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If Lovie Smith Got Fired, It Wouldn’t Be Unprecedented, But Nearly So

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Lovie Smith courtesy Buccaneers.com

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 1-5 under new head coach Lovie Smith, and two of the five losses have been humiliating blowouts. Smith is in the first year of a four-year deal, and as the Bucs’ third head coach in the six years post-Jon Gruden, was supposed to bring stability to the position, so it’s unlikely he’ll get fired so quickly into his tenure. A handful of others haven’t been so lucky, though.

I wanted to see if any other NFL teams had fired a head coach during the coach’s first season with the team. (There have been several one-and-done guys who have been fired after their first – usually woeful – season, with Rob Chudzinski and Cam Cameron recent examples.)

Turns out you have to go back 36 years – to 1978 – to find instances where an NFL team cut bait with a new coach during his first season. And it happened twice that season.

George Allen Fired in 1978

The first is the all-time record, one that can only be topped in a Wally Backman-like circumstance. Los Angeles Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom fired George Allen after just two preseason games, saying he had made “a serious error in judgement (sic) in believing George Allen could work within our framework.” Allen’s training camp had been criticized by players for its long workouts and as many as five players had walked out for one reason or another during the preseason.

On November 1, 1978, the San Francisco 49ers fired first-year head coach Pete McCulley  – nine games into a three-year contract – after a 38-20 loss at Washington that dropped the Niners’ record to 1-8. Offensive coordinator Fred O’Connor finished out the 2-14 season, and San Francisco hired a guy named Bill Walsh for 1979. That worked out pretty well. McCulley – who kept coaching for another decade – died in 1992 at the age of 61.

I could only find two other instances of a current team firing its coach during his first season. Before McCulley, there was John Whelchel, a former Navy Vice Admiral hired by George Preston Marshall to coach the Washington Redskins in 1949. After a 3-3-1 start, Marshall set Whelchel adrift, despite him actually winning his final game, 27-13 at Pittsburgh on November 6. (Marshall was in a stretch where he went through six head coaches in seven years. In 1954, Marshall got into a hotel lobby argument with Curly Lambeau after the team’s third preseason game and fired Lambeau on the spot, replacing him with Joe Kuharich, who somehow lasted five seasons.)

And in November 1941, the Pittsburgh Steelers fired Aldo “Buff” Donelli, who had only been their coach for just over a month. Donelli had not started the season as the Steelers’ head man (Bert Bell had, but the future NFL commissioner had “resigned” under pressure after an 0-2 start), but had gone 0-5 to run the team’s record to 0-7. As Donelli was concurrently coaching the football team at his alma mater, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh (his Dukes would finish undefeated at 8-0), a weary then-NFL commissioner Elmer Layden forced Donelli to choose between assignments and the Steelers lost. As they would for most of the next three decades.

Besides Bell’s two-game stint at the helm of the Steelers in 1941, a handful of other coaches have resigned during their first seasons in charge of NFL teams:

  • LeRoy Andrews quit the Chicago Cardinals’ job after a season-opening 13-3 loss at Portsmouth on September 23, 1931.
  • Alvin (Bo) McMillan retired despite a 2-0 record as coach of the Eagles in 1951.
  • Sid Gillman, who had led the San Diego Chargers during the 1960s and then retired, lasted 10 games in a 1971 comeback before retiring again.
  • Lou Holtz decided 13 games in the pro ranks were enough when he bailed on the New York Jets in 1976 with a 3-10 record. He would surface at Arkansas in 1977…
  • …which is where Bobby Petrino high-tailed it to after quitting 13 games into his first season with the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. That’s probably one Petrino wishes he had back, but not the only one.

Given the Bucs gave Greg Schiano two years (11-21) and Raheem Morris three (17-31), and neither of those two had NFL head coaching pedigrees even approaching Smith’s, it’s not likely Smith will be cleaning out his office anytime soon. But if it does happen, it won’t be the first time.

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October 14th, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Oh, It’s NFL Season

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buccaneers_jmccown12_playactionpass

Fun with EA Sports’ Madden Giferator.

I’m thinking the Bucs will be better in 2014 (better being 5-11 or 6-10) just because Lovie Smith is a competent NFL coach and they have a pretty good defense and some receivers who might be able to make Josh McCown look mediocre.

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September 7th, 2014 at 8:56 am

Posted in Bucs

Says The Guy Who Signed Vincent Jackson, Drafted Mike Williams And Kept Aqib Talib Around

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Mark Dominik dumb tweet

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March 28th, 2014 at 1:41 pm

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Fun Facts About The Last 100 NFL Coaching Hires

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With Tampa Bay’s official announcement of their hiring of Lovie Smith as their new head coach, I thought I’d publish something I worked on a while back but never got around to making public: data on where NFL teams look (and to whom) when hiring a new head coach.

Just because round numbers are fun, I keep a rolling list of the last 100 full-time NFL coaching hires (not interim guys) to see what attributes teams look for, how long they keep coaches around and stuff like that. I found the results interesting and hope you will, too. They’re after the jump.
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January 2nd, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Bucs Trade Aqib Talib to New England

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Old and Busted: Greg Schiano, October 16, 2012, after cornerback Aqib Talib was suspended for four games by the NFL: “He’s going to be back with us. You’ve got to just trust us on this one.”

New Hotness: Yeah, he’s not going to be back with us.

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November 1st, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Once Is A Mistake; Twice Is A Problem

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The first thing I thought when I read that the Steelers had been awarded a phantom first down in their game against the Jets Sunday was, “Wow. Two weeks in a row.”

Then I read the story and saw it was Pete Morelli’s crew that made the mistake. The same crew that gave the Redskins a first down they didn’t earn the week prior against Tampa Bay.

This latest SNAFU happened early in the second quarter on a 1st-and-10 play from the Jets’ 35, so it’s not quite the same as scoring on fifth down to nearly tie a game with just seconds to play. But this has to be addressed. Where is Mike Pereira on this?

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December 21st, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Five Down Territory

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It turned out not to matter, and not a lot of you saw it happen (few who did are likely to care), but the Washington Redskins apparently did get an extra down and used it to score their nearly-game-tying touchdown against Tampa Bay yesterday. Only one of the stranger endings to an NFL game that I can remember kept the mixup from mattering.
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December 13th, 2010 at 11:20 am

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A Few Things Right Quick

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Swamped today, but I wanted to get these things out there:

  • Yes, the USA got hosed on hosting the 2022 World Cup. It happens. Jeff Bradley nails it in that this wasn’t going to be The Thing That’s Going To Make Us (no one thing is). This is how the game works now, boys and girls. Sepp Blatter wanted to remain in power, someone who was going to run against him next election was Qatari, you head off that potential threat by giving his country a World Cup. Along with all the other political backscratching and graft that goes on whenever there’s huge money to be won or lost. I do know this, and you can file this away for when the 2026 World Cup is up for bid: your actual bid doesn’t matter, your actual presentation doesn’t matter, the visit by the FIFA people to see your country and your plans doesn’t matter, how well you could potentially host a Cup doesn’t matter. None of that matters. And you never have to listen to US Soccer again when they tell you that signing petitions or texting your vote matters, either (not that it ever did). The worst part? I had the best headline for a post all ready if the US had been selected.
  • Nothing like finding out at the last minute, but I’m calling a high school football playoff game tonight on AIA365.com at 7pm MT (9pm ET). It’s the Class 5A Division I semifinal between Hamilton (who’s 13-0 and looking for their third straight state title) and Mountain Pointe (who’s 10-2). It should be fun. Tune in.
  • Here’s why we can’t send people to Mars: Our best and brightest are coming up with stuff like this. (It might be mildly NSFW, depending on where you work, so beware.)
  • News anchors are so much fun.
  • This woman lives in Phoenix. Of course she does.
  • The first half of the ASU/U of A game last night was crap, but it had a thrilling ending. If you’re a special teams coach, send your resume to Mike Stoops, c/o the University of Arizona. Do it today.
  • Finally, the Bucs will wear the creamsicles Sunday against the Falcons. Good times.

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December 3rd, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Why Chris Myers Bugs The Hell Out Of Me

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Yesterday, just over three minutes to play, Tampa Bay leads San Francisco 21-0.

Myers: “So on fourth down, they’re going to punt it back to the 49ers, who will try and at least get on the scoreboard to avoid that home shutout.”

36 seconds later, after the punt, he turns to his partner, Kurt Warner and says…

“Now, if you’re on the 49er offense here, at this stage of the game, are you thinking ‘Let’s just try to get on the scoreboard?’

Oy, vey.

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November 22nd, 2010 at 12:42 pm

NFL = No Fun Live

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I think today may have been the first NFL game I have attended as a fan since about 1996…no, wait, 2000 (thanks to my awesome girlfriend, Brenda). Anyway, I’m thrilled the Bucs beat the Cardinals in a wild game that maybe wouldn’t have been that wild if Raheem Morris weren’t the dumbest man in America. But I can tell you this about going to NFL games:

Staying home is better.

With a big TV, NFL Sunday Ticket and/or NFL Red Zone, your own food and facilities and no obnoxious fans of the other team, home is definitely the way to experience the NFL these days. Replay challenges – which seem to take forever on TV – take forever and a day when you’re in the stadium waiting for them live. Commercial breaks are death. They can try showing Red Zone highlights on the big screen, but it’s not the same. I can’t change the channel myself.

As pro sporting event experiences go, University of Phoenix Stadium was actually quite good (my expectations have been beaten into the ground, truth be told). The gameday staff at the stadium couldn’t have been nicer (genuinely nice, it felt like). Concessionaires were also very friendly and efficient (it’s a different company than works Diamondbacks games at Chase Field, which are the polar opposite) and the prices were actually reasonable. It wasn’t hard to get in or out of the stadium (mostly because we got there early and most Cardinals fans left with two minutes to go). We didn’t get harassed at all despite wearing Bucs gear, another polar opposite from Chase Field.

But home’s the way to go.

(Going to the game did spare me having to hear Chris Myers call the game. I’ll disagree with Bill Simmons that this is the worst call ever, but it’s fairly lame. It probably doesn’t make the top ten list of dumb things Myers has done, though. And, oh, by the way, Arrelious Benn pushed off. I didn’t see that live.)

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October 31st, 2010 at 7:31 pm