Last year, Yale graduate Dick Jauron ’72 lost his job. He certainly wasn’t the only one, but that makes his circumstances no less unique. You see, Dick Jauron was the only NFL head coach fired during last year’s season.

Other NFL head coaches got fired last year, but none of them were head coaches for the 2009 NFL season. No, the other coaches who were deemed lost causes last year all limped through until 2010 before being fired. Dick Jauron, after only nine games, was given the pink slip. He gave way to Perry Fewell, then defensive coordinator, who coached the remaining seven games before himself being chopped in January. Though the in-season firing is rare, it has happened before. After all, Jauron replaced Lions coach Steve Mariucci after only 11 games in 2005. A year prior to that, Miami coach Dave Wannstedt survived only nine before yielding the position to Jim Bates. There were no such firings in 2006 and 2007, but 2008 was a bumper crop of premature unemployment, as the 49ers dropped Mike Nolan for Mike Singletary after only seven games. Still, Nolan has nothing on Lane Kiffin, who the Oakland Raiders dumped after a mere four games in favor of Tom Cable. In fact, it became such a fad in 2008 that, after a 3–10 start, Bobby Petrino fired himself in Atlanta to take the Arkansas head coaching position and cleared Emmitt Thomas’s path to trivia fame. Yes, every so often an NFL head coach finds himself of the chopping block before the season has even ended. There is growing belief that this year could be such a year. As always, there are some prize candidates just begging to have their team’s owner flash them the ultimate middle finger. Here’s a top four.

First up is the fourth most likely candidate to lose his job this season, Oakland coach Tom Cable. There were many who believed he wouldn’t survive the offseason, and crazed owner Al Davis seemed to have little interest in appeasing Cable’s concerns, as he waited until deep into the offseason to address questions about his head coach’s status. Sporting a roster too talented for the 10–21 record they’ve amassed under his command, Cable seemed to inspire his players after taking over the pathetic affair that was the Lane Kiffin Raiders. Nonetheless, the team has since been terribly inconsistent, beating quality teams while losing numerous games to questionable opposition. This inconsistency is just another ingredient in an ugly soup for Cable: impetuous owner with a history of in-season firings, personal issues (allegations of assault and domestic abuse), and the possibility that next season will bring yet another new quarterback to Oakland. New quarterbacks often mean new coaches and vice versa. For Oakland, neither one would come a moment too soon.

Next on tap is Carolina’s John Fox. Though long-tenured and much respected around the league, Fox has shown a propensity to rely on veterans at the expense of developing young players. When he had a Super Bowl-quality team in the early 2000s, this may have been wise. Since then, it has seemed incontrovertibly idiotic, with Jake Delhomme lasting somewhere from two to four seasons longer than he had any right to at quarterback, and with Fox’s regime showing little urgency to upgrade at wide receiver. The end result was a horrid passing offense that is no longer even supported by a strong defense or running game. Really, there is little left. Fox finally showed some urgency by inserting rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen in favor of putrid Matt Moore, but it’s likely too little too late. Fox hasn’t built the infrastructure necessary to support the development of a young quarterback. Though Fox does sport a not unimpressive 71–60 record in his eight-plus seasons with the Panthers, those eight years only feature three winning seasons, and only one in his last four attempts. Off to an 0-3 start to this season (and really, if they could have a worse record, they would) and no threat whatsoever to division powers New Orleans and Atlanta, Fox is squarely on the chopping block.

Second place goes to Cleveland’s Eric Mangini. Like Cable, many thought Mangini wouldn’t survive the offseason, but a 4–0 finish to last season made many in Cleveland excuse the 1–11 start. An odd hire after sporting a sub-.500 record for the Jets in the then-weak AFC East, Mangini has twice failed to get the Cleveland Browns a starting quarterback, opting to trade away the pick that became Mark Sanchez for center Alex Mack and a whole lot of nothing else. Since then, he’s chosen to remedy the situation by signing Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, both of whom do a terrible disservice to the term “mediocre.” With Mike Holmgren now running the show in Cleveland, Mangini is a holdover from a past era. Though he’s only coached the one 5–11 season prior to this year, he made quick work of getting the Browns to 0–3 this season. This year, there may be no chance for a 4–0 finish.

Finally, our most likely candidate to get the coaching guillotine: Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio. Though 57–55 all time with the Jaguars, Jack Of The River hasn’t had a winning season since 2007, and he is off to a 1–2 start with a team that looks like a strong bet to be the doormat of the AFC South. Having hitched his wagon to David Garrard with a six-year, $60 million extension in 2008, he now is doing everything possible to try to reverse that decision. Garrard was benched in Week 2 for Luke McCown. McCown played well, and he might have taken the full-time job if he had not torn his ACL in that game. Still, after watch Garrard in Week 3, one wonders if they should have stuck McCown out there on crutches. The Jaguars offer little to be excited about, and have consistently wasted draft picks over the last few years. Ranked 31st in yards per play and 30th in points scored, while suffering on defense to the tune of 31st in yards per play against and 29th in points against, the Jaguars cannot run the football, pass the football, stop the run, or stop the pass. Rumors are swirling that Del Rio could be canned soon if blowouts continue. This week’s foe? The Indianapolis Colts.

I mean no disrespect to the other coaches of the NFL. Tom Coughlin, Wade Phillips, Norv Turner, and Brad Childress could all feel the heat if their supposedly-strong teams cannot recover from their 1–2 starts. If Chan Gailey can’t get the Bills more than a win or two, he might not live to see a second season in Buffalo. Gary Kubiak felt some heat last year, and another year without playoff football could be one year too many for Houston. Nonetheless, I feel the four candidates above represent the cream of the crop when it comes to football futility. Future graduates rejoice; these guys may too be unemployed. Best of all, whenever you do get a job, you’ll almost surely be better at it than Jack Del Rio.