Although the “contract extension” Mora received this off-season was notable, I don’t really view it as a contract extension. It would seem that all the team did was guarantee the last two years of his contract (2007 and 2008) and added one more year to the deal. Not much of an extension despite those trying to spin it as a three-year extension.
Recently I received a copy of the Scout.com’s 2006 Pro Football Preview as part of the arm and leg that I dish out to that site each year for premium access. Not bad as far as preview’s go, but lacking in both the team-by-team analysis and fantasy analysis in comparison to other mags. Like any good publication, they made some predictions about the upcoming season, and chose three teams, coaches, or players for a variety of categories including Super Bowl winner, conference champs, best and worst drafts, best uniforms, worst free agent signing, etc. One of the categories was coaches on the hot seat.
List from hottest to coldest it would seem were Brian Billick, Marty Schottenheimer, and Jim Mora. The former two I can’t argue with as missing the playoffs for either likely will cost them their jobs. Mora was rather interesting to me.
I won’t deny that Mora is on thinner ice than most, mostly because there were 10 hirings of new coaches this off-season. In relative terms, it means that a guy that is probably 70% likely to keep his job looks to be on the hotseat when so many are more than 95% likely to retain their positions.
I really don’t think this will be Mora’s last year in Atlanta. Rich McKay showed a lot of loyalty to Tony Dungy in his final days in Tampa Bay despite pressure from ownership to part ways with him, and growing fervor amongst fans and local media to get rid of him. Obviously in Dungy’s case, keeping him wasn’t too hard since he continued to make the playoffs despite the criticism. McKay’s hand was forced following 2001 by ownership.
I don’t see that as the case here in Atlanta, where Arthur Blank after a different start seems to be washing his hands of major football decisions. He leaves that to the people he hired, namely Rich McKay. So Mora’s job security is firmly in the hands of McKay.
Obviously, anytime you mention McKay, the slim possibility of assuming league commissioner duties creeps into the back of your head. But that’s unlikely to occur until close to the end of the year, which should mean Mora’s job is secure until then. And even if McKay moves on after this year, Blank is likely going to try and keep some form of continuity at the top by giving Mora one more year to prove himself.
I would say that the only possibilities in my mind that this would be Mora’s last year in Atlanta is if the team manages to finish 3-13 or 4-12 (or worse). I think if another 2003-like season occurs in which Vick is injured for most of the year, Mora is going to get a slight reprieve. So basically, the team has to be terrible with Vick at the helm in order to cost Mora his job. Unless of course, Mora loses total control of his own actions and that of his players. It’s not as far-fetched as it seems. Mora seemed to be losing his grip late in the year with a number of fines and bad press. Not to mention he has volatile players like DeAngelo Hall dotted across the roster that can cause a few headaches. But if the past tells us anything, Mora knows how to keep a relatively tidy ship so that the bottom doesn’t completely fall out even if the team does tank a little.
But if the Falcons fail to make the playoffs again in 2006, I could definitely see 2007 being an “ultimatum” year for him and the Falcons. Basically, playoffs or else. Three straight losing years (assuming the team doesn’t go 9-7 and misses the playoffs) would probably be enough to get Mora fired. It’s hard to imagine someone being fired within 2 years of being named NFC Coach of the Year by the media. So I think while his seat is a bit warmer than most coaches around the league, it is far from hot.