Ashley Fox's latest column is on the NFC East, and if you're a fan of the division, you may want to pour yourself something stiff before you read it. We all know this hasn't been the greatest season for this division, and it could be the first non-strike season ever in which no NFC East team wins at least 10 games. But Ashley kind of unloads on the division's four coaches and says: "Although unlikely, it is not out of the realm of possibility that each will lose his job at season's end."
Now, I've kind of been under the impression that all four will be back next year. I think the hottest seat is that of the New York Giants' Tom Coughlin -- not because he hasn't done a good job but because historical circumstances -- i.e., his poor second-half record since becoming Giants coach and a third straight season without a playoff appearance -- could line up against him. But if the Giants win Sunday night in Dallas, they take control of the division race again, so it's premature to think Coughlin's team will even put him in position to lose his job. Ashley writes that Coughlin "has done the most with the least" this year, and I agree. I think this Giants team has either met or exceeded reasonable expectations.
I also think Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is about as safe as any coach in the league, since he was signed two years ago to a five-year contract and is clearly working on a rebuilding project while owner Dan Snyder honors his pledge to leave him alone to work. Ashley hits Shanahan for his failure to so far find a quarterback, writing that "He has misjudged four quarterbacks now: Jason Campbell, Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman and John Beck," and "The fact that Shanahan went into this season with Grossman and Beck, rather than trying to sign another quarterback, looked asinine in August. That he has shuttled between the two and the Redskins have lost six of their last seven games is no surprise."
I would say it's important to watch what Shanahan does at quarterback this coming offseason, and if he does something like bring back Grossman because he knows he can run "his system," then the criticism becomes warranted. But he didn't like what was available at quarterback last offseason and decided to focus on rebuilding the defense -- which he's done with some success. I believe Shanahan has one more year before his results in Washington can be fairly examined and judged.
The Dallas Cowboys' Jason Garrett is also, I believe, totally safe, since owner Jerry Jones loves him and wants him to become a great coach. But this was a bad week for Garrett, who's getting hammered everywhere for his mismanagement of the clock at the end of the fourth quarter of last Sunday's Arizona loss. Ashley believes Garrett's timeout gaffes happened because "Garrett didn't trust his team, and he didn't trust himself. His team lost the game in overtime and lost a chance at wrapping up a weak division title this weekend." But while that last part is clearly true, in the big picture Garrett has done a fine job with the Cowboys. Should he continue to bungle in-game situations over and over again, this becomes something about which to worry. But it's too soon to judge Garrett as a head coach, and his owner knows that.
Then there's the Philadelphia Eagles' Andy Reid, a great NFL coach who's done a horrible job with this year's team. Ashley hits him for his kooky coaching-staff shuffle, letting locker room leaders like Quintin Mikell depart via free agency and his mishandling of the DeSean Jackson contract mess. All of it's warranted. If Reid were judged on this year alone, he wouldn't stand a chance. The only thing that saves him is his prior record of consistently fielding division champs and playoff contenders. Eagles management seems to want to keep Reid, barring something totally humiliating happening over the final four games. But his benefit of the doubt is dwindling, especially with Eagles fans already unsatisfied with a string of playoff appearances that hasn't yielded a Super Bowl title.
The upshot of all of this, of course, is that this is a very down year in the NFC East, and it won't rank among the best years on any of these coaches' resumes. (Except Garrett's, since it's his first.) The scramble is on, apparently, between the Giants and Cowboys, to see which will be the division's lone playoff team and whether that team can make any noise in the playoffs come January.