Digesting Black Monday in the NFL

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:10 PM ET

TORONTO - The games are over; let the games begin.

The NFL’s silly season is upon us and the Cleveland Browns began the after-hours party Monday by firing head coach Eric Mangini.

And, so, the game of musical chairs cranks up with John Fox, Jim Harbaugh, John Gruden and Jack Del Rio all looking for a cozy lap into which they might fall. Even Marty Mornhinweg, who after a disastrous turn in Detroit couldn’t have got himself hired as head coach of the Bad News Bears, is back in the running for a top job.

Marvin Lewis has gone from making history in Cincinnati to being history. The Bengals don’t even have to fire him; his contract is up and its likely nobody is happier about that than Lewis. Titans owner Bud Adams was meeting Monday with head coach Jeff Fisher about his future.

Adams wants to keep both Fisher and quarterback Vince Young, which has about as much chance of adding up to a happy ending as two dogs sharing one bone. Should Fisher get the hook, Football Night in America analyst Peter King speculates the San Francisco 49ers could be interested should their primary target, Jim Harbaugh, go elsewhere.

Speaking of Harbaugh, he’s expected to decide by Wednesday whether to take the 49ers job or take over at the University of Michigan.

The NFL these days is a dizzying array of rumours, wrapped in innuendo, surrounded by speculation and, oh yeah, all those reports out of New York about Tom Coughlin’s demise? Never mind. Giants owner John Mara confirmed Monday Coughlin will remain as coach next season. “In this society everybody wants to fire the coach all the time,” Mara barked at New York reporters. “The Yankees got knocked off in the playoffs and everybody wants to fire the manager. Well, we don’t do that here. He’s going to be our coach.”

So it goes. While the playoffs loom for 12 teams, for their 20 non-playoff brethren the next few weeks will be filled with fun, fantasy and more than a little finger-pointing. And, it started with Browns’ president/general manager Mike Holmgren tying the can to Mangini, who hung in a year longer than many expected.

No word yet on who gets Mangini’s job. Mornhinweg, Fox and Gruden all have ties to Holmgren, although there is speculation Holmgren awoke yesterday morning and spotted Mangini’s successor in his bathroom mirror. With eight division titles in 17 seasons as an NFL head coach, Holmgren might relish the prospect of grooming rookie quarterback Colt McCoy.

Last year Mangini’s Browns won their final four games to finish 5-11. Ironically, this year with limited talent on the roster, Mangini might’ve had his best performance ever as a coach. The Browns had 12 games decided by 10 points or less and upset New Orleans and New England. But they lost their final four games to finish 5-11. Good-bye Eric.

“This decision was not easy for me,” said Holmgren. “Although we have made improvements, my responsibility is to ensure that we establish a program that will allow this team to compete at a championship level.”

The team’s offence hasn’t been better than 29th in points or yards in the past three seasons and Mangini paid the price.

Meantime, Lewis was meeting Monday with Bengals owner Mike Brown while Yahoo!Sports reported that he wants to take the head coach opening at the University of Pittsburgh.

In Dallas, Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones was back-peddling after reports that he has decided to remove the interim tag and make Jason Garrett the head coach. According to league guidelines Jones has to interview minority candidates. But it’s mostly a sham. In the end, Garrett gets the job. But then, if there wasn’t controversy, it wouldn’t be Dallas, or Jones, right? Guy can’t cross the street without causing a four-car pileup.

And, just when Jack Del Rio seemed safe in Jacksonville after a sluggish start, the Jaguars coughed up a playoff spot to the Colts. Three years without a playoff spot say Del Rio is history. Two years and $10 million US left on his contract say Del Rio gets a reprieve.

As it turns out, money talks. It appears owner Wayne Weaver will bring back Del Rio and his coaching staff for next season.

Quick hits

The Houston Texans announced Greg Kubiak would return as head coach but fired defensive coordinator Frank Bush. Wade Phillips is expected to replace him ... Vikings named Leslie Frazier as their permanent head coach. Frazier led the Vikings on an interim basis following the firing of head coach Brad Childress with six games left in the season ...With the NFL playoffs set to begin this weekend, commissioner Roger Goodell sent an e-mail to millions of fans, assuring them that the owners and players will come to an agreement on a collective bargaining agreement. He just didn’t say what year they will come to an agreement ... Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali finished the regular season with an AFC-high 14.5 sacks. DeMarcus Ware led the NFC with 15.5 ... Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald had 90 catches and 1,137 receiving yards. He has hit the 90/1,000 mark four consecutive years. Most amazingly he did it without trashing his quarterback — which considering who the Cardinals threw out there would’ve been entirely understandable ... Running back Joe McKnight, ineffective and inactive much of the season, got the ball 32 times against the Bills and finished with 158 yards — most by a Jets rookie since 1964. He was kept ahead of Danny Woodhead simply because he had been a fourth-round pick. “He earned his way into the doghouse, and then he earned his way out of it,” general manager Mike Tannenbaum said ... Saints‚ centre Malcolm Jenkins underwent an MRI after inuuring his knee Sunday .... Bucs‚ Josh Freeman was tied with Matt Ryan for the third biggest gap between touchdowns and interceptions with 19, behind only Tom Brady (32) and Matt Cassel ... Seahawks signed WR Mike Williams to a three-year extension through 2013.

bill.lankhof@sunmedia.ca


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