It’s easier to pink slip the coach rather than the whole team.
And a few teams in the “Big 4” have taken that mantra to heart in the last 12 months. With the news today that Claude Julien — among the most successful bench bosses in the NHL — was terminated, the list of fired coaches is eye-opening.
Already this NHL season, St. Louis Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock has been let go, along with Jack Capuano of the New York Islanders and Gerard Gallant of the Florida Panthers.
In the NFL, Rex Ryan paid the price for another lousy Buffalo Bills season. Ditto Jeff Fisher in Los Angeles, Chip Kelly in San Francisco and Mike McCoy in San Diego.
To date, no one coach in the NBA has been deep-sixed for poor performance and the same goes for all 30 teams in Major League Baseball.
Never say never, though.
With the NHL and NBA seasons entering the stretch drive to the playoffs, a new NFL season months away and MLB spring training on the near horizon, here are 16 coaches who ought not to get too comfortable in their roles (four from each league).
16. Terry Stotts – Portland Trail Blazers
It’s probably a good thing that the NBA’s Western Conference is such a dumpster fire after the seventh position. The Oklahoma City Thunder hold down that spot with a winning record (30-23), followed by the Denver Nuggets in eighth at 23-28. Thus, four teams with deplorable win-loss totals, including Portland (22-30) are all within 3.5 games of Denver. But, that is no excuse not to be pointing the finger at the Trail Blazers Terry Stotts. His win-loss totals have been in decline since he posted a 54-28 record in 2013-14, to the point he is eight games under .500 now. His team has made the playoffs the last three seasons, with a combined 12-20 mark, and betting types might put Benjamins down on the under of Portland going to the post-season this year. It’s not like he’s been given a no-name line-up to work with either. The Trail Blazers, one of the highest scoring teams in the league (107.5 PPG, ninth overall), boast all-star guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and improving center Mason Plumlee. There is no reason this team should be sub-.500.
15. Joe Girardi – New York Yankees
The toughest managerial gig in baseball is in the Bronx. Joe Girardi need only look at the impressive list of former Yankees’ managers to see that even the greats’ jobs were always in jeopardy. Under his guidance, the Bombers have one a World Series (2009) but the yoke of expectation says that once in nine seasons is nothing to brag about. Sure, he’s had to deal with many on and off field problems, the worst of which was managing A-Rod’s ego for years. Since that great 2009 year he’s also had to juggle an aging line-up in a tough, tough division that doesn’t get easier year after year. A look at Girardi’s win totals shows a marked decline since ’09, from 103 wins down to 84 last season, despite a payroll of $225 million. He has been to the playoffs in five of his nine seasons, but only once since 2012. With management injecting high-priced help like Aroldis Chapman back into the bullpen and adding a slugger in Matt Holliday to a younger, more dynamic roster, the heat will still be firmly on Girardi to get results.
14. Marvin Lewis – Cincinnati Bengals
This is hardly a ringing endorsement for Cincinnati Bengals’ long-time coach Marvin Lewis. The Bengals finished 6-9-1 in 2016 and missed the playoffs for the first time in six years, but management has stated it has no plans to fire one of the league’s longest-tenured coaches. Yet, Lewis hasn’t been offered an extension beyond the end of this season, even though he’s up for contract renewal. Curious, to say the least. Therefore, we can surmise that should the Bengals stumble out of the chute in 2017, he’s as good as gone. Another reason to believe that Lewis job security is about as flimsy as a political campaign promise, is his playoff coaching record. His regular season coaching record is 118-103-3, with seven of his 14 seasons being winning ones. In the post-season, he is 0-for-7. If his seat isn’t hot, it’s a least very warm right now.
13. Lindy Ruff – Dallas Stars
If the Boston Bruins can fire Claude Julien, even though his team is far from out of it, Lindy Ruff must be keeping his head down these days around the American Airlines Center in Big D. After an ignominious end to his lengthy tenure behind the Buffalo Sabres bench in 2012 (1,165 games, 571 wins), Ruff has had a decent go of it in Dallas, until this sorry season. Saddled with two of the worst goalies in the NHL, the Stars have slid alarmingly in the standings, sitting sixth in the Central Division with 52 points in 53 games. This, after a year the Stars won 50 games under his guidance, finished first in the Central and then went to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. They are hardly out of the playoff picture and rest assured if they have a chance come the trade deadline, management might swing a deal to get a better goaltender or shore up their defence. If they do, and the Stars still miss the playoffs, expect Ruff to be looking for work at the end of the season.
12. Alvin Gentry – New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are one of those four teams we mentioned earlier (including Portland) within striking distance of a playoff spot, despite a terrible record (20-32). That mark puts them just 3.5 games behind 23-28 Denver, with plenty of roundball still to be played. Which begs the question in Nawlins: Why are they 12 games under .500? They have a bonafide superstar in Anthony Davis and a decent supporting cast that includes Langston Galloway, Terrence Jones and Jrue Holiday. In coach Alvin Gentry’s defence, this team isn’t even as strong as last season’s 30-52 squad, but at some point, fingers will get pointed his way. Anyone needing evidence that Gentry might be in management’s crosshairs need only look at his tenure with Phoenix, where he went 54-28 in his first full season in 2009-10 (10-6 in the playoffs), but then missed the playoffs in two consecutive years before being canned midway through the 2012-13 campaign with a 13-28 mark.
11. Darryl Sutter – Los Angeles Kings
He’s won two Stanley Cups, but in an era of “what have you done for me lately”, Darryl Sutter’s job in Los Angeles is hardly safe. The Kings are scuffling again this season, owning a 27-22-4 record that puts them fourth in the Pacific Division, just in the wild card position. God forbid anything happens to goalie Peter Budaj either, as he’s played well above his station in relief of injured star Jonathan Quick. The Kings have been up and down since the dawn of the new year, going 4-4 through the first half of January, with seven of those games at home. They hit the road on Jan. 21 and after dropping two straight to New York clubs, went 3-0 the rest of the way. February started with a bang, as the Kings shut out Colorado 5-0 on the 1st and then did the same to Philly on the 4th. But, a true test against league-leading Washington yielded a lopsided 5-0 loss. All this points to a Kings team that might flip-flop its way to a second early trip to the golf course in three seasons. Keep your melon down, Darryl.
10. Terry Collins – New York Mets
After four straight losing seasons to start his tenure as manager of the New York Mets, Terry Collins finally got his charges to the World Series in 2015. While the Mets slipped just three games to 87-75 in 2016, Collins, like his counterpart in the Bronx Joe Girardi, finds himself on shaky ground to start the 2017 campaign. His job this year will be to find a way to get the Mets back to the playoffs, with essentially the same line-up he had last year. And it’s fairly formidable, starting with a rotation that includes Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard. There’s plenty of defence and power in the starting line-up, including re-signed Yoenis Cespedes. He’ll have to find a way to hurdle the Washington Nationals for the NL East title, or battle like heck with several teams for a wild card. Failing that, he may be gone, gone, gone.
9. Chuck Pagano – Indianapolis Colts
After two straight seasons out of the playoffs, Chuck Pagano got a vote of confidence from Colts management — with a very short leash. If his team underperforms like it did in the mediocre AFC South (they finished 8-8, while Houston made the playoffs at 9-7), there likely won’t be another season for the sixth-year head coach. Offensively, the Colts were good in 2016, scoring 411 points, which was third best in the AFC. Defensively, they were deplorable, surrendering 392 points, fourth worst in the conference. There should be no problem scoring this year, as Andrew Luck bounced back to throw 31 TDs on 4,240 yards passing, running back Frank Gore rushed for over 1,000 yards for the ninth time and receiver T.Y. Hilton had a career year with 91 catches, 1,448 yards and six TDs. Pagano’s task is to get his defenders to play better than giving up 382.9 yards per game (third worst in the NFL) and to keep from getting flagged for penalties (125, second worst) and yards assessed (1,159, also second worst). Big task and we’re not sure he can get them to turn the corner.
8. Fred Hoiberg – Chicago Bulls
As a college coach, Fred Hoiberg did a pretty splendid job at Iowa State, getting the Cyclones to the NCAA tournament in four of his five seasons there. Hired in 2015-16 by the Bulls, he led them to a 42-40 record, just missing the playoffs. But, in a town where the Blackhawks have won three championhips this decade and the Cubs finally won a World Series, being “almost there” won’t quite cut it for the formerly glorious Bulls. The Bulls are diddling for the middle again this year, sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference at 26-26. Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade are performing to expectations, however, the rest of the roster hasn’t been all that bad on a team level, so what gives? They don’t turn the ball over that much (13.4 times per game, tied for 11th best), don’t draw a lot of fouls (17.5 per game, second best) and are the best rebounding team in the NBA (47 per game total). Where they are deficient is in field goal percentage (.441, seventh worst), owing much to their league worst three-point percentage at .319. Thus, Hoiberg has to find a way to get this team to score more consistently in his system. If not, he may not be around the Bulls bench come 2017-18.
7. Sean Payton – New Orleans Saints
Nawlins seems to be a tough place to coach these days. Not only is Alvin Gentry feeling the heat in the city’s only other major league sport with the Pelicans, but Sean Payton is looking over his shoulder with the Saints. The NFL entry finished 7-9 for the third straight year, after four straight winning seasons under Payton. It has to be galling to Saints fans that the team again missed the playoffs, especially when aging QB Drew Brees threw for over 5,000 yards for the fifth time in his career, a 101.7 passer rating and found targets for 37 TDs. The offence, as a whole, fired on all cylinders, scoring 469 points, which was second best in the NFC. Defensively, they were way too porous, giving up 454 points, which was only slightly better than 2-14 San Francisco’s 480 points against. Payton will have to find a way to get this team back to the playoffs (particularly by tightening up that defence), since Brees isn’t getting any younger and management continues to lose patience.
6. Jon Cooper – Tampa Bay Lightning
When Jon Cooper was hired by the Lightning near the end of the 2012-13 season, the shift in their play was palpable. By the 2014-15 campaign, the Bolts were Eastern Conference champions and looking for all the world like a Stanley Cup contender for years to come. Unfortunately for Cooper and his charges, captain and scoring catalyst Steven Stamkos has battled injuries, missing most the playoffs last year and all but 17 games so far this season. Using that as an excuse for a team mired in last place in the Atlantic Division, though, will only get you so much sympathy. Being tied with Buffalo, even though they are only six points out of a playoff spot, is not where management — or anyone for that matter — expected the Lightning to be at this point in the season. With so many good head coaches on the bread line, Cooper has to find a way to sneak a still good team into the playoffs, or potentially be canned at season’s end.
5. Mike Scioscia – Los Angeles Angels
No manager has enjoyed the longevity that Mike Scioscia has with the Angels. Heading into his 18th season, the former big league catcher has won 1,490 games, a pennant and a world series title in 2002. Scioscia has had 12 winning seasons, too. Curiously, though, his team has not won a single playoff game since two-time MVP and former Rookie of the Year Mike Trout debuted as a full-time outfielder in 2012. Zero, zilch, nada. Making matters worse for Scioscia’s chances to remain in the Angels’ dugout is the fact the Halos have missed the playoffs two straight years and that the long-time manager had his worst season ever, going 74-88. He is handcuffed, though, by an underwhelming starting staff that didn’t have a 200-inning pitcher, just 64 quality starts and only one with a winning record (Hector Santiago, 10-4). Add to that the fact the whole pitching staff had a collective ERA of 4.28 (bottom third in baseball) and the recipe for a pink slip is ready made. He’s under the gun this year.
4. Stan Van Gundy – Detroit Pistons
The only thing that stands in the way of Stan Van Gundy getting fired in Detroit, is Stan Van Gundy. Holding the dual positions of head coach and president of basketball operations, it’s highly unlikely the Pistons will go for a total reset, at least not at this point in the schedule. And, a good way into the season, Detroit is clinging precariously to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 24-28 record. After taking this team to the playoffs last year (they were swept in the first round) it would behoove Van Gundy to get his team to play more consistently and do it again. Right now, the Pistons have the seventh worst offence at 101.3 points per game, owing a bit to their 14th best shooting percentage of .456 and a lot to their fourth-worst three-point percentage of .339. Van Gundy’s scheme, going forward, needs to force his players make better choices when shooting, or else.
3. John Harbaugh – Baltimore Ravens
Yes, Harbaugh has a Super Bowl ring and yes, he’s a good and well-respected coach. But since winning it all in 2012, the Ravens are 31-33 with one playoff appearance in 2014. The roster isn’t getting any better and Joe Flacco has struggled with the team’s boring play calling. In fact, Flacco had one of his worst seasons ever, throwing for just 20 TDs against 15 interceptions and logging a passer rating of 83.5. The Ravens running game, if you can call it that, is in the dumpster and Steve Smith, who led the team with five TD receptions, is retiring. Their defence, usually very feared, was still OK in 2016, allowing just 321 points, including 1,430 yards on the ground (fifth best in the NFL) and 3,724 yards in the air (ninth best). Harbaugh, then, needs to get his offence off the Schneid for a bounce back from a second consecutive sub-.500 season with a playoff berth, if not a division title, in 2017.
2. Michel Therrien – Montreal Canadiens
The knives have been out for Michel Therrien for some time and he gets no relief here, either. He guided the Habs to a sterling 50-22-10 record in 2014-15, took his team to the second round and then promptly missed the post-season last year with a .500 record. Now, all-world goalie Carey Price was out for much of that campaign, so we will cut him a little slack. This season, Montreal is in first place in the Atlantic Division, eight points up on second place Ottawa, which scores Therrien some points. Yet, there still seems to be something off about this club and with three really good teams ahead of them, points wise, the playoffs will be tough sledding. Lately, too, cracks have appeared with the team losing five of seven, four of those defeats coming at the hands of Eastern Conference foes, including below average teams like Buffalo and the Islanders. We think that if the Canadiens go out in the first round, Therrien is as good as gone.
1. John Gibbons – Toronto Blue Jays
Good thing for John Gibbons that the Blue Jays made the playoffs again in 2016. It had to be cringe-worthy, though, for new president of baseball operations Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins that they lost to Cleveland — where both came from — in the ALCS. Typically, when new management is ushered in, they like to hand pick their managerial candidate. Shapiro and Atkins held off, wisely, but how long will their patience last with Gibby? It’s going to be another tough year in the AL East, especially with Baltimore and Boston still posing a huge threat and the Yankees never far from the conversation. The Jays also lost slugger Edwin Encarnacion, to Cleveland, and haven’t shored up a leaky bullpen in any appreciable way. Gibson is going to have to pull a rabbit out of his hat to keep his job this season.