Another NFL regular season in the books, another dozen squads in the playoffs, another 20 teams disappointed that they didn't make the postseason. Of those 20 teams, three have already announced they are looking for a new coach:
And this, of course, is why the day after the final regular season Sunday is called "Black Monday." It's the day coaches get fired.
To be sure, Trestman's track record--regular-season marks of 8-8 and 5-11 after inheriting a winning team from the previous coach--raises questions about his ability to be a head coach at the NFL level.
But in the cases of Ryan and Smith, the firings represent a stunning reversal of coaching reputations. Not long ago Ryan and Smith were considered to be among the best coaches in the NFL. In fact, Smith won the Sporting News Coach of the Year award three times.
As for Ryan: In 2009 and 2010, his first two seasons with the Jets, he led the team to the AFC title game--with then-rookie quarterback Marc Sanchez at the helm in 2009.
Smith, for his part, led the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first five seasons with the team (2008-2012). He, too, began his tenure with a rookie quarterback (Matt Ryan).
Here's the point: Ryan and Smith were successful early in their tenures, despite question marks at the quarterback position. But in the last two seasons, their teams went to pieces. Ryan's Jets finished 8-8, then 4-12. Smith's Falcons finished 4-12, then 6-10.
And so, Ryan and Smith find themselves out of jobs on Black Monday. Yet you could hardly say they were fired because they were not capable. Their track records suggest that they did the job well.
So, what's the lesson here? Is it proper to fire a leader with a proven track record if his recent results are disappointing?
Here's what recent NFL history tells us: Getting fired at the end of the season doesn't mean you're an incompetent coach. In fact, the lessons learned after a terminated first tenure often make a fired coach a better leader. Two quick examples:
1. Tony Dungy. He was fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2001 season despite a strong record (54-42 in six seasons), including four playoff appearances.
As it turned out, the firing worked out well for both the Bucs and Dungy. In the 2002 season, the Bucs won their first Super Bowl behind first-year coach Jon Gruden. So firing Dungy turned out to yield the desired result.
And yet, Dungy went on to win a Super Bowl too. In seven seasons with the Indianapolis Colts (2002-2008), he amassed a superb 85-27 record. The Colts made the playoffs in all seven seasons and captured a Super Bowl crown in 2006.
Here's the point: The Bucs didn't fire Dungy because he was a bad coach. The organization needed a change.
Likewise, Dungy clearly benefited from the chance to work with a new team. He recognized that the Colts--armed with quarterback Peyton Manning--might provide him with a better chance to capture a title. During all of his time in Tampa Bay, Dungy had never coached a star quarterback like Manning.
Not only did Dungy win with the Colts, but he deservedly received a lion's share of the credit when the Bucs won in his absence. Gruden was one of the first people to give it to him.
2. Pete Carroll. Prior to winning the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks last year, Carroll was fired not once but twice in his NFL career. First, he was fired after a 6-10 season with the Jets in 1994.
Next, he was fired following three solid seasons (1997-1999) with the New England Patriots. Having inherited talented squads from previous coach Bill Parcells, Carroll led the Patriots to the playoffs in his first two seasons, finishing with regular-seasons marks of 10-6 and 9-7. In his third season, the Patriots slipped to 8-8, and Carroll was sacked.
Returning to the Seahawks in 2010, Carroll has amassed a terrific 50-30 record in five seasons, making the playoffs in four of the five years. What did Carroll learn in the interim?
His biggest lesson, he told ESPN a few years ago, was the importance of the head coach having a say in personnel decisions. In returning to the NFL after a superb decade (2000-2009) as head coach at the University of Southern California, he wanted to make sure he had the authority to control which players were on his roster--and how much they got paid.
Seattle gave it to him. And he gave them their first title.
Dungy and Carroll are just two examples. The list of coaches fired on or near Black Monday who'd go on to win titles also includes:
- Bill Belichick, fired after five seasons (1991-1995) with the Cleveland Browns (37-45 record, one playoff appearance). He'd go on to win three titles with the Patriots, for whom he is still the head coach.
- Tom Coughlin, fired after eight seasons (1995-2002) with the Jacksonville Jaguars (68-60 record, four playoff appearances). He'd go on to win two titles with the New York Giants, for whom he is still the head coach.
You get the picture. If any part of it is transferable to the hiring and firing of leaders outside the realm of football, it's this: Sometimes fired leaders thrive if you give them a second chance.
Today you can count out Ryan, Smith, and Trestman. You can call them up-jumped assistants who just don't have the "stuff" to be head-coaching material.
Just remember: People have said the same about Dungy, Carroll, Belichick, and Coughlin. And those four have made them eat their words, to the tune of seven Super Bowl titles and counting.