Black Monday is in the books, and four NFL coaches are heading off the books.
Within 24 hours of the regular season concluding, four coaches and two general managers were dismissed by teams in the East, West, North and South.
For the New York Jets, Rex is an ex. The franchise fired Coach Rex Ryan after his teams didn't reach the playoffs four years in a row. GM John Idzik was shown the door, too.
Immediately after Sunday's victory over Arizona, the San Francisco 49ers announced they had mutually agreed to part ways with coach Jim Harbaugh, who reportedly has been hired as coach at the University of Michigan.
In Chicago, the Bears cleaned house by firing Coach Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery, whose teams were 8-8 and 5-11 the last two years.
And there's a vacancy in Atlanta after the Falcons fired Mike Smith, the winningest coach in franchise history. Smith, whose team was 4-12 last year, got the boot after a 6-10 season and an utter collapse in a do-or-die finale for the NFC South title against Carolina, a 34-3 home loss. He was 66-46 in seven seasons.
There could be more changes in the pipeline, possibly in Oakland, where the Raiders are mulling whether to promote interim Tony Sparano to permanent coach and weighing the merits of hanging on to GM Reggie McKenzie. The Raiders finished 3-13, but they did win their final three home games.
A look at the changes:
Rex is an ex in the Big Apple
And he wasn’t the only one to go. The club fired General Manager John Idzik, too, ending his two-year stint.
Ryan’s six-year career as Jets coach started with great promise, as he led the team to consecutive appearances in the AFC championship game. But the team failed to make the playoffs in each of the past four seasons.
“Both Rex and John made significant contributions to the team, and they have my appreciation and gratitude for their efforts and commitment,” Jets owner Woody Johnson said in a statement. “Over the years, Rex brought the Jets a bold confidence and a couple of great postseason runs, which all of us will remember.”
The Jets went 12-20 during the Idzik era, capped by this season’s 4-12 finish.
Why he got fired: Ryan was the only coach in franchise history to take the Jets to consecutive conference championship games, and for years he was largely adored by the fan base. But under him, the team couldn’t shake the reputation it was a dysfunctional organization. Nor could the Jets escape the long shadow of New England in the AFC East. Ryan’s teams finished 4-9 against the Patriots.
Fair or not: Jets owner Woody Johnson gave Ryan plenty of chances, including a one-year contract extension after last season’s team finished 8-8 with then-rookie quarterback Geno Smith. Instead of managing expectations, Ryan typically thumped his chest, announcing, “I’m so confident that I don’t care who knows it.”
Replacement candidates: Ryan was a defensive specialist, so the Jets might go with an offensive mind. There are plenty of offensive coordinators to choose from, among them Denver’s Adam Gase and Seattle’s Darrell Bevell, who have never been head coaches, or former head coaches such as Cincinnati’s Hue Jackson or Baltimore’s Gary Kubiak.
What the future holds: With or without Ryan, the Jets are still looking for their answer at quarterback, although Smith played well in Sunday’s 37-24 victory at Miami. As long as Tom Brady is in New England, it’s going to be very tough for any coach to topple the Patriots. Ryan, meanwhile, should not have a problem landing a head coaching job in another NFL city. At worst, he would make an excellent defensive coordinator somewhere.
Atlanta Falcons fire Coach Mike Smith after seven seasons
Mike Smith was the winningest coach in Atlanta Falcons history.
Ultimately, though, that didn’t save his job.
Smith was fired Monday after a 6-10 season and an utter collapse in a do-or-die finale against Carolina, a 34-3 home loss for the NFC South title.
Asked after the game whether Smith and his staff deserved to be retained, the coach was realistic.
"That’s not my choice,” he said. “This is a business about winning football games and that’s how you’re judged. I understand that and I’ll leave it at that.”
Smith was 66-46 in seven seasons. He took the reins after the tumultuous 2007 season during which quarterback Michael Vick was sent to federal prison for his role in a dog-fighting operation, and Coach Bobby Petrino quit 13 games into the season.
"Smitty’s contributions to our club, team and city over the last seven years are numerous,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a written statement. “His accomplishments on the field made him the most successful coach in the 49-year history of the Falcons, and we are grateful for the foundation he has laid for us for the future.”
Why he got fired: Smith’s career in Atlanta got off to a great start, especially considering he was hired on the heels of the Michael Vick scandal and Bobby Petrino disaster. The franchise had never been to the playoffs in consecutive seasons until Smith arrived. His teams reached the postseason in the 2008, and 2010-2012 seasons. The bottom dropped out the past two seasons, though, as the Falcons finished 4-12 and 6-10. When his team did make the playoffs, Smith failed to make the most of it. Under him, the Falcons were 1-4 in postseason games.
Fair or not: This was a tough decision for Falcons owner Arthur Blank, whose affection for Smith is obvious. (Even in a formal press release announcing the firing, Blank refers to him as “Smitty.”) In the abysmal NFC South, the Falcons were in it until the end, losing an all-or-nothing game at home Sunday against Carolina. Injuries played a big role in Atlanta’s demise, particularly along the offensive line, so this doesn’t all fall on Smith’s shoulders.
Replacement candidates: The Falcons have retained the search firm Korn Ferry to identify coaching candidates, so they might look to go outside the box in that department. This could be a spot for Rex Ryan. Another defensive mind who will get strong consideration in these coaching vacancies is Arizona’s Todd Bowles, whose Cardinals defense overcame a slew of injuries to high-profile players and didn’t miss a beatdown. If the Falcons go offense, there’s a deep bench of offensive coordinators around the league who will be in the mix.
What the future holds: The future is pretty bright for the Falcons, who have a top-notch quarterback in Matt Ryan. Heading into Sunday’s disaster, he had one of the hottest hands in the league. The NFC South is just the second division in NFL history to be won by a team with a losing record, so there’s opportunity for all four teams to make inroads next season. This will be a coveted job.
Chicago Bears fire Coach Marc Trestman, General Manager Phil Emery
With the Chicago Bears locked in a downward spiral during his two seasons as coach, Marc Trestman was fired Monday.
Trestman, who inherited a 10-6 team from Lovie Smith in 2012, led the Bears to finishes of 8-8 and 5-11 before he was shown the door.
The man who hired him was let go too. The Bears also dismissed General Manager Phil Emery after two seasons.
The Bears, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2010, failed to beat a winning team this season and yielded 50 points or more in consecutive defeats, suffering a 51-23 loss to New England and a 55-14 loss to Green Bay.
Why he got fired: Since the end of the George Halas era, the Bears had never fired a coach after fewer than three seasons. That changed with Trestman, who was shown the door after two. This season was especially humiliating, with the club failing to beat a winning team, and a string of humbling defeats -- including losses of 38-17 and 55-14 to the bitter rival Green Bay Packers. Trestman, whose specialty is working with quarterbacks, failed to turn Jay Cutler into a winner, and the franchise signed the quarterback to a seven-year, $127-million deal in January.
Fair or not: The Bears had to do something dramatic to begin to right the ship, and that meant giving Trestman and General Manager Phil Emery the boot. In Trestman’s two seasons, the Bears were 2-11 against teams with winning records. And the quarterback situation was an absolute circus. Trestman had clearly lost the locker room, and the whole mess had become an embarrassment. With arrows pointing up in the other three NFC North cities, the Bears needed to make a change.
Replacement candidates: If the Bears plan to stick with an offensive specialist, they could make a run at Indianapolis offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who was with Andrew Luck at Stanford then followed him to the Colts. If they go defense -- the historic roots of that organization -- they could take a hard look at Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who oversees one of the most smothering units in football.
What the future holds: Much of the Bears’ immediate future hinges on what they do with Cutler, who initially improved under Trestman but recently has been in a tailspin. Because their housecleaning was complete -- coach and general manager -- they will have a fresh start on becoming competitive again in a division where Green Bay and Detroit have their quarterback answers, and Minnesota is bullish on Teddy Bridgewater.
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers part ways
Harbaugh coached the 49ers for four seasons, leading them to three NFC championship games and a Super Bowl in his second season. He had one year remaining on the $25-million deal he signed in 2011. He finished 49-22-1.
"The San Francisco 49ers and Jim Harbaugh have mutually agreed to part ways," the team announced in a news release immediately following Sunday's 20-17 victory over Arizona.
"The 49ers organization has begun its search for the team's next head coach, while Harbaugh is now free to consider his next coaching opportunity without any constraints."
According to multiple reports, Harbaugh will be named this week as coach at the University of Michigan, his alma mater, possibly as soon as Tuesday.
Why he got fired: The 49ers didn’t describe this as a firing, but a mutual parting of the ways. There was burnout on both sides, constant friction between Harbaugh and the tandem of 49ers owner Jed York and General Manager Trent Baalke. Harbaugh almost certainly is headed back to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, which has offered him a reported six-year deal worth $48 million, the richest in college football history.
Fair or not: On paper, it’s crazy to let Harbaugh go. He returned the beaten-down 49ers to prominence, leading them to the NFC championship game in each of his first three seasons, including a Super Bowl appearance. That came on the heels of his phenomenal success at the University of San Diego and at Stanford. He’s a coaching phenom. But he also can be a difficult personality, and the rift with York had grown too wide. Whether the 49ers made the playoffs or not this season – they didn’t, finishing 8-8 in the NFC West – Harbaugh was on his way out.
Replacement candidates: York and Baalke are bullish on defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who has been with the organization for eight seasons and is a respected motivator. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is high on the list, too. He has vast NFL experience, including running San Francisco’s defense throughout the Harbaugh era. The 49ers could reach into their past to hire one of their former assistants who went on to win Super Bowls elsewhere: Mike Holmgren or Mike Shanahan. There are also rumblings the club will take a look at UCLA Coach Jim Mora, a former 49ers defensive coordinator, but those haven’t transcended the mere rumor/speculation stage.
What the future holds: For Harbaugh, the future is blindingly bright. At least in the short term. He’s proven that he can whip an organizational U-turn and immediately transform losing teams into winners, although he’s also a strong personality who can wear out his welcome. The 49ers have a talent-laden roster, and much of their future hinges on the continued development of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who regressed this season but still showed flashes of his spectacular athleticism. The NFC West remains the toughest division in football, so the path won't be easy.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesFarmer