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Tuesday, November 29, 2011
How hot are NFC East coaches' seats?

By Dan Graziano

Jack Del Rio was fired Tuesday as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, which means it's that time of year -- the time when coaches can get fired, and when fan dissatisfaction over poor performance begins to bubble over into demands, rational or otherwise, that people lose their jobs.

With that in mind, and in a year that's shaping up as a pretty disappointing one in the NFC East, I thought I'd take some time to examine the situation in which each of our division's four coaches finds himself with five games left in this season. You should know first that I think fans are too often too quick to blame coaches for failures that aren't their fault. I don't believe in firing coaches just for the sake of doing so (i.e., the "Time for a Change" theory) and I think that if you're going to call for a coach to be fired you ought to be able to supply the name of at least one potential replacement you think could do a better job.

With that in mind, here's a look at the four NFC East head coaching situations and how they stand:

Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
The Giants have lost three straight since their 6-2 start, and with games remaining against the Packers, Jets and Cowboys (twice), the potential exists for the kind of poor second half that has become characteristic of Coughlin's Giants teams. This "second-half fade," should it happen, would be very difficult to blame on Coughlin, who has overachieved with an undermanned roster and deserves kudos for even having a winning record to this point. Still, whether it's his fault or not, it could be the third year in a row that the Giants miss the playoffs after a strong start. The Giants' owners are among the most patient in the sport. They like Coughlin, they treasure continuity and they pride themselves on not acting rashly. But if they determine that there's a pattern of Coughlin's teams not being able to finish -- and if they have someone in mind they believe could do better -- three non-playoff years in a row could prompt a change. Unless the Giants finish strong and snatch the division away from the Cowboys, Coughlin's seat could end up being the hottest in the division.

Andy Reid, Philadelphia Eagles
It is well established that the fans want Reid out after this inexcusable flop of a season. It's clear that the Philadelphia media have grown tired of Reid. But neither of those groups makes the decision on who coaches the team, and unless Reid has decided he's had enough of the hassle (doubtful, with two years left on his contract) or ownership decides that one disappointing year is enough to cancel out a dozen years of consistent winning, Reid will be back in 2012 to try and redeem himself for 2011. He may have to admit defeat on the Juan Castillo decision and hire a more seasoned defensive coordinator. But while they could be playing it close to the vest and there's no way to know what they're feeling in their hearts, so far we have not seen any indication that the Eagles' owner or front office has any desire to fire Reid.

Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
There are all kinds of stats out there about Shanahan's record to this point not being any better than Jim Zorn's, and fans are upset that this looks like another losing season. But Shanahan is in the second year of a five-year contract that came with a mandate to rebuild and assemble a team that could contend year-in and year-out. That takes time, and while the work he did last offseason to improve the defense seems to have borne fruit, he needs more time to find a quarterback and fix the offense. I have little doubt that he will get it, as he got all kinds of guarantees when he came on board that owner Dan Snyder would be patient and hands-off and let him build the team his way. The performance of the 2011 team is not and never was supposed to be a referendum on Shanahan's job performance. This is a long-term project, and fans need to be patient. He's not going anywhere, nor is he about to fire his offensive coordinator, who is his son.

Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Garrett's first full year as a head coach hasn't been without its hiccups. There's some debate as to whether he can handle head-coach responsibilities as well as offensive-coordinator responsibilities and whether the team should therefore hire someone else for the latter job. But owner Jerry Jones loves Garrett, who has the team in first place and poised for a division championship, and he seems to like the idea of him doing both jobs. Jones was more patient with Wade Phillips than many wanted or expected him to be. He will be extremely patient with Garrett, since he badly wants Garrett to turn out to be a great Cowboys coach. Even if Dallas falters and the division title slips away, I wouldn't think Garrett is in any trouble at all.