It’s always troubled me that so many fans and media look forward to “Black Monday” in the NFL with anticipation, excitement and even satisfaction. Yes, I understand that the seven head coaches and five general managers fired last Monday were paid millions of dollars a year just to win football games, and when they didn’t there had to be accountability. But is the crushing of a man’s dream, which he’s worked his entire life to live, really something for us to treat with such utter callousness and for too many, joy?
I’m fine with what happened in Philadelphia to Andy Reid and the Eagles. While Reid toiled nine seasons as a college assistant coach and seven more as an NFL assistant, 16 years of his life to earn his chance to be a head coach in the NFL, he may actually come out of this one better than the Eagles. It took him less than one work week to get what may be a better job in Kansas City, with sweeping powers to control his fate and a team that could contend in his first year. While he failed to accomplish his goal in Philly, a Super Bowl championship, Reid did lead the Eagles to seven playoff appearances, five conference title games and one Super Bowl. My message to Eagles fans who celebrated last Monday: Be very careful what you wish for — and wish the best for Reid — because he earned it.
There are some similarities with the Lovie Smith story in Chicago. Smith worked 24 years; three in high school, 13 at almost too many colleges to count and eight as an NFL assistant to earn his job with the Bears. He got fired following a 10–6 season, and nine total years in which he compiled an 81-63 mark, made three playoff trips and one Super Bowl appearance. The Bears had made just two playoff appearances in the 12 seasons prior to Smith’s arrival, and went 21 seasons between its only Super Bowls. Smith had two major failings in Chicago. He showed no grasp of the offensive side of the game and at times near complete disdain for anyone who dared ask him about it. Smith’s time had come and the Bears needed a change, but the fans and media celebrating his demise in fact owe him a thank you and best wishes; not the disdain with which many are celebrating his departure.
For Romeo Crennel, Ken Whisenhunt and Pat Shurmur, recent history is not as kind. While Whisenhunt did lead Arizona to its only Super Bowl appearance during the 2008 season, his Cardinal clubs had at least a six-game losing streak in each of the last three seasons. Crennel oversaw the worst team in the NFL in 2012. Shurmur has to know his 9-23 head-coaching record just doesn’t cut it, no matter how bad things were when he took over.
But talk to NFL insiders and they will tell you Whisenhunt is a brilliant offensive mind who failed at least in part due to the cards he was dealt, and he will be a head coach in the league again. They will tell you there isn’t a better human being or sharper defensive coach in the league than Crennel. You’ll learn that Shurmur didn’t fail for lack of want-to or know-how. Again, they all needed to be fired, but the perception that their removal is a positive for the clubs they leave is a long way from having been proven true.
I will admit, Norv Turner and Chan Gailey are a bit tougher to feel bad for. Gailey toiled 25 years as a college and NFL assistant and USFL head coach before getting his first top job with the Cowboys, which ended badly after just two seasons before he invested another nine seasons and was actually out of the game for a year before the Bills job. But he was a surprise choice in Buffalo and clearly the wrong one. Turner was in his third try after seven seasons running the Redskins and two in charge of the Raiders. And the disappointment in San Diego in 2011 and 2012 had to be his third strike. But these are men who have devoted their lives to the game and the league, not the punchline they’ve become in recent days.
Yes, coaches are hired to be fired in the NFL and all seven of these coaches’ time was up. But none of them deserves the reactions received on their way out the door. The NFL is too special for Black Mondays to be celebrated.