To borrow a phrase from the great Yogi Berra, it gets late early in the NFL — even with the longest regular season in history.
So it should come as no surprise some head coaches already are feeling extreme heat just four weeks into the regular season. Owners tend to resist the idea of in-season firings and the chaos that often ensues, but there still seem to be one or two each season.
With that in mind, here’s a look at three coaches who might want to make sure their resumes are updated:
URBAN MEYER, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
There was hesitation from the start when owner Shad Khan announced the hiring of the three-time national champion. The track record for college head coaches without previous experience in the league is not strong in the NFL (see: Steve Spurrier and Chip Kelly).
But the Jaguars were hopeful they’d landed the next Jimmie Johnson. Instead, the signs of trouble began almost immediately.
Meyer was roundly criticized for hiring controversial strength-and-conditioning coach Chris Doyle and eventually was forced to back away from the move. He raised eyebrows again with an invitation for former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow to attend training camp as a tight end. That experiment was more successful – and had more staying power – than the Doyle fiasco, but Tebow never came close to making the roster.
Now, after an 0-4 start, Meyer is embroiled in a crisis entirely of his own making. Instead of flying home with his team after a Thursday night loss at Cincinnati last week, he stayed behind in Ohio to visit family. To say that’s an unheard of move for a head coach in the NFL is an understatement.
Game planning for the next week generally begins on the plane ride home, and the extra time afforded by a Thursday night game usually only affects resting players. Jacksonville has a big AFC South battle this week against Tennessee (2-2) and could actually sneak back into the division race with a victory.
But the focus all week instead has been a viral video featuring Meyer’s brief encounter with an unidentified young lady at a bar in Columbus, Ohio. He’s issued public apologies to the team and his wife, Shelley, and Khan responded with a statement noting the head coach must “regain our trust.”
That might be an even more damning statement coming from an owner than the dreaded vote of confidence.
MATT NAGY, CHICAGO BEARS
The Bears are 2-2 and have made the playoffs in two of Nagy’s three seasons in charge. So the fact he’s on this list should be an indication of how badly he’s botched the team’s quarterback position in 2021.
After Chicago traded up to select Ohio State’s Justin Fields in the first round of April’s draft, Nagy decreed the rookie would never start ahead of veteran Andy Dalton. He defended that position throughout the preseason as fans increasingly called for Fields and only relented after Dalton was injured in Week 2.
Fields’ first start against Cleveland two weeks ago was a disaster, in part because Nagy tried to pigeon-hole the athletic quarterback into a role as a pocket passer behind a porous offensive line. The results were much better last week in a victory against the Detroit Lions, with the caveat that offensive coordinator Bill Lazor took over play-calling duties.
On Wednesday, a week after musing any of the team’s three quarterbacks could start – including veteran third-stringer Nick Foles – Nagy named Fields the “permanent” starter moving forward.
It remains to be seen how long this latest declaration will last, but if the Bears don’t find offensive consistency soon, it likely won’t be Nagy’s problem much longer.
JOE JUDGE, NEW YORK GIANTS
It’s just Year 2, but the 39-year-old is coaching in one of the most unforgiving sports towns in America and patience already is wearing thin.
The Giants rebounded from an 0-5 start to finish 6-10 a year ago and were able to stay in the NFC East race all season because the division was terrible. This year Dallas has run out to a 3-1 start, and the Giants are still lagging behind.
Saquon Barkley’s 6-yard touchdown run in overtime to beat New Orleans on Sunday prevented a second straight 0-4 start, but the next three weeks bring showdowns against the division-leading Cowboys and NFC heavyweights in the Los Angeles Rams and Carolina Panthers.
If New York is sitting at 1-6 before Halloween, the heat under Judge’s seat could become truly frightful.