The day after the regular season ends is always rough for head coaches, as four were fired by NFL teams: Jim Harbaugh by the San Francisco 49ers, Mike Smith from the Atlanta Falcons, Marc Trestman by the Chicago Bears and Rex Ryan from the New York Jets.
This doesn’t mean that front offices are done making changes. Who knows – maybe some playoff teams are going to lose their head coach following a wild card round loss. Last season six head coaches lost their jobs following the final day of the season. The Oakland Raiders fired Dennis Allen midway through the season, and Tony Sparano took over, going a more decent 3-8 in the meantime. He probably won’t get to keep the job.
Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
Not exactly fired. More like mutually agreed to part ways, but this was coming a long time ago. The surprising bit? Harbaugh was very good at his job, going 44-19-1 in four seasons with the team. From 2011 through 2013, he led the 49ers to the playoffs three times, reaching the conference championship game each time and the Super Bowl once, but not winning it. This season? Only 8-8, including losing four of the last five games, and missing the playoffs.
Harbaugh was signaled out as someone who’ll be replaced before the season even began. Rumors about feuds between him and the front office never ceased. What was the real reason he was up for termination despite having one year left on his contract? Some say it’s the general manager asking for offensive coordinator Greg Roman to be fired, using a $7.5 million per year extension as leverage. Harbaugh didn’t bite, and now he’s going to make $8.17 million a season for Michigan, with Roman probably coming with him to Ann Arbor. The 49ers are left with a front office that has never made the playoffs without Harbaugh and a lot of questions regarding the future.
Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears
This has been quite predictable since the middle of the season, when it was clear the Bears won’t make the playoffs and were en route to one of their worst seasons in a very long time. Trestman came to the NFL as a man considered to be a genius offensively from his CFL days, but stumbled to an 8-8 record during his first season and falling back to 5-11, trying to put it all on quarterback Jay Cutler in the end by benching him.
Trestman, general manager Phil Emerey and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer were all let go at the end of the season, as the Bears’ change of direction after Lovie Smith lasted only two seasons. They’re now left with an aging, often injured and overpaid defense, and a quarterback on a mega deal they’d love to get rid of. Trestman? There’s a good chance he won’t be a head coach in the NFL ever again.
Rex Ryan, New York Jets
It seems that each year is the last for Rex Ryan, and he continues to last, but a 4-12 season was the last straw. It might not be his fault, but the Jets deteriorated from being on the brink of making the Super bowl in 2009 and 2010 to one of the worst in the AFC. A very good defense head coach, Ryan never really got a potent offense going for the Jets, especially in recent years, as Mark Sanchez was exposed when tools around him were removed, and Geno Smith, so far, has turned out to be less than capable of doing a good job as a starting quarterback.
Ryan started his career for the Jets with a 20-12 record over two seasons, but missed the playoffs in the next four, going 26-38, never finishing above .500. He doesn’t want to be a defensive coordinator again according to him, but might be difficult for him to find someone that puts him in the head coach position without some buffer period.
Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons
Rumor has it that Smith would have been fired even if the Falcons made the playoffs. But they didn’t, capping off a second consecutive losing season. From 2008 to 2012, the Smith-Ryan duo took the Falcons to the playoffs four times, including being one drive away from going to the Super Bowl in 2012. But injuries tore this team apart in 2013 (4-12), and the Falcons, like the whole NFC South, never really got going this season, with Smith blamed more than once for terrible coaching decisions that have been a big part of his legacy in Atlanta.
Smith 55, compiled a 66-46 record with the Falcons in seven seasons but won just one playoff game in five, and the impression of him conservative in his play calling not to mention simply wrong whenever the pressure is on seems to be a big reason why finding another head coaching job soon is going to be very difficult for him.