Pat Leonard’s NFL Notes: Black Monday promises to turn up NFL head coaching carousel with more firings

There were five head coaching changes in 2020, seven in 2021 and 10 last offseason.

That is 22 changes in three years in a 32-team league.

Money is not a problem for the NFL’s owners. The problem is losing and not maximizing revenue.

Every year, the public and even most media underestimate that dynamic of impatience. But while change is costly, losing costs more. So turnover is inevitable.

Saturday’s news that the Denver Broncos have requested and received permission from the New Orleans Saints to interview Sean Payton, per ESPN, was the latest reminder that more dominoes are about to fall on Black Monday.

Five of the 22 hires in the past three years didn’t even make it this far: The Giants’ Joe Judge and Panthers’ Matt Rhule didn’t last from the 2020 class. The Jaguars’ Urban Meyer and the Texans’ David Culley couldn’t earn a second year.

The Broncos’ Nathaniel Hackett was fired before his first 2022 season was even through.

There are three existing vacancies already entering this offseason: the Broncos, the Indianapolis Colts (Frank Reich) and the Panthers. And more are coming after the NFL’s Week 18 schedule wraps up on Sunday.

The only question is where.

The Houston Texans’ Lovie Smith is likely to be one and done, according to sources, with a 2-13-1 record entering Sunday’s finale against the tanking Colts.

The Arizona Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury has a chance to be shown a pink slip with the Cardinals (4-12), too.

Also keep an eye on three playoff coaches whose jobs still might not be safe: the Chargers’ Brandon Staley, the Cowboys’ Mike McCarthy and the Bucs’ Todd Bowles.

Some league sources believe all three could be canned if they lose their first playoff game. Past that, obviously, winning could save their jobs.

L.A. Rams coach Sean McVay reportedly is going to deliberate next week on whether he plans to return in 2023, as well, per ESPN.

Then there is Washington’s Ron Rivera. The wheels have come off again for the Commanders. Will the franchise’s unresolved ownership situation save him? No one knows yet.

The Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell, Cleveland Browns’ Kevin Stefanski and Jets’ Robert Saleh were all coaching situations being monitored the last month around the league, too. But NFL Network reported that Saleh is safe, and it’s been quiet lately on Campbell and Stefanski.

The Carolina Panthers’ players are pushing publicly for owner David Tepper to retain interim coach Steve Wilks, even though Tepper already reportedly spoke with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh about the job.

And Colts owner Jim Irsay owes it to the sport and the league not to bring back interim head coach Jeff Saturday. Although presumably the Jaguars, Titans and Texans in division all would be perfectly fine with it.

FIVE-SECOND RULE

While the primary focus in Damar Hamlin’s health emergency belongs on the protocols and heroic efforts that saved him, the NFL deserves to be scrutinized for what appeared to be an effort to restart the game once Hamlin was taken to the hospital.

NFL executive VP Troy Vincent claimed twice, on two separate league conference calls during the week, that there was never a directive for a five-minute warmup period to take place before resuming the game. He broke down crying at one point.

“I’m not sure how it got on air, but that night, my mic was completely open,” Vincent said. “I’m the center resource, the center communicator talking to Shawn Smith the referee, who is communicating with both head coaches. At no time in my discussion in that hour-long time frame did we ever … give any directive [on] getting players ready to play.”

ESPN, however, was vehement in defending play-by-play man Joe Buck’s reporting.

“There was constant communication in real time between ESPN and league and game officials,” the network said in a statement. “As a result of that, we reported what we were told in the moment and immediately updated fans as new information was learned. This was an unprecedented, rapidly-evolving circumstance. All night long, we refrained from speculation.”

Buck, who is the well-deserved franchise of Monday Night Football, has a sterling reputation. It is hard to imagine he got that detail wrong, especially since ESPN’s cameras had shown Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow warming up with his helmet on and his eyes watery.

“They’ve been given five minutes to quote-unquote get ready to go back to playing,” Buck said during the broadcast in his first mention of the plan, as he understood it. “That’s the word we get from the league and the word we get from down on the field. But nobody’s moving. Nobody’s out there really warming up. Everybody’s just stagnant, and it looks like Sean McDermott after talking to Zac Taylor is going to pull his team off the field.”

McDermott, the Bills’ head coach, also said on Friday that Josh Allen and the Bills’ captains decided they didn’t want to continue the game much later in their locker room. That is at least confirmation that a final decision about postponing the game hadn’t been made prior to that.

Granted, that was an emotional and difficult situation. And again, the primary focus should be on the life-saving actions of everyone involved. But you know what would be worse than suggesting a return to play that night?

Lying about it.

THEY SAID IT

“I’m thankful for every single person that prayed for me and reached out. We brung the world back together behind this.” — Bills safety Damar Hamlin on Instagram Saturday