Tony Sparano is loving life as interim coach of the Oakland Raiders.
He might not be all that thrilled with winning only three games since replacing Dennis Allen after a 0-4 start, but he has thoroughly enjoyed the club’s progress under his direction, especially in the last five weeks.
Last Sunday’s 26-24 victory against the Buffalo Bills gave the Raiders their third victory in five outings. It was the kind of win that would make any coach proud, but it was especially gratifying to someone carrying the interim label. The players’ full-throttle, ultra-physical effort made a strong statement that they want that label removed.
“I’m having a blast with this group of players right now,” Sparano said. “I absolutely love them. It’s a team that I would love to continue to coach.
“This is my team right now. Bottom line is, I’m going to be in this chair until somebody tells me that I’m not.”
Tony, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, especially during the holiday season, but I’m afraid that person – in the form of Raiders owner Mark Davis – is going to be informing you to relinquish that chair soon after today’s season finale against Denver.
You’re a nice guy, your players like playing for you, and you have head-coaching experience in the NFL. But you’re not the permanent answer Davis is seeking, according to multiple NFL sources.
With double-digit losses in 10 of the past 12 seasons, the Raiders are poised to blow things up – again. They’re expected to fire general manager Reggie McKenzie and although Davis has vowed to have a greater role in the process of hiring a coach, there seems little doubt that the new GM is going to put his own stamp on the team with everything related to football, including the head coach hire.
Here are three other fairly certain goners from the coaching ranks:
• Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco. This obviously has nothing to do with his performance as a head coach. Since joining the 49ers in 2011, Harbaugh has guided them to three NFC championship games and a Super Bowl. But Harbaugh’s volatile personality has led to clashes with team CEO Jed York and General Manager Trent Baalke. By all accounts, York and Baalke have had enough, and are now ready to part ways with the coach, who has one year left on a five-year contract. Despite his inability to play nice with others and the 49ers’ 7-8 record, Harbaugh is a red-hot commodity. His alma mater, the University of Michigan, has reportedly offered him a six-year contract worth about $48 million. Other NFL teams are expected to bid for his services, but would have to give draft-pick compensation to the Niners.
• Rex Ryan, New York Jets. The Jets are a long way from the team that Ryan twice guided to the doorstep of the Super Bowl. At 3-12 and with a mess at quarterback, they aren’t even the club whose strong finish last season allowed Ryan to hang around for one more year. A big reason for the Jets’ problems is their organizational dysfunction. There’s a huge disconnect between Ryan and General Manager John Idzik, who also appears on his way out. Team owner Woody Johnson is reportedly bringing in former NFL GM Charley Casserly as a consultant to help oversee the anticipated shakeup.
• Marc Trestman, Chicago. A year ago, he was the innovative offensive mind that put a much-needed spark into the passing game. He was the professor who had used his time coaching in the Canadian Football League as a laboratory for out-of-the-box concepts that he unleashed in the NFL. He was the “quarterback whisperer,” knowing just the right things to say to get the most out of the team’s biggest investment, Jay Cutler. Now, it’s as if someone other than Trestman was the subject of those references. Cutler’s game fell off a cliff and led to his being benched last week (although he has returned to his starting job only because his replacement, Jimmy Clausen, suffered a season-ending concussion). The Bears’ defense has been a disaster. And players routinely have sounded off about how bad things are within the team.
Here are five head-coaching situations that bear watching:
• Doug Marrone, Buffalo. There are no indications that he’s in jeopardy of losing his job. He has overcome plenty, especially the lack of a quality quarterback, to lead the Bills to two more victories than his rookie season in 2013. Still, the Bills’ new ownership is likely to hit him with some hard questions during next week’s post-season review meeting. And most will concern the struggles of the offense. If Terry Pegula orders Marrone to part ways with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, will he comply? Is it possible for Marrone to continue to co-exist with General Manager Doug Whaley despite the tension that has existed between them all season? The answers to those questions could go a long way toward determining if Marrone returns for a third season.
• Jason Garrett, Dallas. Only because his contract is due to expire after the season. Otherwise, there is no reason to think that he will go elsewhere. After three unspectacular seasons, Garrett has led the Cowboys to an 11-4 record and a division crown. As unpredictable as things might be in the world of Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones, it would be hard to envision the team choosing not to work something out with Garrett in the near future.
• Tom Coughlin, New York Giants. At one point, it seemed he was definitely on his way out. But the Giants’ three-game winning streak has done plenty to quiet that narrative. Although they have nothing but pride at stake, his players continue to give optimum effort. The scheme that first-year offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo installed this season finally appears to be registering with quarterback Eli Manning and the rest of the offense.
• Mike Smith, Atlanta. The benefit of playing in a terrible division is that, even with a losing record, you can be its champion. But if Smith’s 6-9 Falcons lose today’s showdown against the 6-8-1 Carolina Panthers to decide the NFC South, will that cost him his job? It’s possible, given that Smith has been sitting on a fairly hot seat for most of the season because of mounting losses and poor in-game management.
• Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati. The Bengals are in the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. That’s a remarkable accomplishment for this or any franchise. But will it be good enough if Lewis, as has been the case throughout his 12 seasons at the Bengals’ helm, fails once again to produce a postseason victory? It’s noteworthy that last March, normally ultra-patient owner Mike Brown signed Lewis to a contract that only runs through the 2015 season.
• The Cowboys’ defense is embracing the fact none of its members was selected to the Pro Bowl while six Dallas offensive players were picked. “Our defense is ‘we-fense,’ and that’s what we focus on,” end Jeremy Mincey was quoted as saying in the Dallas Morning News. In three December games, the Cowboys’ “We-fense” has nine takeaways, which is as many as the team has had after November in three previous seasons.
• It’s a good thing Baltimore Ravens running back Justin Forsett didn’t need the last two games to make the case that allowed him to be selected as a Pro Bowl alternate. During that span, he has had 26 carries for a mere 67 yards, including 19 in last week’s loss against Houston. That’s a far cry from the performance that did plenty to allow the Ravens to forget Ray Rice no longer was on the roster.
• Remember that awful game Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers played at The Ralph on Dec. 14? The one in which he threw two interceptions and finished with a career-low passer rating of 34.3? To give you a sense of how different he performs at Lambeau Field, consider this: Rodgers has gone 13 games, which covers an NFL-record 396 pass attempts, without an interception at home.