- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

Snow has fallen. Cold winds have whipped down from Canada. Holiday decorations are everywhere. And several NFL coaches are about to follow Dan Reeves into the ranks of the unemployed.

Jim Fassel tops the list, three years after leading the New York Giants to the Super Bowl and 11 months after a bad call kept his team from advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

The Giants have scored 41 points in their past five games at home, where they have a 1-6 record and have not finished under .500 since 1983. If the Giants (4-9) close with losses to the contending Cowboys, Saints and Panthers, they will finish with their worst record since that year.

Dave McGinnis, meanwhile, is a nice guy in a bad situation. In other words, he coaches the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals (3-10) remain the NFL’s worst franchise. The club that has produced one winning season in 16 years in the desert has been predictably dismal this year, getting outscored by a staggering 207 points.

Marty Schottenheimer never had a losing season from 1985 to 1997. In his three seasons with the Redskins and Chargers since that time, Schottenheimer hasn’t produced a winning record.

The Chargers finished 8-8 in 2002 and are 3-10 this season, a mark achieved despite an offense that includes halfback LaDainian Tomlinson, receiver David Boston and quarterback Drew Brees. Schottenheimer ripped apart his defense after last season only to make it worse. And John Butler, the general manager who hired him, has died. Only his track record might save Schottenheimer.

Upsets of the Titans, Dolphins and Patriots would give Gregg Williams and the Bills (6-7) a five-game winning streak and a winning record — but still might not save his job. The Bills, a popular dark horse pick for the Super Bowl, have been impotent on offense. Owner Ralph Wilson fired Wade Phillips in 2000 despite a 29-21 record and two playoff berths in three years. Williams is 17-28 and hasn’t reached the postseason.

Promoted when Jon Gruden bolted Oakland for Tampa Bay in March 2002, Bill Callahan used a more laid-back approach to produce an AFC title. However, ever since center Barret Robbins went AWOL the night before the Super Bowl, everything has gone wrong: players punching each other in practice, lawsuits, positive steroid tests and key injuries.

The Raiders (3-10) are on the verge of their worst record in 42 years, and none of owner Al Davis’ coaches with a record below 7-9 returned the following season. If Callahan is fired, he’d be the first NFL coach so treated a year after taking a team to a Super Bowl.

Chicago’s Dick Jauron appeared to a goner after his team’s 4-12 collapse last season and a 1-5 start this season. Then the Bears went on a 4-2 run and led Green Bay 14-0 last week. The Packers rallied to victory, ensuring a fourth non-winning season for Jauron in five years and just about sealed his fate. GM Jerry Angelo, who took over in 2001, has been eager to hire his own coach.

In Cleveland, Butch Davis likely will survive this year’s 4-9 disaster because of the surprising playoff berth the Browns earned last season. Jim Haslett is safe with New Orleans (6-7) because he has three years left on his contract as well as the only playoff victory in franchise history. However, Miami’s Dave Wannstedt could be in trouble despite a 40-24 record (8-5 this year) because the Dolphins never have met their always high expectations.

Gruden the elf — He’s got the impish grin and the twinkle in the eye and now Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden has used the movie “Elf” as a motivator. He had his slumping Super Bowl champs watch the inspirational flick before playing in New Orleans last Sunday. The Bucs, losers of five of seven and 0-3 against the Saints under Gruden, won 14-7.

“[Gruden] said, ‘We don’t have football spirit right now. Let’s make the sled move with some football spirit,’” Bucs receiver Keenan McCardell said. “A lot of guys took the analogy and said, ‘OK, let’s do this.’ We had a lot of life. It probably was the most life we have had since Philly [in a season-opening victory over the Eagles].”

Impenetrable Pats — New England hasn’t allowed a touchdown in its last three home games, a point in its last 10 quarters in Foxboro and has recorded its first consecutive home shutouts. The AFC East champion Patriots, who never finished undefeated at home during their first 43 seasons, are 6-0 at Gillette Stadium and have moved ahead of Kansas City as the AFC’s top seed with games left against sub.-500 Jacksonville, the New York Jets and Buffalo. New England (11-2 and winner of nine straight) also is 7-0 against winning teams, having beaten Miami twice, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Dallas and Denver.

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