Today's question: It could be a player or coach or front-office person, but who is on the hottest seat in the division?
Jeremy Fowler, Steelers: Too easy. Just follow the losses. The Cleveland Browns pressure-cooker has swallowed up well-meaning people for years. Should the Browns struggle early and finish with a four- or five-win season, general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine would have to be clear-cut favorites of owner Jimmy Haslam's hot seat. The regime pinned its hopes on Johnny Manziel, and that hasn’t paid off yet. That’s not to say Pettine and Farmer aren’t good football people. Pettine had the 2014 Browns trending upward for three months, and Farmer, save for a few misguided moves, has drafted well and been prudent in free agency. But let’s say the Browns go 5-11 -- that makes them 5-16 in their past 21 games overall. That’s tough to overcome. Maybe Haslam will be patient. He does seem to like this duo. But major question marks will continue to surround the pair until the team shows growth again.
Coley Harvey, Bengals: The hottest seat in the AFC North has to reside in Cleveland with general manager Ray Farmer, who has had two first-round picks the past two drafts but has seen disappointment on and off the field in the last 12 months. He's also been embarrassed by a four-game suspension for texting during games. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis might come a close second with respect to seat warmth. His teams still haven’t won a playoff game despite making the postseason in five of the past six years. He’s the second-longest tenured coach in the league, and until he can lead the Bengals out of their dark playoff history, a cloud will follow him. Although he signed a one-year extension this spring, this might finally be the year the Bengals say enough is enough if they fail to get out of the postseason first round once again.
Jamison Hensley, Ravens: Browns general manager Ray Farmer. It was only 17 months ago (February 2014) when Farmer was promoted to general manager after being a rising front-office star for years. Now, there’s no one facing more pressure in the AFC North than Farmer because of some extremely poor decisions. His reputation has been tarnished from texting on the sideline during games. His track record has taken a hard hit from disappointing first-round picks (Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel) to a struggling passing attack that never received a significant upgrade this offseason. Yes, it’s difficult to properly judge someone after two years on the job. But these are the Browns. They’re on their fourth general manager in six years. Stability in the front office has been as nonexistent in Cleveland as a franchise quarterback.
Pat McManamon, Browns: Replacing a legend is never easy. Keith Butler finds himself doing just that in Pittsburgh, where for the first time in 11 years Dick LeBeau will not be the team’s defensive coordinator. Butler is an example of why people love working for the Steelers. When he joined the Steelers in 2003 as a linebackers coach, he was promised the coordinator’s job if LeBeau ever left. He trusted and waited for the time. When Mike Tomlin did not retain LeBeau after the Steelers ranked 18th overall in defense last season, the Rooneys kept their word and promoted Butler. He has the unenviable task of following perhaps the greatest assistant coach in NFL history, and doing so without many of the players who made the Steelers what they were over the years. Though the seat is not hot because of the worry of being fired (the Rooneys do not operate that way), it is from the pressure to perform. With one of the best offenses in the league, the Steelers merely need their defense to be average to win.