Black Monday did not disappoint on the last day of 2012. The annual bonanza of coaches and front-office types getting axed touched seven coaches, five general managers, and nine teams in total, or just over a quarter of the NFL’s 32 squads. Here are the victims, why they were fired, and whether it was the right move.
5. San Diego Chargers — Coach Norv Turner, General Manager A.J. Smith
Who: The Chargers were the third head-coaching stint of Turner’s career; he was hired in 2007 after unimpressive tenures with the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders. (He reached the playoffs only once in nine total seasons as a head coach.) Smith had been with the Chargers since 2003.
Why: San Diego made the playoffs four years in a row, from 2006-2009, and failed to make much of anything out of it. Having missed the playoffs each of the last three years pretty much guaranteed Turner’s termination, and Smith, a dominating personality as a front-office exec, had worn out his welcome as well.
Worth it? Yes. Hiring Turner in the first place was a mistake: he’s a dismal coach. Meanwhile, Smith had focused too heavily on free-agent acquisitions and not enough on the draft, leaving the team old and thin in many places.
6. Buffalo Bills — Coach Chan Gailey
Who: A long-time positions coach and coordinator, the Bills were Gailey’s first head-coaching job. He was hired in 2010.
Why: The Bills are terrible — they haven’t made the playoffs this millenium. Gailey failed to change that.
Worth it? Sure. Again, Gailey was a weak hire who never should have been a head coach in the first place. But it’s hard to blame him too much for the Bills’ failure to achieve: aside from running back C.J. Spiller and wide receiver Stevie Johnson, the offense barely contained any starter-quality players, and high-priced defensive acquisition Mario Williams has been mediocre at best.
7. New York Jets — GM Mike Tannenbaum
Who: The guy who brought in Tim Tebow.
Why: He brought in Tim Tebow.
Worth it?: He brought in Tim Tebow. In all seriousness, Tannenbaum, who had been with the team as GM since 2006, got off to a great start, highlighted by the hiring of Rex Ryan and two AFC Championship games in 2009 and 2010. But in recent seasons, Tanny got away from the draft, which is where he initially made the Jets into a player, and the team’s complete lack of depth at the skill positions on offense — not to mention the dreadful hiring of offensive coordinator Tony Sparano — cratered the team in 2011 and 2012 after a spate of injuries. It was time for the Jets to make a change.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars — GM Gene Smith
Who/Why/Worth It?: Smith’s been with the Jags since 2009. Since then, the team has gone 22-42, and not a single player he’d brought in had made the Pro Bowl. After going 2-14 this year, the worst season in franchise history, Smith didn’t have a chance.
10. Chicago Bears — Coach Lovie Smith
Who: Hired in 2004, Lovie Smith posted an 81-63 record with the Chicago Bears in nine seasons with the team.
Why: Despite his impressive record and a Super Bowl appearance, Smith had only made the playoffs once in his last six years with the Bears. The worst instance was this season, in which the team started 7-1 and then went 3-5 over their last eight games to miss the playoffs.
Worth it? No. The irony of Smith’s firing is that, had the Green Bay Packers beaten the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Bears would’ve made the playoffs and Smith probably would’ve kept his job. But they didn’t, and he suffered accordingly. Even worse is that the last three years have all been playoff-quality campaigns for the team — they made it in 2010, and in 2011 almost certainly would have had starting quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte not gotten injured. Also, players are not happy, meaning that a postseason-caliber team could be hamstrung by off-field issues.
11. Philadelphia Eagles — Coach Andy Reid
Who: The longest-tenured coach in the NFL up until yesterday, Reid had been with the Eagles for 14 seasons, over which he went 130-93-1 and reached the playoffs nine times. Four of those appearances ended in the NFC Championship Game, and one in a Super Bowl loss.
Why: Despite that massive amount of success, Reid has always had problems with clock management and is coming off two disappointing years in which the team was expected to contend for the Super Bowl. This year especially was a disaster, with the Eagles finishing 4-12.
Worth it? Definitely. Reid is a good coach, and he’ll almost certainly find another head coaching job if he choses to, but the Eagles and his relationship had become strained to the point where no one benefitted from his remaining in town. This season was one of the worst in franchise history even though the Eagles had plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, and Reid and quarterback Michael Vick, as the team’s two most visible leaders, are going to take the lion’s share of the blame for that.
12. Kansas City Chiefs — Romeo Crennel
Who: Crennel made his bones as the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots during their 2001-2004 dominance, and he was head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 2005-2008. He took over in Kansas City this year after serving as interim head coach last season after the firing of Todd Haley before the last three games.
Why: The Chiefs have the #1 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft — that’s why.
Worth it?: I don’t think so. I don’t know why you hire a head coach and then fire him after only one year, particularly when you give him almost no new talent to work with. GM Scott Pioli, who brought in an expensive, terrible starting quarterback and very little talent elsewhere, is the real guy who deserves to be fired, but when you’re the worst team in the NFL, it’s hard to keep your head coach around.
13. Cleveland Browns — Coach Pat Shurmur, GM Tom Heckert
Who: This was Shurmur’s second season as head coach following two years as the offensive coordinator in St. Louis. Tom Heckert had been Browns GM for three seasons.
Why: Well, Cleveland’s consistency over the last three years is impressive, but unfortunately, they were consistently bad: 5-11 in 2010, 4-12 in 2011, and 5-11 in 2012.
Worth it? Pretty much. Three years is a pretty small sample size for a GM, and Heckert had had success in Philadelphia prior to joining the Browns, but he did draft a 28-year-old rookie quarterback. Meanwhile, Shurmur neither exceeded nor fell short of what you’d expect from the Browns’ roster in terms of performance. The main issue is that new ownership wanted to bring in their own guys, and Heckert and Shurmur were remnants of the old regime who hadn’t done much to justify being retained.
14. Arizona Cardinals — Coach Ken Whisenhunt, GM Rod Graves
Who: Whisenhunt won a Super Bowl as offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and after taking over as head coach of the Cardinals in 2007, he reached the Super Bowl in 2008. Graves had been with the Cardinals since 1997 and GM since 2003.
Why: After taking the formerly pathetic Cardinals franchise to the playoffs in two straight seasons, Whisenhunt and Graves had raised expectations. 18-30 over the last three years just wasn’t good enough.
Worth it? This is the toughest call of the bunch, and maybe the most surprising firing. However, the Cardinals had failed to find a decent quarterback to replace Kurt Warner after he retired following the 2009 season, and this year was particularly bad: the team started 4-0, then lost 10 of their next 11 games behind four different starting QBs. It was a visible and embarrassing collapse, and it’s pretty hard for a coach and GM to survive that kind of calamity, particularly when it happens at the most visible position in football.