Wed, Jan 04, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Coaches face firing squad in NFL

By Billy Witz  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELES

Head coach Mike Sherman of the Packers leaves the field following the first half against the Vikings at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Jan. 9, 2005.

PHOTO: AFP

It had been 61 years since anyone had drop-kicked a ball in the NFL, but when Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie turned the trick Sunday, it didn't take long for the idea to catch on.

Soon after Flutie's boot, one owner after another conclude it was a fine thing to try with coaches.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf waited until Mike Tice wrapped up his post-game news conference Sunday evening, then had press releases handed out announcing Tice had been fired.

Then on Monday, the Turk began making the rounds. Dom Capers was told to clean out his desk in Houston. Jim Haslett apparently got his wish and was fired in New Orleans -- or was it San Antonio?

Mike Martz, who was cleared to return to work Sunday after recovering from a heart virus, was fired Monday by the Rams. And Mike Sherman was sent packing in Green Bay, where the question is will Brett Favre follow him?

Add to that 69-year-old Dick Vermeil, who told his Chiefs on Saturday night that he was retiring, and Steve Mariucci, who was fired just after Thanksgiving, and that's seven job openings.

When Oakland fires Norv Turner, perhaps as soon as today, it will be eight -- or one-fourth of the league.

The number of vacancies could grow if Bills owner Ralph Wilson decides to make a clean sweep of Mike Mularkey, along with general manager Tom Donahoe.

And there may also be another opening if Kansas City pursues Jets coach Herman Edwards.

So what gives? It's hard to argue that any of the firings have been unjustified. Capers, Haslett, Mariucci and Turner have a combined two winning seasons between them at their latest posts. Tice was sunk as much by the Vikings leading the league in off-the-field problems, which included him getting caught scalping Super Bowl tickets.

Martz and Sherman were caught in power plays, though both their fates were probably sealed on the same weekend two years ago.

The Rams, after miraculously recovering an onside kick, had a chance to beat Carolina but Martz, saying he was afraid Marc Bulger would throw an interception, instead settled for a field goal that sent the game in overtime. Once there, Bulger did throw an interception, and Carolina went on to beat Philadelphia and make it to the Super Bowl.

The Packers figured they should have been the ones Carolina had to beat. They were leading the Eagles, 17-10, and had them in a fourth-and-26 hole when Donovan McNabb hit Freddie Mitchell for a first down. The Eagles then drove for the tying score and won in overtime.

It turned out to be a last gasp for Sherman and Martz. Their teams made the playoffs last year by virtue of winning weak divisions, and collapsed this season.

However, what's surprising about all the firings is how few hotcandidates are available. Gregg Williams, the former Buffalo head coach who has coordinated the Redskins' defense the past two years, is now being reinvented a la Bill Belichick -- an recalcitrant defensive mastermind who has learned from a previous failure.

There are no coordinators of the order of Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Some, such as defensive coordinators Jerry Gray in Buffalo and Jim Schwartz in Tennessee and offensive coordinator Brad Childress in Philadelphia, are well regarded but suffering through poor seasons, while Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak may have trouble convincing anyone he does more than staple the game plan together for Mike Shanahan.

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