The hot seat wasn't so hot for coaches in 2007.
Four of the coaches who were sitting on the edge of job insecurity -- Romeo Crennel, Jack Del Rio, Jon Gruden and Tom Coughlin -- ended up having winning seasons, saved their jobs and received contract extensions. Hot seats can turn cold with success.
This season, hot-seat coaches may not be as fortunate. Owners can have quick trigger fingers as far as firing head coaches. Last year, only four new coaches entered the league. Since 1992, the average has been seven, and already Jim Mora has been tagged to replace Mike Holmgren in Seattle, who is completing his contract.
Here are the five coaches on the hottest seats:
Lane Kiffin, Oakland Raiders
No coach is on a hotter seat than Kiffin. The rumors won't go away, and his job is in jeopardy. Kiffin goes into his second season with the pressure to win or else. Owner Al Davis has increased his payroll to a league record of over $150 million to bring in players such as Javon Walker, Gibril Wilson, John Wade, DeAngelo Hall and others. "Just, win, baby" is back in vogue in Oakland, and Kiffin must produce. The Raiders went 4-12 last year even though Kiffin added one touchdown per game to the offense with a solid running attack and great offensive-line blocking scheme. All hopes ride on the big arm of second-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who had only one start last year. Kiffin can't afford to lose.
John Fox, Carolina Panthers
Fox usually works his best under pressure, so we'll see how he'll handle the 2008 season. Despite having one trip to the Super Bowl with the Panthers on his resume, owner Jerry Richardson can be impatient. Fox's situation isn't much different from Jon Gruden's in Tampa Bay last year. In 2006, injuries devastated the Bucs at quarterback, and the team collapsed. In 2007, Gruden handed the ball to Jeff Garcia and watched him navigate an easy schedule to the top of the NFC South. Fox has two elements going for him this year. Jake Delhomme is back from Tommy John surgery but should be fine, which should help the offense. And the schedule is easy enough that the Panthers should challenge for the NFC South title again. Still, the seat is hot, and everyone in Carolina knows it.
Scott Linehan, St. Louis Rams
Ownership gave Linehan a mulligan for the team's 3-13 record in 2007. The offensive line collapsed because of injuries early in the season, and the Rams had no chance to compete as Linehan had to find O-line substitutes. But this is his third year, and very few coaches survive three nonwinning seasons. In January, Linehan hired Al Saunders as offensive coordinator to revive some of the schemes that worked for the Rams in 1999 and the early 2000s when they averaged 500 points per season. Linehan is hoping the offensive talent hasn't gotten too old and the offensive line can stay healthy. He's also hoping the third year of restocking the defense can turn the franchise and his situation around.
Mike Nolan, San Francisco 49ers
Nolan's mini-feud with Alex Smith put his job in jeopardy late last season. Smith was playing with a badly separated shoulder and with a tendinitis problem in his right forearm that should have had him on the sidelines. Nolan questioned his toughness and the situation became ugly. While no one knows whether Smith, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005, will develop into a quality NFL quarterback, Nolan must make this work. He hired Mike Martz to kick-start the offense. He added Justin Smith to help the defensive line. This is Year 4 for Nolan, and he's 16-32. Since 1977, the only head coaches who got to a fifth season with a .333 record were Joe Bugel in Arizona and David Shula in Cincinnati.
Rod Marinelli, Detroit Lions
Marinelli is too good a person to put on the hot seat, but that's the nature of the business. He must make the best of the players Matt Millen gives him, but the Lions are at the crossroads under Marinelli. The Lions fired Martz because he didn't run the ball enough, but under Martz, the offense went from 15.9 to 21.6 points a game in two seasons. Meanwhile, the defense slipped from 21.6 to 27.8 points a game under Marinelli. Millen has allowed Marinelli to recruit as many former Tampa Bay Buccaneers as he could to help the defense because they know the Bucs' work ethic, particularly on defense. But if the Lions slip back to the 5-11 area, it may be hard to get that fourth season as head coach.