Divorce is an ugly thing. Sometimes a split is the only way, either the fire goes out or it's a bad mix of oil and water. Occasionally two sides can keep the functional partnership together, for the kids. In the NFL, most divorces play out behind closed doors, until Black Monday. The first day after the end of the regular season is the league's equivalent to Divorce Court, a reality show where two sides air their dirty laundry for the world to see.
Five head coaches and one general manager lost their jobs on Monday. There could be more breakups coming too. Naturally, it's only right to grade each parting of ways. Once there are more hirings, more promised rings doled out, we'll grade those moves too.
Browns fire Rob Chudzinski
Chud learned his fate as soon as he got off the bus home from Pittsburgh. (I wonder if the team gets its gas rebate from Pilot Flying J). The Browns packed up his stuff and put it on the corner while he was away coaching the Jason Campbell-led leftovers the front office gave him. As NFL divorces go, this was as ugly as it gets.
The Browns went from the distant, uninterested partner to the charming, but self-absorbed significant other who will never stop chasing the idea of something better. When the other NFL owners approved Jimmy Haslam as the Browns next owner in October 2012, the truck stop CEO expressed his management philosophy of hiring good people and letting them do their job. He hired Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi. It's their team to run, and their egos have them enacting the league's next failed attempt — and Cleveland's third — to recreate the Bill Belichick Patriots.
Hiring Chud looked like a mistake from the start. His reputation was staked on two seasons with Cam Newton. The front office talked up his local ties, that he was from Toledo and grew up idolizing the Browns. Maybe they'd saved his parking space from his time as Romeo Crennel's OC there in 2007 and 2008.
Whether or not Chud had head coaching chops, he didn't get a fair shake to prove himself with the Browns. Someone in the front office leaked something about not holding players accountable. Then again, the front office gave Paul Kruger a $40 million deal and gave the head coach the Weeden/Hoyer/Campbell hydra at quarterback.
As with any divorce, it's the children that suffer most. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton was once a popular head coaching candidate, a guy wronged in Arizona last year. Now his future after one year in Cleveland is up the next guy. The same goes for Norv Turner ... who had to watch the Chargers actually win a must-win game last weekend.
Who will be the new coach? It'll have to be a young coordinator, smitten with the idea of running his own ship and lured into the bedroom by a smooth-talking truck stop magnate, a man who looks like Buster Bluth and that guy who used to dispense hot takes on the NFL Network.
Grade: F, someone needs to call the hotline on behalf of Chudzinski.
Washington fires Mike Shanahan et al
Remember going over to that one friend's house whose parents would always argue while you played Nintendo 64? The only reaction you had when you heard they split up was "what took so long?" Then there was the question of whether you wanted to hang out with them at their dad or their mom's place. That's what happened in Washington. Firing Mike Shanahan seemed inevitable months ago, after the coach and owner got all weird about the kid, RGIII.
Shanahan's credentials have always seemed dubious to me since John Elway retired. He does deserve some credit though; it's not easy to make Dan Snyder the slightly more sympathetic figure in all of this ... or at least culpable in creating the mess, as usual.
Cap penalties aside, it was Shanahan who had control over personnel and did a terrible job working within those restrictions. He also let himself become the latest victim of Jim Haslett's swindle, the one where he convinces someone that he's a defensive coordinator.
Grade: B, Shanny was only part of the problem in Washington.
Buccaneers fire Greg Schiano
Sometimes two parties just aren't the right fit for each other. They give it a try and walk away when it doesn't work. And then there's Stanley Kowalski.
Maybe there was a time when a coach could run his locker room with dumb platitudes about the right way (his way) and wrong way of doing things and lots of yelling. When the Buccaneers were losing, there were whispers about disgruntled players. When they started winning games, players changed their tune, on the record. Therein lies the problem with the Kowalski school of coaching.
Grade: A, getting out before crashed victory formations turned to something more sinister.
Buccaneers fire GM Mark Dominik
Schiano's firing was obvious. Mark Dominik's ouster took a little more thought.
Dominik became the Bucs GM in 2009, the same year the team hired Raheem Morris. After a three-win season to start, the arrow shot up in 2010 when the Bucs went 10-6 largely because of outstanding play from Josh Freeman and late-round rookie jewel Mike Williams. Dominik's drafts were solid, giving the team a good foundation for whoever replaces Schiano. And once the Glazers finally opened the check book, the Bucs made spent big on key players like Vincent Jackson and Darrelle Revis.
But some people can never get past their old relationships. Dominik carried the torch for Freeman just a little too far. It burned the franchise by causing an ugly public spat that revealed the true nature of the head coach, and, more importantly, held back the team on the field.
Grade: B, the Bucs needed (another) fresh start, but the new guys get a good head start thanks to his work.
Lions fire Jim Schwartz
Detroit did get better during the five-year reign of Jim Schwartz. He turned them into a solid 7-win type team after nearly a decade of 2- and 3-win seasons and the infamous 0-fer that got him hired in the first place.
Given another year, I'm not so sure Jim Schwartz wouldn't have gotten involved in some kind of life insurance scam to get an extra win. He turned into the sweaty, desperate ne'er-do-well mixed up at the center of noir film. He led the Lions to the playoffs once, 2011, and spent the next two years justifying the team's "undisciplined" label.
Vikings fire Leslie Frazier
All Leslie Frazier did was waste three years of Adrian Peterson in his prime. He's the spouse that forgets your anniversary most years. He did make one forgettable trip to the playoffs last season, equivalent to picking up something at the quick stop to mark that special day. Getting stomped by the Packers last January only underscored the team's most fundamental problem: no quarterback.
Minnesota's struggles weren't all on the quarterback though. The defensive performance declined over the last two years, from a 3.1 percent DVOA in 2012 to a 10.4 percent DVOA this season (using Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, higher positive numbers for defenses indicate greater success for the offenses they're trying to stop).
GM Rick Spielman, the guy who drafted Christian Ponder, is sticking around, tasked with fixing the QB mess he helped create.
Grade: C, Frazier was uninspiring as a head coach, but the QB situation wasn't his fault.
Texans hire Bill O'Brien
Gary Kubiak eventually turned a perpetual expansion team into a contender in a weakening AFC. But you can only sit on the couch drinking Schlitz and giving your partner the "good enough" shrug for so long.
O'Brien steps into a good situation, arguably the best of any current team with a coaching vacancy. Houston has a solid nucleus in place The former offensive coordinator gets his choice of quarterbacks with the first overall pick in the upcoming draft, though he's going to have to find some offensive line help for whoever that turns out to be.
Penn State went 15-9 during O'Brien's tenure there, which is pretty impressive considering the situation he inherited. Contrary to what the West Virginia edition of the Bob Loblaw Law Blog, there's plenty of politicking at the college level too. O'Brien had some experience with that, from a report at Penn Live:
"You can print this: You can print that I don't really give a ---- what the ‘Paterno people' think about what I do with this program. I've done everything I can to show respect to Coach Paterno. Everything in my power. So I could really care less about what the Paterno faction of people, or whatever you call them, think about what I do with the program. I'm tired of it."
That should equip him to work with an incumbent GM closely tied to the guy that just got fired.
ESPN hires Tim Tebow
The perfect marriage does occasionally happen. Skirting the servers at Equally Yoked, the network that stoked the fires of the Tebow phenomenon to towering inferno levels ran back into his arms, probably embracing on a beach somewhere with a mysterious extra set of footprints that were too big to be Paul Finebaum's. He's now a college football analyst with ESPN for the foreseeable future. He does have an out clause in his contract if he goes back to the NFL, but that's not going to happen.
Grade: A, hooray for happy endings.