Overnight, the NFL went from Xs and O’s to ex-coaches and whoas.
In a head-spinning blizzard of pink slips, seven head coaches were fired Monday, leaving openings in Philadelphia, San Diego, Buffalo, Chicago, Arizona, Cleveland and Kansas City.
The dismissals included three coaches who led their teams to Super Bowls in the last eight years: Andy Reid of Philadelphia, Lovie Smith of Chicago and Ken Whisenhunt of Arizona.
Also shown the door were San Diego’s Norv Turner, Buffalo’s Chan Gailey, Cleveland’s Pat Shurmur and Kansas City’s Romeo Crennel.
Five general managers were fired: San Diego’s A.J. Smith, Cleveland’s Tom Heckert, Arizona’s Rod Graves, Jacksonville’s Gene Smith and the New York Jets’ Mike Tannenbaum.
Most of the moves were long-anticipated, but the Bears raised some eyebrows by dumping Lovie Smith after a 10-win season that failed to produce a playoff berth. The Eagles parted ways with Reid, the league’s longest-tenured coach, who had been there for 14 seasons. Philadelphia was 4-12 this season.
“When you have a season like that, it’s embarrassing. It’s personally crushing to me and it’s terrible,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a news conference.
Lurie said he didn’t fire Reid after last season because the Eagles had always bounced back after a down year.
“That was the history,” Lurie said. “I really believed that this season, with our talent, that we would be a strong contender and a double-digit win team. Nobody is more disappointed or crushed than myself because I fully believed that that’s exactly where we were at in August as we started the season.”
Although the firings came fast and furious Monday, the turnover has yet to match that of 2010, when there were 10 new coaches put in place, nearly a third of the league. The day after the season ends has come to be known as Black Monday.
“You hope that those guys that obviously were victims of Black Monday land on their feet,” St. Louis Coach Jeff Fisher said. “You’ve got guys that have been to Super Bowls and won championship games and all of a sudden they’ve forgot how to coach, I guess.”
With the firings, naturally, comes a lot of speculation about who will fill the vacancies. Among the prime candidates are offensive coordinators Mike McCoy (Denver), Dirk Koetter (Atlanta), Jim Caldwell (Baltimore), Jay Gruden (Cincinnati), Josh McDaniels (New England), Greg Roman (San Francisco) and Kyle Shanahan (Washington); defensive coordinators Ray Horton (Arizona), Mel Tucker (Jacksonville) and Mike Zimmer (Cincinnati); and Winston Moss, who coaches linebackers in Green Bay.
Bruce Arians, offensive coordinator in Indianapolis, who led the Colts to a playoff berth as interim coach, will be a hot prospect, and possibly college coaches Bill O’Brien of Penn State and Chip Kelly of Oregon.
NFL teams are required to abide by the so-called Rooney Rule, which mandates they interview and give serious consideration to minority candidates for coaching and front-office positions.
“The commissioner [Roger Goodell] has talked to all the teams and said that we are going to press this issue very strongly as part of the interview process,” said John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an advocacy group that has pushed for the hiring of minority coaches by NFL teams. “One of the things we’re concerned about is sham interviews. Those shouldn’t happen. There are too many quality people out there.”
Among the candidates on Wooten’s list are Horton, Tucker, Caldwell, Moss, New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell (although Coach Tom Coughlin insists Fewell isn’t leaving), and Cincinnati assistant Hue Jackson, former head coach in Oakland.
There were no shocking firings. Everyone who was dismissed had been on the hot seat. But the mass dismissals underscored the win-now impatience so prevalent in the NFL, an attitude only validated by turnarounds such as the one in Indianapolis, where the Colts went from 2-14 to the playoffs in one year.
In San Diego, Turner got a standing ovation from his players in a final team meeting. He handed out game balls and then said his goodbyes.
“The last three years have been an awful lot of work because we’ve had continuously changing lineups,” he said in a news conference. “That’s the hardest thing to coach. We’ve lost a lot of players to injuries and free agency. That’s the hardest thing on players. It caught up to [quarterback Philip Rivers] this year and had a real effect on him. The coach who comes in here will be impressed with the work ethic. The way these guys work on a daily basis, how much football means to them.”
San Diego has hired former Packers general manager Ron Wolf to help in its coaching search. Chargers President Dean Spanos conceded that the empty seats at Qualcomm Stadium factored into the decision to make a change, if only as a symptom of the bigger problem: losing.
“Obviously, if you don’t win, fans aren’t going to come,” he said. “I think this is part of our business. As I said earlier, our goal is to put a winning product on the field and we haven’t done that in three years.”