MA in Sports Journalism at St Mary's University

Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

A Coach’s Christmas: The contrasting festive fortunes of the NFL’s tactical gurus

For NFL head coaches, the Christmas holiday is not the escape that most of us enjoy.

Crucial games with playoff implications are to be strategized for, and it is but a solemn reminder for those under-performing that the dreaded ‘Black Monday’ is just a week away.

Indeed, on Monday 31st December, one day after the end of the regular season, multiple NFL teams will break ties with their coaches on what has become the traditional day to do so.

It’s not particularly festive, shall we say.

Yet the grinches in suits at the top tier of their franchise will already have eyes set on September 2019 – a new coach, a new start and a drastic change in fortunes.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, especially for those who are set to lead their squads to the post-season – a luxury afforded to only 12 of the 32 NFL teams.

Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, has only missed the playoffs twice in his 17-year tenure, dating back to 2001.

While I can’t imagine the all-business Belichick singing along to Michael Buble in the living room this Christmas, he will at least be enjoying the holidays without burden.

Here’s a look at three other NFL coaches and their predicted New Year fates.

Todd Bowles – New York Jets

It is no secret that the Jets are one of the worst teams in pro football.

They are to the NFL what sprouts are to the Christmas dinner, and head coach Todd Bowles will be needing a festive miracle to save his job.

Nobody expected them to hit a home run this year, but the Jets have been so poor for so long and have seen minimal improvement despite acquiring quarterback Sam Darnold – the number three overall pick in the 2018 draft.

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Granted, Bowles’ task is an unwelcome one, but the team’s severe lack of offensive talent is not helped by his defensive-minded philosophy.

Darnold’s development in the 2019 off-season will define this team’s fortunes in the immediate future as he has shown flashes this year that indicate his viability as the franchise quarterback in East Rutherford.

It will be no surprise if the Jets’ front office concurs with popular opinion, in that Bowles is not the man to extract much-needed success from the boom-or-bust Darnold era.

Marvin Lewis – Cincinnati Bengals

Marvin Lewis has coached the Bengals for 15 years, and his regular-season performance has been consistently strong enough to keep his position safe.

Yet despite making the playoffs seven times with Cincinnati, he has never led them to a post-season win.

For a team that has eyed the Lombardi trophy as a very realistic and attainable goal during their five-straight playoff appearances between 2011-2015, Lewis’ frequent inability to progress in January is almost unprecedented.

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Lewis’ time with the Bengals has ultimately been mediocre, and it is fitting that his quarterback Andy Dalton is representative of the average talent at the position.

They are a completely viable tandem, but have thus far lacked the killer instinct to get anywhere near football’s ultimate prize.

Job security has previously been a formality for Lewis, who has made such strong friendships within the organisation and who controversially received a two-year contract extension last year despite a losing season.

This Christmas will be one to watch in Cincinnati – I think it’s likely that they’ll break the mould – but then again, we all thought that last year…

Jason Garrett – Dallas Cowboys

The biggest turnaround in fortunes for a coach this year belongs to Jason Garrett.

From a 3-4 record that had demonstrated a stuttering offense and uninspiring play-making, the Cowboys have won five of their last six and are one victory away from revisiting the playoffs.

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They are the hottest team in football, and the man at the top of Garrett’s Christmas card list will be wide receiver Amari Cooper.

His move to Dallas from the Oakland Raiders coincided with their winning streak and has given this unit a new lease of life.

Coupled with America’s Team’s impressive defense, Garrett now heads a roster with all the ingredients to legitimately challenge for the Super Bowl.

For a man who looked destined to lose his job a month ago, he’ll be safe from expectant owner Jerry Jones this Christmas.

Featured photograph/Flickr/Michael Tipton