By Jason Keidel
For a few NFL head coaches, there was nothing happy about New Year’s Day.
It’s either ironic or just plain ugly that Black Monday — the most professionally gruesome day on the football calendar, which italicizes the NFL’s haunting acronym, Not For Long — came on one of our more celebrated holidays. In the 1980s, the average tenure of an NFL coach was around 8.5 years. Now it’s barely more than three years.
So let’s run down the newly unemployed.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was fired before he removed his headset on Sunday. The Irsay family — the same family that snuck the Colts out of Baltimore in the snow, that chased John Elway to Denver, that basically booted Peyton Manning — is not known for its sensitivity. Pagano is not only a good coach and a good man, but also had a winning record every year when he had Andrew Luck as his quarterback. He also survived cancer while coaching in Indianapolis. Heaven help the next man who dares to to work for Jim Irsay.
Detroit jettisoned Jim Caldwell, despite the fact that Caldwell made the playoffs in two of his four years on the Lions sideline. Caldwell also has the highest winning percentage (.536) of any Lions coach since the first Super Bowl was played. Not that the Ford family cares. Jim Caldwell also took Irsay’s Colts to a Super Bowl, losing to the Saints in 2009. It seems the Lions’ brass regards itself as a gridiron version of the Yankees, while its history is more comparable to the Padres.
Oakland jammed the eject button on Jack Del Rio, despite leading the Raiders to a 12-4 record last year, with the potential for a Super Bowl run had QB Derek Carr not broken his leg. The Raiders clearly regressed this year, but did not seem to quit on their head coach. Del Rio has taken two teams to the playoffs — the Raiders and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Even worse the Raiders are reportedly set to back up the Brinks truck on Jon Gruden and jam to the oldies. Gruden did well during his first tenure in Oakland, but never reached the Super Bowl while he was there and is more famous for losing the Tuck Rule game than anything else. He is a wonderful TV analyst, which somehow obscures the fact that he was fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In perhaps the least shocking move of the holiday weekend, Chicago canned John Fox, who posted an unacceptable 14-34 record in the Windy City. Chicago may not quite have the pedigree of the Packers, but they certainly have a richer history than the Lions. Not that Fox should shoulder all the blame. The Bears didn’t get him the players he needed, and somehow kept Fox in the dark on their trade for first-round draft pick Mitchell Trubisky, failing to tell Fox about the move until minutes before it happened. What we have in Chicago, to quote Paul Newman, is a failure to communicate.
And let’s not forget Big Blue’s former coach Ben McAdoo, who was fired well before the 2017 season ended. The forgettable coach led the Giants for not even two full seasons. This year’s 3-13 Giants were so bad it has made all the natives wonder how McAdoo ever led the G-Men to an 11-5 record in 2016. John Mara fired Tom Coughlin for this?
The last two look more like heartfelt retirements than acrimonious divorces.
Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. No man in any sport earned his keep or his place more than the affable Arians, who didn’t get his first full-time head-coaching gig until he turned 60. He’s been underrated and underestimated every step along the way, from coaching Temple to his time as Steelers offensive coordinator to becoming the only fill-in head coach to win Coach of the Year, taking the headset while Pagano recovered from cancer. The Cardinals were a power for much of Arians’s tenure. He said he’d now rather sip Scotch in his sprawling Georgia home and adore his grandkids than slowly sink into the coaching coffin over the next five years. How can anyone find fault with that?
Marvin Lewis. Sure, many have argued that Lewis didn’t deserve his 15 years in Cincinnati, which spawned many winning records, but nary a playoff win. In a sport that abhors a January vacuum, Lewis went 0-7 in that golden month. Yet he was adored by the descendants of Paul Brown, who own the Bengals. And it was their opinion, more than ours, that decided Lewis’s vocational fate. Lewis seems like a swell guy, a good coach, who was a shredded knee from coaching a potential Hall-of-Famer (Carson Palmer) and then never coached a QB better than Andy Dalton, who, like Lewis, is at his best from September to December.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.