We officially have our first vacant head coaching position. Five games in to his sixth season as the head coach of the Redskins, Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen fired Jay Gruden at five in the morning a day after the team cemented an 0-5 start.
This was supposed to be a bridge year of sorts for Washington, but the moves they made over the offseason (trading for Case Keenum, giving a king's ransom to Landon Collins) indicated a desire for competitiveness as the franchise transitioned to cornerstone Dwayne Haskins. Around the NFL, general consensus held that Washington wouldn't be very good, but they had too much talent to completely bottom out. That hasn't been the case; the only time in which Washington has looked even mildly competitive was the first half of their season opener against the Eagles, and they ultimately lost that contest.
Life goes on after Gruden. The team will attempt to find a fresh face to lead them into what they hope is a new era of Washington football over the next six or so months. In the meantime, Gruden may not be the only coach to receive his pink slip before Week 17. Here are three coaches who could end up going the same way as Gruden before it's all said and done.
Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
Quinn was hired one year after Gruden, and may be following in his footsteps sooner than he anticipates. He led Atlanta to the Super Bowl in 2016 off the strength of Kyle Shanahan's offense and a fast, hungry defense. In case you hadn't heard, they lost that game in rather dramatic fashion, and haven't reached the same heights since.
They made it back to the playoffs in 2017, but couldn't make it past Philly. Last year was a lost season due to injury, but there were no excuses this year. This was supposed to be the season where the talent on offense meshed with Quinn's defense to create a well-rounded, dangerous unit. Through five games, it has been quite the opposite as the team sits at 1-4. The offense has often looked anemic, which is unacceptable when your receiving corps consists of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu.
Quinn, a supposed defensive mastermind, leads a unit that currently ranks 31st in points allowed per game and 23rd in yards allowed per game. Simply put, they can't stop anybody, most recently letting Houston drop a 50-burger on their heads in what may have been Matt Ryan's best game this year. A severely underachieving team, led by a coach who can't do what he's supposedly best at-- the clock is ticking for Quinn, and time will soon run out.
Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans
This is Vrabel's second year in Tennessee, and there haven't been anything more than flashes of quality football smushed in between a lot of bad football. The idea behind Vrabel's hire was that he'd give this team some toughness and allow them to fully realize their potential as a smash-mouth, ball-control offense led by a fierce defense. Sometimes, that's just what the team is. Other times, their offense will struggle to earn a first down per quarter while their opponent slowly grinds down the defense and hits on a few back-breaking big plays.
Recently, it's been more of the latter than the former. Marcus Mariota is healthy but hasn't shown much outside of Week 1 to indicate he's a long-term answer. That alone may sink Vrabel's ship-- he isn't an offensive schemer who can create something out of nothing, and there isn't enough talent around Mariota to compensate.
But if the Titans look like they're lethargically floating towards another .500 season with the AFC South wide open, ownership might change it up. In that scenario, it would be clear Mariota isn't the answer, and Tennessee might send both him Vrabel packing to get a jump-start on a brand-new era of Titans football. Vrabel likely deserves one more year to prove his mettle as an NFL head coach, but unless he proves himself indispensable to those in charge, it might not matter.
Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
The spotlight is on Zimmer and Kirk Cousins in Minnesota this year. The Vikings currently sit at 3-2, but that hasn't stopped an avalanche of criticism coming at both Zimmer and his quarterback. The Vikings were supposed to revitalize their offense this year, and so far, they've found a certain measure of success; Dalvin Cook has been excellent, and as a result the play-action game has been effective.
The problem is that nobody thinks this is sustainable. Cousins looked like a complete disaster against the Bears and Packers, who handed the Vikings their two losses this season. He looked great against the Falcons, Raiders, and Giants, who have a combined six wins among them. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are both very frustrated with his inability or unwillingness to push the ball down the field. Cook has been great, but it's unreasonable to expect the run game to contribute 170+ yards per game, a mark they've hit in every game this season other than their loss in Chicago.
The defense, Zimmer's specialty, remains solid, but at this point everyone knows what this team can be. With the talent they have around Cousins and the quality of the defense, this should be one of the best teams in the league. But the sour aftertaste of last year's failure is still in the mouth of all Vikings fans, and watching Cousins check down ten times a game grinds on even the most passionate of Cousins defenders. If Cousins and Zimmer can't prove that the Vikings are better than a perennial 9-7 team, their tenure could be over quite soon.