-week basis. That puts additional pressure on his team to perform. Additionally, by bringing in Tim Tebow to compete with Mark Sanchez or run the Jets’ version of the wildcat formation, Ryan has more nonsense to deal with this season. At the very least, the Jets must return to the playoffs this season and get back to the AFC Championship game. They have been there twice before but they fell badly last season. They need to return to that level or Ryan could have a very unpleasant meeting with owner Woody Johnson at the end of the season.
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers – Harbaugh would appear to be in a very safe position after leading his team to the NFC championship game in his first year. However, if he can’t have another excellent year, he will be viewed as a fluke. Harbaugh is a bold leader, but he also rubs his players the wrong way. He may be quite difficult to live with over the long haul. If the 49ers aren’t a playoff team, Harbaugh may have a difficult time coming up with answers for management.
Lovie Smith, Chicago Bears – The Bears were on their way to another playoff berth last season, but when Jay Cutler broke his thumb in Week 10, they failed down the stretch and went 1-5 without him. That means there is pressure on Smith to get the Bears back to the playoffs and beyond. General manager Phil Emery brought in big-play weapon Brandon Marshall to give Cutler a first-class down-the-field receiver. Smith wisely got rid of oafish Mike Martz as his offensive coordinator and he is depending meat-and-potatoes Mike Tice to give him a big-play offense.
Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans – Kubiak appears to be one of the most thoughtful and creative coaches in the game. He has also worked under a very patient owner in Bob McNair who has given him plenty of time to establish his team. The Texans were beaten up and injured last year and still made the playoffs. If the Texans stay healthy this year but don’t win big, McNair won’t be quite as patient as he had been.
Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons – In a business that is filled with cut-throat, win-at-all cost maniacs, Smith comes across as one of the most decent and well-rounded individuals of all NFL head coaches. His players have consistently thrown their heart-felt support behind him. However, the Falcons don’t win playoff games under Mike Smith. They have a team that is capable of dominating the NFC South this year and advancing in the playoffs. If not, owner Arthur Blank will have to make a tough decision.
Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions – The high-strung Schwartz has helped take the Lions out of the NFL’s basement and turn them into an exciting and violent team. The Lions have had significant off-the-field issues and it’s fair to question whether Schwartz can impose enough discipline to keep this team focused. He has plenty of short-term intensity, but does he understand the big picture for this team to become a winner?
Norv Turner, San Diego Chargers – Turner has been an NFL head coach for 14 years, the last five with the San Diego Chargers, and you don’t even know if he is good at his job. Turner is intelligent, knows how to build a strong offense and can reach his players on an emotional level. However, none of his teams have ever had a complete season without having suffered a major disappointment. The pressure is on Turner after a disastrous 8-8 season in 2011.
Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles – Last year the Eagles were supposed to be the NFL’s version of the Dream Team. It didn’t work out very well for Reid, as the Eagles dropped four of their first five games and were forced to play catch-up football the rest of the season. They never made it all the way back. Reid has had a myriad of personal problems that have almost certainly impacted his coaching focus. Eagle fans are tired of waiting for this team to deliver on its championship promise.
Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys – Garrett was always Jerry Jones’ boy. From the time Garrett was a back-up quarterback in Dallas, Jones recognized his intelligence, drive and knowledge of the game. He believed Garrett would one day become a great head coach. When you are a head coach in Dallas, you are not expected to learn on the job. You are supposed to know what you are doing. In 1 ½ seasons, Garrett looks like “another guy.” So far, there’s nothing special about him. He has quite a bit of work to do this year.
Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks – There is no doubt that Carroll is a motivated coach who wants to succeed. He is not just happy to be in Seattle collecting his multi-million dollar salary. He wants to coach in the NFC West because he despises 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and wants to beat him. Carroll’s strength is his ability to push his players and get the most out of them. However, can he give them a viable gameplan on an every-week basis? He may not be an expert strategist when it comes to NFL football.
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.