The NFL's firing-hiring cycle began in earnest yesterday when three NFL head coaches were let go less than 24 hours after the regular season ended. Dave Campo in Dallas, Dick LeBeau in Cincinnati and Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville became the first no-surprise casualties of their respective teams' dreadful 2002 seasons and the Cowboys apparently were poised to hire Bill Parcells.

The Dallas Morning News reported yesterday that Parcells had agreed to a four-year deal that would pay him $4.5 million a season, making him the second-highest paid coach behind the Redskins' Steve Spurrier, who just finished the first season of a five-year, $25 million deal. But Parcells's agent, Jimmy Sexton, told ESPN that no deal had been finalized.

The Morning News reported Parcells was expected in Dallas on Thursday, though no news conference had been scheduled.

At least one of those new openings may hold promise for Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, who league sources said yesterday is expected to be on Cincinnati owner Mike Brown's short list of candidates, along with St. Louis defensive coordinator Lovey Smith, also a minority candidate, and Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.

Those sources also said Lewis could be a candidate with the Detroit Lions, but only if team president Matt Millen is retained by owner William Clay Ford. The Lions are expected to fire head coach Marty Mornhinweg later this week, and Millen's status still is in doubt. Ford reportedly was vacationing in Florida yesterday.

If Millen stays on, Lewis's chances for the Lions job would improve considerably. The Fords may also be interested in talking to former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green, who sat out the 2002 season but said yesterday he is ready to entertain offers from all comers -- except the lowly Bengals.

Several league general managers said yesterday that Green has been openly campaigning for the Jacksonville job, and that he wants total control of the football operation wherever he goes in terms of making all decisions on personnel and his coaching staff.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said again yesterday he also has spoken with Green about the Dallas job, but it appears the only way Green could land there is if Parcells decides to back out, which he's been known to do in years past. Another league source said that Parcells had even spoken to the Lions over the last two weeks, but one of his closest friends said yesterday he expects the former Giants, Patriots and Jets coach to take the Dallas job.

"I know Bill is anxious to coach again," he said. "[Since a recent divorce], he feels a lot better about himself mentally and physically, and he can work with anyone, as long as the focus is all about winning. Jerry Jones needs him, too. A lot of their suite leases are up, and a guy like Bill will get those fans excited again."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also were following through on their request to receive compensation from any team that signs Parcells. He had flirted with the Bucs last year before backing out, and the team claims he signed a contract to coach the team. A league spokesman said yesterday the Bucs have requested a hearing with league counsel Jeff Pash on the issue, and that could occur on Thursday.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue would have the final word on any compensation decision. Other sources said yesterday the league would have a hard time awarding compensation considering Parcells never worked a single day for the Bucs, and performed no services for the team before deciding not to take the job.

Lewis declined to comment on his future yesterday at Redskins Park. His unit finished fifth in the league in total defense this season.

As for the fired coaches, only Coughlin's departure after eight seasons may have raised a few eyebrows. A former Parcells disciple, he was the expansion franchise's first and only coach, taking the team to the AFC title game in his second season, but three straight losing seasons and his reputation as being somewhat ornery (both to players and fans) were major factors, along with dwindling attendance and a 6-10 record.

"After listening to the same thing over and over, you can have a tendency to shut it out," cornerback Jason Craft told the Associated Press yesterday.

Campo, a former Cowboys defensive coordinator for 11 years, had three straight 5-11 seasons. "The only regret I have is that we didn't get it done," Campo said.

Neither did LeBeau, who finished with a franchise worst 2-14 record this season in his second full year as head coach. He finished with a 12-33 record, a .267 winning percentage that was the lowest among eight head coaches in team history.

"I got the job, I kept it for three years, and I lost the job," he said in a statement released by the team. "In between, I worked as hard as I could."

In Seattle, Mike Holmgren was meeting with team owner Paul Allen and club president Bob Whitsitt about the future direction of the team. Whitsitt reportedly wants Holmgren to give up his general manager duties and focus on coaching, and perhaps jettison some of his defensive assistants.

Holmgren's team won its last three games of the year and finished 7-9 in his fourth season. Holmgren has a 31-33 record over that span after signing an eight-year, $32 million deal with the team. Sources said Holmgren still wants final say on football decisions.

There also has been speculation around the league that unless the 49ers go to the Super Bowl, head coach Steve Mariucci, with one year left on his contract, will not be retained. Holmgren, a former offensive coordinator for the 49ers, also has been mentioned as a possible replacement if the 49ers don't retain Mariucci.