Black Monday includes flurry of coach, GM firings
New York Jets fans wave towels asking the dismissal of general manager John Idzik during their game against the New England Patriots in East Rutherford, N.J., in this file photo taken December 21, 2014. (REUTERS/Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports/Files)
This year's Black Monday casualty count: three.
Add to that the two Bay Area head coaches who already had been let go, and five NFL teams are now scrambling to find a new sideline boss.
That's fewer than in any of the past three years, believe it or not.
Those fired on Monday:
Rex Ryan, New York Jets
Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears
Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons
The Oakland Raiders fired Dennis Allen in September, and Sunday night the San Francisco 49ers announced that the club and Jim Harbaugh had "mutually decided to part ways," with a year left on his contract.
Eight coaches were fired after both the 2012 and 2013 seasons, and seven after 2011.
Here's what developed Monday with each of the five coachless teams.
Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey, the oldest daughter of legendary club owner/coach George Halas, more than just signed off on Monday's mid-morning firings of Trestman and general manager Phil Emery.
"She's pissed off," her son, Bears chairman George McCaskey, said at a late-afternoon news conference. "I can't think of a 91-year-old woman that that description applies to, but in this case I can't think of a more accurate description."
The Bears' lead executive got emotional and had to pause when asked whether his mother was on board with the firings. Then he launched into the diatribe.
"She's been on this earth for eight of the Bears' nine championships and she wants more," McCaskey added. "She knows it's been too long since the last one, and that dissatisfaction is shared by her children, her grandchildren and her great-granchildren.
"She's fed up with mediocrity. She feels that she and Bears fans everywhere deserve better."
Trestman, whom Emery hired away from the CFL's Montreal Alouettes two years ago, was a disaster in his first and probably only NFL head-coaching stint. He took over a 10-6 team, but went 8-8 last year before this year's utter unravelling concluded lamely on Sunday with a 5-11 record.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer also was fired. McCaskey said he and CEO/president Ted Philips came to the decision to fire the trio Sunday night.
McCaskey and Phillips announced they have hired former long-time NFL front-office expert Ernie Accorsi to assist in finding the right successors.
"We feel he will provide a critical voice to our search process," McCaskey said.
"We do have a sense of urgency," Phillips added.
In explaining the firings, McCaskey cut fast to the nub.
"There wasn't a final straw. The fact of the matter is we just didn't win enough games," he said.
Added Phillips: "Nobody played to the levels we expected this year."
Trestman was supposed to get more out of the Bears' mercurial, infamous coach-killing quarterback Jay Cutler. Instead, Trestman -- a quarterback guru for more than two decades -- probably will go down as the deepest notch in Cutler's belt.
Cutler was awful this season, after Emery signed him last January to a seven-year, $127-million contract, with $54 million guaranteed. No NFL passer this year threw more interceptions than Cutler's 18, and most of those gaffes seemed to come at ruinous times.
The Bears entered the year with high hopes of returning to the playoffs after three years away. Some experts even saw the Bears challenging for the Super Bowl. It could not have ended with a louder thud: a last-place finish in the NFC North, and uncompetitive in most games against division rivals.
"This was a painful season," McCaskey said.
"We need to re-establish our identity. People need to know that when they've played the Chicago Bears, they've been through hell."
Falcons owner Arthur Blank fired Smith by late morning.
Then, at a strange news conference, Blank seemed more than a little bothered by some basic questions.
In answers, Blank strongly implied that GM Thomas Dimitroff, who was sitting right next to him at the time, might not be safe either.
"Hiring the head coach is the first move but may not be the only move we need to make," Blank said. "Only time will tell. The process will dictate that as we dive more into these issues.
"Thomas is our general manager. If there are any changes, obviously we'll let you know about that."
Seriously. He said that.
Reporters, of course, jumped on that and pressed Blank about Dimitroff's fate.
"Everything relative to football operations, outside of coaching, is up for scrutiny and for discussion," Blank said. "Everything."
To that end, Blank has hired former Eagles and Browns executive Joe Banner to act as his consultant.
The Falcons finished 6-10, after a 4-12 mark last year. These disastrous seasons followed four seasons of increasing regular-season improvement under Smith and GM Dimitroff. Two years ago they tied Denver for the best record in the league, at 13-3.
But Smith won only one playoff game, and barely -- a miraculous last-minute comeback to nip Seattle with a long, last-play field goal.
Smith's regular-season record was 66-46, but he was 1-4 in the playoffs.
The knock on Dimitroff's and Smith's Falcons is that they're soft, and weak along both lines.
"I would tell you that probably including my 23 years at Home Depot (as a founder), this was the most difficult decision I've ever had to make," Blank said. "And I mean that very sincerely. It was complicated by the deepest respect that I had, we all had, for Smitty."
According to Ian Rapaport of NFL Network, the Falcons already have requested permission to talk to Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Teryl Austin and Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
Niners CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke tried not very well Monday afternoon to explain why Harbaugh no longer is the team's head coach -- even though he was the most successful active NFL head coach (with a 69.5% winning percentage) and fifth winningest in league history.
York seemed particularly defensive.
He continually underscored that Harbaugh's parting -- unpopular, he granted, among Niners fans -- was mutual. Harbaugh is the only coach in NFL history to have taken his team to a conference championship game in each of his first three seasons.
"We don't raise division championship banners, or NFC championship banners," York said of the 49ers. "We raise Super Bowl championship banners.
"If we don't win the Super Bowl, we're not executing our vision."
York and Baalke were continually pressed to explain why they could not work with Harbaugh through the "philosophical" issues, as York termed them.
"For whatever reason, we weren't able to pull this thing together," Baalked said. "Distractions are difficult to overcome. There's no question about that.
"The relationship between the general manager and head coach have to be in sync."
The irony is that plugged-in writers in the Bay Area insist all the leaks going back months about locker-room dissension under Harbaugh, or Harbaugh's contract-renegotiations impasse, never once came from the Harbaugh camp.
Rather, they came from York and Baalke. They were asked to address that very issue. York denied being the source for those continual reports.
The CEO left it to Baalke to throw plaudits Harbaugh's way, except one time.
"He is a very good football coach," York said. "I certainly understand why (fans) want him to stay."
Said Baalke: "This organization has had to replace some awfully successful head coaches in the past, and Jim is no different. Are we confident that we can replace him? You always go into that with that strategy."
York said the team is looking for "a teacher" to replace Harbaugh, in the mould of legendary Niners coach Bill Walsh.
Baalke said the interview process will likely take 7-10 days, and he wouldn't confirm or deny whether any of Harbaugh's assistants will get a shot at the job, none of whom have been fired.
"We're not in a rebuild; this is a reload situation," Baalke said, in essence praising his own roster management.
NEW YORK JETS
Owner Woody Johnson swung the NFL's first axe Monday, firing both Ryan and GM John Idzik in the 8 a.m. EST hour.
"We're in the win business, and we're not winning. So I felt this was something I had to do," Johnson said at his news conference.
Johnson confirmed reports that he has hired former front-office executives Charley Casserly and Ron Wolff as consultants in his search for replacements.
"The three of us will be leading the search," he said, "but I've always been open to ideas and discussion."
Johnson admitted that one criticism is true, and that is he has to get a GM and head coach who are on the same page.
"The GM and the coach has to be a mutual (relationship)," Johnson said. "You've got to get players with traits and characteristics that fit generally the schemes that that coach is going to operate under."
Ryan said goodbye to his players at a brief, emotional meeting.
"All the players here love him," OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson told ESPN New York's Rich Cimini.
Raiders players are pushing owner Mark Davis and GM Reggie McKenzie to remove the interim tag from Tony Sparano's title.
Sparano was named head coach on an interim basis in late September when the Raiders fired Allen, after an 0-4 start.
When asked why he wants Sparano back, defensive end Justin Tuck told Steve Corkran of the San Jose Mercury News:
"The easier question to ask is, Why wouldn't I? And I can't think of any reasons why I wouldn't."
Position mate Antonio Smith told Corkran the season probably would have continued to unravel if Sparano had not got all the players to buy into his approach, even as the losses piled up until November.
Sparano was head coach of the Miami Dolphins from 2008-11, going 29-32 (.475).
The Raiders started 0-10 this season, but split their final three games, with all three wins coming against teams in the playoff hunt at the time. Wins over San Francisco and Buffalo earlier this month knocked those teams out of the playoffs.
If Davis and McKenzie, whose job is apparently safe, opt not to retain Sparano, ESPN reported that Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would be a prime candidate. Coincidentally, Del Rio, who's from the Bay Area, succeeded Allen in Denver.
Other candidates could include Todd Bowles, the Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator.
Perhaps the most logical choice would be newly unemployed Rex Ryan.
Think about it. If there's a potential head coach out there who embodies the bold, feisty, rebellious image of the Raiders more than Ryan, show him to me.