Dismissals unusually swift for some NFL teams

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Even by the tumultuous standards of the end of a National Football League season, Monday -- Black Monday, as it is annually called -- stood out.

The conclusion of the regular season always signals the start of a whirlwind of firings and job searches involving coaches and top executives. This year, though, brought sweeping, swift change even to some of the most stable and patient -- maybe too patient -- teams in the NFL. Seven coaches -- two of whom, Chan Gailey and Ken Whisenhunt, had previous ties to the Steelers -- and five general managers were fired before lunchtime in a day unequaled for its turmoil in recent memory.

The Philadelphia Eagles ended Andy Reid's 14-year coaching tenure, drawing the curtain on a tear-stained season that began with the death of Mr. Reid's son during training camp and continued with a week-by-week watch of how the team's won-lost ledger matched up with the owner Jeffrey Lurie's edict before the season that Mr. Reid had to do better than 8-8 to keep his job. Philadelphia ended up at 4-12.

In Chicago, Lovie Smith was fired after nine seasons, despite finishing 10-6. In San Diego, Norv Turner -- his dismissal expected almost from the day he first got the job six years ago -- was finally let go, along with general manager A.J. Smith, who had held his job for almost 10 years. The same fate befell Mr. Whisenhunt in Arizona, who was fired after six seasons. Previous to that, Mr. Whisenhunt was an assistant to Bill Cowher with the Steelers from 2001-06, having served as offensive coordinator in 2004-06.

Mr. Reid, Mr. Smith and Mr. Whisenhunt had all taken their teams to the Super Bowl in the past; Mr. Turner took the Chargers to the American Football Conference championship game.

All, though, had lost of late. And the reason for their ousters was summed up neatly by the league's newest owner, Cleveland's Jimmy Haslam, who fired his coach, Pat Shurmur, and general manager, Tom Heckert, on Monday. Three teams that, combined, won only 10 games last year -- the Indianapolis Colts, the Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings -- qualified for this year's playoffs. Every owner wants that result.

"It might be a little unfair of me to put that pressure on that new head coach already, but the way the NFL operates, there is relative parity," Mr. Haslam said. "And you can turn things around quickly."

Among others who were fired: Mr. Gailey, after three seasons in Buffalo, and Romeo Crennel, after just one season for Kansas City, which won just two games and will have the first pick in the spring draft. Mr. Gailey was a Steelers assistant under Mr. Cowher in 1994-97, serving as offensive coordinator in 1996-97.

Scott Pioli, the Chiefs' general manager, retains his job for now, owner Clark Hunt said.

But many other general managers were not so lucky. Those fired, in addition to Mr. Smith and Mr. Heckert, were the New York Jets' Mike Tannenbaum, the Jacksonville Jaguars' Gene Smith and the Cardinals' Rod Graves. The Carolina Panthers fired Marty Hurney during the season and have yet to replace him.

The speed with which so many top people were sent packing was breathtaking but not surprising. Owners want to grab top candidates -- like Chip Kelly of the University of Oregon -- before anyone else can and give their new head coaches time to assemble staffs of top assistants. The Browns, for instance, said they would hire a head coach first and then a player personnel executive -- an unorthodox arrangement because it is usually the other way around, but a signal that they are likely to pursue a candidate others will want, and that the new head coach will be invested with plenty of power when it comes to personnel, too.

The most hotly pursued candidates can afford to be choosy. The current openings all have some drawbacks and advantages, but the most careful coaches are likely to look at one important factor: which teams have good quarterback situations, an especially important consideration in a year without a strong quarterback class in free agency or the draft. Of the teams that fired coaches or general managers Monday, only two, the Bears and the Chargers, have quarterbacks who are considered championship-caliber.

Mr. Whisenhunt might embody the problem more than most. When he had Kurt Warner, the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. But after Mr. Warner retired, Mr. Whisenhunt and Mr. Graves were unable to identify and develop the next great Arizona quarterback -- they used four starters this season -- and they paid for that failure with their jobs.

This may not be the most active market ever for coaches, though. There were 10 new coaches going into the 2009 season, and several of the coaches fired Monday -- especially Mr. Reid, who went to the National Football Conference championship game five times with the Eagles and has indicated that he wants to coach again immediately -- are expected to find new jobs quickly.

But once the coaches are in place, time quickly becomes their enemy. With Mr. Reid's firing, the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL is Bill Belichick, whom New England hired in 2000. His job security is rare, though. It has taken perhaps the best quarterback in history, five Super Bowl appearances and three championships to earn it.

Steelers


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