They used to spend hours imagining what would be. The glamorous life of an NFL head coach, hoisting Lombardi Trophies, universal acclaim ... Norv Turner and Mike Martz used to dream big over a steaming cup of chai in the West Hollywood flat the two lowly LA Rams' assistant coaches once shared, so many years and so many pounds ago. Thoughts of locking horns with general managers and firings were left for another time.
And at that point, Norv and Mike, high on hopes and dreams, broke out into surprisingly well-choreographed version of La Vie Boheme.
Martz got bounced out of the NFL in 2005. Turner was one of seven head coaches fired on Monday, Dec. 31, the day after the season ended, Black Monday. A handful of general managers also received pink slips to start the week. The NFL, lest you forget, is a multi-billion dollar business; all dreams must defer to those of anxious owners.
It seems like a different era when the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. It was. They had Kurt Warner. Arizona hasn't had a winning season since then. They pulled off the first part of a great illusion this season by winning the first four games, but the next nine games, all losses, were a reminder that teams need an offensive line and a halfway decent quarterback.
Out: Ken Whisenhunt, head coach; Rod Graves, general manager
Next: The Cardinals have a popular coaching candidate under contract, defensive coordinator Ray Horton, and another up and coming GM candidate in Steve Keim. Elevating both makes sense. Andy Reid is getting an interview for the coaching job.
Chan Gailey netted the Bills a total of 16 wins ... over three seasons. This year was especially disappointing after the team spent big on free agency only to wind up in third place - behind the Mark Sanchez-led Jets! - in the AFC East. Buffalo hasn't finished better than third in the division since 2007.
Out: Gailey, head coach
On his way out: GM Buddy Nix got demoted on Tuesday morning, and could be gone as soon as April.
Next: Syracuse's Doug Marrone and the previously mentioned Ray Horton are getting interviews. So is Ken Whisenhunt. Since the team seems likely to draft a quarterback, eventually, the next coach should have a knack for young signal callers or know an offensive coordinator that does.
Dumping Lovie Smith was Black Monday's biggest surprise. I'm not really sure why. The Bears won 10 games this season, but it was still a disappointing year by any standard. In the six seasons since their Super Bowl appearance, the Bears have made one trip to the playoffs. The Bears canned GM Jerry Angelo a year ago. Lovie's firing was the next logical move for a team that missed the playoffs after a 7-1 start.
Out: Smith, head coach
Next: General manager Phil Emery gets to hire a head coach of his very own for his second season in the front office. So far, Chicago is looking at the coordinator circuit for a replacement, getting interviews with Mike Sullivan and Mike McCoy.
This one was obvious as soon as Randy Lerner sold the team to petroleum and chicken-fried steak magnate Jimmy Haslam. The new owner cut his teeth as a Steelers shareholder. Cleveland's losing ways were not going to be tolerated. Whoever takes over inherits a fairly talented roster, with a big question mark at quarterback. Outgoing GM Tom Heckert did a decent job drafting. However, he mishandled the quarterback situation, going from Colt McCoy to Brandon Weeden while failing to trade up for RGIII in 2012.
Out: Mike Holmgren, team president; Tom Heckert, general manager; Pat Shurmur, head coach
Next: Everyone from Jon Gruden to Nick Saban has been talked about for this job. Haslam looks like a guy who wants a heavy hitter, but an up and coming coordinator like Horton might be the right fit.
Tyson Alualu, Blaine Gabbert, Derrick Harvey ... how did Gene Smith not get fired sooner? Shad Khan is supposedly one of the league's next great owners, and this is his chance to get past the question of why he didn't fire Smith sooner and move beyond the ridiculous Tebow talk. He needs to hit a home run with his GM pick. Head coach Mike Mularkey, one of last year's more questionable hirings, is in limbo too.
Out: Smith, general manager
Next: Khan is looking at wunderkinds like San Francisco's Tom Gamble and others from teams that have top-flight personnel departments. That seems like the smart way to go, but Jaguars fans should be hoping he finds the next Dimitroff rather than the next Pioli.
Romeo Crennel seems like he'd be a great fit for owning a neighborhood candy store -- a kindly, portly old gentleman handing out peppermints to li'l scamps. Head coaching just doesn't seem to be his calling. Owner Clark Hunt fired Crennel on Monday. He's leaving GM Scott Pioli in limbo for now.
Out: Crennel, head coach
Next: Is Pioli in or out? It might depend on what happens with the next head coach. Either way, it's a bizarre way to handle the situation and is going to leave desperate fans questioning Hunt's commitment to the team.
Surprisingly enough, shackling a franchise to Mark Sanchez got general manager Mike Tannebaum fired. Seriously, Tannenbaum and the Jets gave Sanchez a five-year, $58 million extension last spring. He's guaranteed $8 million in 2013, making it likely the Jets have the highest-paid, crummiest backup quarterback in the league. Rex Ryan did not get das boot. Considering he was the only thing preventing this team from turning into a total circus - the Jets defense did remarkably well this year, without Darrelle Revis - it's no wonder owner Woody Johnson wants to keep him. Why Ryan would want to stay is beyond me. His long-time assistant and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine turned down a contract extension, putting another big question mark around the coaching staff here.
Out: Tannenbaum, general manager
Next: Nobody really knows what's going on with the coaching staff. The rumor on Monday was that everyone not under contract was beefing up their resume. Ryan's press conferences have been cancelled for two days in a row. Until they get the GM question solved, expect chaos to continue.
The longest-tenured head coach in NFL, Andy Reid, will be looking for work elsewhere after a pretty successful run with the Eagles. Since being hired in 1999, Reid guided the Eagles to nine playoff appearances, including one NFC title. But the only question that matters in the NFL is "what have you done for me lately." Reid's Eagles have missed the playoffs two years in a row, with a spectacular meltdown this year.
Out: Reid, head coach
Next: The Eagles have mastered the salary cap under GM Howie Roseman, and have a roster loaded with young talent. Reid's sucessor has to figure out how to make this group a team again, not to mention fill a quarterback void with Vick likely getting pushed out. Oregon's Chip Kelly is the hot name from the college ranks this year, and he keeps getting mentioned in connection with the Eagles.
It's pretty amazing that Norv Turner lasted as long as he did in San Diego. Ditto A.J. Smith. Turner's Chargers were the league's poster children for failing to live up to expectations. A recurring feature of late-season pushes kept Turner out of the guillotine previously. Smith's drafting has left something to be desired, and he sacrificed the chance to land a handful of draft picks to spite Vincent Jackson for a short-term gain that never materialized.
Out: Smith, general manager; Turner, head coach
Next: With an established quarterback on the downhill side of his career, the next coach/GM combo in San Diego has the chance to nab some quick success. Andy Reid is being mentioned here, and so is Colts' miracle man Bruce Arians.