Being a head coach in the NFL is quickly becoming a hazardous duty. And the days of having one head coach at the helm for two or more generations are rapidly coming to a close. With Gruden's departure, there are only a handful of coaches left in the NFL who have been with the same team for more than four years.
Gruden becomes the eighth head coach to be released this season. San Fransisco, St. Louis, and Oakland all axed their team's had coach during the regular season, with Cleveland, the New York Jets, Detroit, and Denver all firing the head honcho after Week 17 was in the books.
Out the Door
Mike Nolan of San Fransisco was on the way out last year. Nolan lost his job as General Manager after an abysmal 2007 season, and was fired in October of 2008 when he failed to deliver a 49ers team capable of making the playoffs.
He lasted four years.
Scott Linehan of St. Louis compiled a record of 11-28 before being fired midway through the 2008 season. Apparently, though, misery loves company. Linehan was recently hired by the 49ers as their new offensive coordinator.
He lasted two-and-a-half years.
Lane Kiffin of Oakland has the distinct displeasure of working for the looniest owner in football right now, one Al "I'm not crazy, I'm eccentric" Davis. Davis was unhappy with Kiffin after a 4-12 season in 2007, and fired him in September 2008 over the phone.
Way to man up, Al.
Kiffin wins the prize with his ouster after one season.
Romeo Crennel was no surprise, even though he had a pretty stout resume as an assistant coach. Crennel has participated as a coach on six Super Bowl teams, winning with five of them.
However, his tenure with the Browns did not match his previous success; Crennel went 24-40 as a head coach, with one winning season in 2007.
Crennel lasted four years.
Another no-brainer was Rod Marinelli of Detroit. Marinelli went 10-38, and led the Lions to the lowest point of NFL history with an 0-16 record in 2008. In a sweeping move to clean the house and start over, the Lions also let go their Defensive Coordinator, assistant offensive line coach, secondary coach, and defensive line coach.
Marinelli lasted three years.
Mike Shanahan was released following the 2008 season after failing to lead the Broncos to the post season for three years in a row. He had been under fire for not winning a post season game since the retirement of John Elway, but appeared to make the turn after the 2005 season by defeating the Patriots at Invesco Field.
Of course, that was the Steelers magical year, and the Broncos lost to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship.
His last three years were a pedestrian 24-24, and Mike was relieved of his GM and coaching responsibilities soon after the season ended. Had he managed to lead the team to at least one win in his last two games, he might have lasted another year. But Denver blew both, and that, as they say, was that.
A bit of a surprise was Eric Mangini. "Mangenius" started off well, going 10-6 in his rookie year and winning the 2006 AFC Coach of the Year award. However, 2007 did not pan out well—the Jets went 4-12, and the "Mangenius" was beginning to draw fire from the front office.
After starting fast in the 2008 season, the Jets went on to lose four of their last five games, missed the playoffs for the second year in a row, and was uncerimoniously shown the door a day after the season ended.
No word yet on whether Brett Favre, the guy who came out of retirement to save the Jets until the coach screwed it up, will retire before he un-retires again to save another team.
Mangini lasted three years.
And now Jon Gruden gets the axe.
Not counting Shanahan—who could be the subject of an entire article of his own—Gruden was the longest-tenured head coach of any of the eight let go thus far. He spent seven years in Tampa Bay, taking the Bucs to the Super Bowl, and victory, in his first year there. Over his seven years of leadership, the Buccaneers amassed a record of 57-55.
Not spectacular, but he is the only head coaching victim this year to leave with a winning record besides Shanahan, who went 138-86 in Denver.
Shanahan and Gruden were the only two head coaches to win Super Bowls with their respective teams as well.
Besides Gruden and Shanahan, the longest stretch any of the coaches saw was four years, achieved by both Crennel and Nolan. I'll say that again. Four years.
I have socks older than that.
Of the eight coaches let go, only one has gone on to a new head coaching position. In the NFL, that is. Lane Kiffin took the helm at the University of Tennessee, and as expected, pulled a bit of a coup when he took some of the Raiders staff with him.
Al was not happy, nor was Kiffin's replacement. Welcome to the big league of back-stabbing, fellas.
Kiffin actually was able to pull off a six-year deal, but it is laden with performance requirements.
After taking over for the Browns, Mangini,who signed a four-year contract with Cleveland, expressed interest in keeping Crennel on as a defensive coordinator. Romeo has apparently said he would be willing to stay if the new guy wants him, so Crennel may be the only one of the group who doesn't have to buy a new house.
Mike Nolan was signed by the Denver Broncos as defensive coordinator under new head coach Josh McDaniels, who surprisingly signed a four-year contract with Denver.
Scott Linehan took the job as offensive coordinator with San Fransisco, who recently signed a four-year deal with Mike Singletary to lead their team.
Rod Marinelli has found work as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the Chicago Bears, who just resigned incumbent head coach Lovie Smith to a new four-year contract.
And Marinelli's replacement in Detroit, Jim Schwartz, was signed today as the new head coach of the erstwhile Lions.
The length of his contract? Four years.
Meanwhile, Seattle and Indianapolis had to replace coaches Nike Holmgren and Tony Dungy, both of whom retired from football after successful careers. Careers which came with both ups and downs.
Imagine that. These two coaches were actually allowed to fail. Maybe all is not lost.
Dungy's replacement was one Jim Caldwell, who has been with the organization since 2002, most recently holding the posotion of Assistant Head Coach. There has beenno word yet on a new contract.
Meanwhile, Mike Holmgren was replaced in Seattle by Jim Mora, Jr. In a break from the current model, Mora was given a five-year contract with the Seahawks.
His last stint as a head coach, however, was in Atlanta, where he daparted following his thrid year at the helm.
Short Road to Ouster
Is anyone picking up on the trend yet? Good, I'm glad you were paying attention.
Four years is not a lot of time, folks. It takes some time to get accustomed to a system. It takes time to learn existing players tendencies, and to integrate new players into a system that you are just learning yourself. It takes time to develop players and bring them around to your way of thinking.
Four years is a drop in the big bucket of time. You're still relatively a newlywed after only four years. At four years old, children are just beginning to speak in fully understandable sentences.
Anyone remember how quickly four years seemed to have flown by as you stood on the stage at your high school graduation? Or worse, watched your kids graduate high school when it seemed like only yesterday they had just begun as freshmen?
Four years is an initial military enlistment. How's that for a comparison? How many privates do you think are ready to lead a battalion after four years in the trenches? I'll answer that for you: NONE.
NFL head coaches take note: If you are just beginning your tenure, you have four years to bring your team success and glory. If not, then look for another job, because you aren't welcome anymore.
Current coaches, you aren't immune either. If during the next four years you don't win a Super Bowl, then find a good real estate agent. It won't matter how close you got, because runner-up won't be good enough. Your goal is to give your owner the opportunity to take the Lombardi trophy out of your hands and wave it around as if he actually did something.
Deny him his moment in the sun, and you will have failed.