Bill Parcells decided to walk away from coaching yesterday, a decision that was not an option for Pete Carroll of the New England Patriots and Ray Rhodes of the Green Bay Packers. Both men were fired after failing to get their respective teams into the NFL playoffs that start this weekend.

In another development, New Orleans Saints Coach Mike Ditka canceled a scheduled news conference yesterday and said he would be meeting with team owner Tom Benson later in the week to discuss his future with the organization after a 3-13 season. Saints General Manager Billy Kuharich, whose own job security may be shaky, also will be involved in those meetings.

Meantime in Pittsburgh, there is still speculation about Bill Cowher's future as coach of the Steelers after a 6-10 season. And in Miami, where the Dolphins backed into the playoffs by losing five of their last six games, there has been constant talk that Jimmy Johnson may walk away, especially if his team is eliminated Sunday in Seattle.

Parcells, 58, announced he was handing over the coaching duties of the New York Jets to defensive coordinator Bill Belichick, already anointed as his designated replacement when Parcells took the Jets job three years ago. Parcells said he would stay on as chief operating officer of the team, which is about to be sold to new ownership.

"I've coached my last game," Parcells said at a news conference at the Jets' Long Island practice facility yesterday morning, less than 24 hours after his team had beaten the Seattle Seahawks to finish at 8-8 after a dismal 1-6 start. "This is the end of my coaching career. . . . You can't fool yourself. The job has turned into a 365-day-a-year job."

Parcells has had heart problems and had said during the season he would return only if he felt he could muster the proper energy level to handle another year. Though the Jets did not make the playoffs in his third season as their coach, some believe he had one of his most masterful seasons on the sidelines in keeping his team together and winning seven of its last nine games.

The biggest surprise of the day was the dismissal of Rhodes after only one season in Green Bay. His team also finished 8-8 and was alive for a playoff spot Sunday until the Dallas Cowboys beat the New York Giants to win the final NFC wild-card berth.

The Packers were plagued by injuries this season, and quarterback Brett Favre, who had an off year, was hampered by a sore thumb since training camp. The Packers failed to make the playoffs after seven straight appearances, all under coach Mike Holmgren, and Green Bay General Manager Ron Wolf decided to make a change.

Rhodes was one of three black head coaches in the NFL, and the Packers were the only team in the league with black offensive and defensive coordinators, Sherman Lewis [offense] and Emmitt Thomas [defense]. Wolf fired Rhodes's entire staff a month after he described as "ludicrous" speculation that Rhodes's job was in jeopardy.

"The decision was extremely difficult because of the respect and admiration I have for all the coaches and families involved," Wolf said at a news conference in Green Bay. "For whatever reason, our players did not respond to this program. . . . I don't think [Rhodes] is pleased with it, but I think he understood. . . . Is he a different coach than I thought he was? The answer to that is yes."

Rhodes had signed a four-year, $4 million deal to replace the popular Holmgren, who left after the 1998 season to become head coach and director of football operations for the Seattle Seahawks.

"I'm not an excuse-maker," Rhodes said in a statement released by the Packers last night. "As a team we didn't get this thing done this year. I will be the last to try to make any excuses for anything. This is a business about getting things done. Everyone knows that when things don't happen, these are the circumstances that follow. . . . I'd like to say that as a young man I do feel like I have been wonderfully blessed to have been here with this football team, to be a part of the Packer organization. But, again, business is business."

NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, who is good friends with both Wolf and Rhodes, said he was concerned about Rhodes getting only one year as a head coach and decried the loss of another black head coach. He also called Wolf yesterday to push his friend and former teammate, Art Shell, the Falcons' line coach, for the head job.

"Last year when Ron was looking for a coach, he and I talked early in the process, and he told me he had his guy, Ray Rhodes," Upshaw said. "I felt great about that. When I talked to Ron today [Monday], I've never heard him sound so low. He said it just didn't work out."

As for Carroll, his job security has been shaky since his team went into a midseason swoon after starting 4-0 and being 6-2 at the halfway point. The Patriots lost six of their last eight games and also finished 8-8, scoring only 108 points in the final eight games.

"This is a business of accountability, and two years ago, we won the division," said New England owner Robert Kraft. "Last year, we barely made the playoffs, and this year we're 8-8. We need a momentum change."

Kraft had been expected to offer the head job to Belichick until Parcells's resignation ended that plan. Kraft also said he will re-evaluate his entire organization in the coming weeks, including Bobby Grier, his vice president of player personnel. Grier publicly criticized Carroll this season, saying the players he drafted would have done better if Carroll had played them more.