While most folks were looking to bring in the New Year last week, several professional coaches and general managers found coal in their stockings. Seven National Football League head coaches, five NFL general managers and a National Basketball Association head coach were asked to turn in their keys to teams’ respective facilities. For the individuals in question, New Year’s Eve was not a day to look ahead or celebrate.
The day after the end of the NFL’s regular season is a period that comes with fear for those who do not make the playoffs. The Bills’ Chan Gailey, the Browns’ Pat Shumur, the Eagles’ Andy Reid, the Cardinals Ken Whisenhunt, the Chargers’ Norv Turner, the Chiefs’ Romeo Crennel, and the Bears’ Lovie Smith spent New Year’s Day reflecting on why they got the ax. Then in the front offices, San Diego’s’ AJ Smith, Cleveland’s Tom Hecket, Kansas City’s Scott Pioli, Arizona’s Rod Graves, and Jets’ Mike Tannenbaum were all let go on what is known in the NFL as Black Monday. Jacksonville’s Gene Smith was let go during the season.
A few days earlier, the Nets head coach Avery Johnson was shown the door by GM Billy King and owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
All but Avery Johnson and Lovie Smith came as a surprise to anyone. In the cases of Reid and Turner, they failed to live up to expectations with teams that had playoff aspirations. At least Smith won 10 games, and most felt that would be enough to save his job. But new GM Phil Embry was not trilled with the progress or lack there of the offensive unit. Despite rushing out to 7-1 start, the Monsters of the Midway went 3-5 down the stretch and failed to qualify for post-season play. Some felt that Embry was looking for a reason to get rid of Smith and used that late-season slide as an excuse to pull the plug on the Lovie Era in Chicago.
Reid just wore out his welcome in Philadelphia. Owner Jeffery Lurie spent a boat load of money starting with resigning quarterback Michael Vick and bringing in free agents Nhandi Assumwar and Peter Jabin. Even after assembling a so called “Dream Team”, the Eagles failed to make the post season the past two years.
The same could be said for Norv Turner in San Diego, who despite having one of the more talented rosters in the dreadful AFC West could not secure a playoff spot. Now his GM also got whacked and many believe that it was because Smith did not pull the trigger on the underachieving Turner years ago. Smith assembled a talented crew including Phillip Rivers, Antonio Gates, LaDanian Thomlinson, and Shawn Merrion over the past decade. However, Turner did not lead them to one Super Bowl.
The New York Jets’ Tannebaum got the pink for the opposite reason. It was plain to see that Gang Green did not have enough talent to compete for a wild card spot nevertheless over take the New England Patriots. And no where was this more glaring than with the skill position players on offense.
When it comes to offense, it all starts with the quarterback position. Mark Sanchez had his worst season of his brief career in 2012. Not only did he rank last in just about every category, he just looked lost out there for most of the second half of the season. Granted, he had very little help, but his play this year left a lot to be desired, especially considering that Tannenbaum moved heaven and earth to draft him.
Like many of Tannenbaum’s moves of late, the Sanchez selection appears to be a wasted pick. The former Jets GM made a number of draft picks that have not panned out and he has a history of trading away middle-round picks to move up to get the players he wants. Perhaps that contributed to the Jets lack of depth because the middle rounds are where you find most of your reserves. Moving up in the draft worked with Darrelle Revis but not so much with the Dwayne Robertson, Dustin Keller and the aforementioned Sanchez. When you consider the overall production of many of his key draft picks and the lack of skill players he surrounded Sanchez with over the past two years, you can see why Tannenbaum is out of work as we speak. It did not help that he signed Sanchez to a ridiculous contract extension before the start of this season.
The Avery Johnson firing caught a lot of people off guard. The Nets got off to great start, at 11-4, and Johnson won the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for the first season. Three weeks later, he was out of work. Go figure. Perhaps we should have seen this coming. Prokhorov is known for being a George Steinbrenner-like owner, and after the Nets lost seven games in December the dynamic owner had seen enough.
I guess he felt that Johnson was not getting the production from the Blue Print that Prokhorov and GM Billy King had put together. Granted, Joe Johnson has not lived up to the expectations and Brook Lopez missed most of the December games, but Prokhorov was not trying to hear none of that. It is also no coincidence that Deron Williams started complaining about Johnson’s play calling shortly before the coach was jettisoned out of Brooklyn.
Coaches go into this business knowing that they will mostly likely get fired. It is the nature of the landscape. Normally it is not this bad but the unemployment rate in the coaching world spiked during the last week of 2012.