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NFL: "Black Monday" takes high toll

by JUDY BATTISTA, New York Times News Service on December 31, 2012 4:23 PM

Even by the tumultuous standards of the end of an NFL 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 and five general managers were fired by 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 Reid's son during training camp and concluded with a week-by-week watch of how the won-lost ledger matched up with the owner Jeffrey Lurie's edict before the season that Reid had to do better than 8-8 to keep his job.

In Chicago, Lovie Smith was fired after nine seasons, despite finishing 10-6. In San Diego, Norv Turner — his demise anticipated 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 Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona, who was let go after six seasons. Reid, Smith and Whisenhunt had all taken their teams to the Super Bowl in the past; Turner took the Chargers to the AFC 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. On Sunday, three teams who had disastrous seasons 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,“ Haslam said. ”And you can turn things around quickly."

Among others who were fired: Chan 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. 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 Smith and Heckert, were the New York Jets’ Mike Tannenbaum, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Gene Smith and the Cardinals’ Rod Graves.

The speed with which so many top people were sent packing was breathtaking but not surprising. Owners want to grab top candidates — like Oregon's Chip Kelly — 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.

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