Last season, there was relatively little head coaching turnover in the NFL. Two coaches, Miami's Dave Wannstedt and Cleveland's Butch Davis, failed to last the season and another, San Francisco's Dennis Erickson, was ousted just after the season ended.
The first coaching change of this season came Monday when the Detroit Lions fired Steve Mariucci and made defensive coordinator Dick Jauron their interim coach. There likely are more changes to come, with these coaches seemingly in the most danger of being replaced:
* Dom Capers, Houston. Someone will take the fall for the Texans' season of ineptitude.
* Mike Martz, St. Louis. The NFL Network reported that Martz is feeling better and is considering making a return to the Rams this season if he receives medical clearance. But with plenty of friction between him and the front office, few in the league have been expecting him to return to the club after his leave of absence to undergo treatment for a heart valve infection.
* Mike Sherman, Green Bay. He signed a contract extension before the season, but first-year general manager Ted Thompson nevertheless might want a coach that he hired rather than one he inherited.
* Brian Billick, Baltimore. The Ravens have been among the league's most disappointing teams and have looked undisciplined at times.
* Norv Turner, Oakland. He wasn't owner Al Davis's top choice in the first place. Some people in the league thought he might not make it back for this season, and the Raiders again are below .500.
* Jim Haslett, New Orleans. Will the Saints' unique circumstances since being displaced by Hurricane Katrina keep owner Tom Benson from dismissing his coach? It's unclear at this point.
* Dick Vermeil, Kansas City. He won't be fired, but he could be headed back into retirement after this season.
Among the NFL assistants being mentioned by some league observers as candidates for the Detroit job are Washington Redskins defensive boss Gregg Williams, former head coach of the Buffalo Bills; and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Russ Grimm, the onetime Redskins guard who was a finalist for the head coaching job in Chicago when the Bears hired Lovie Smith. But Jauron seems to have a better chance than most interim coaches of hanging around for a second season. He is a former Lions player who has had some success as an NFL head coach, directing the Bears to a 13-win season in 2001.
Millen Takes Some Blame
Matt Millen, president of the Lions, fired his handpicked coach Monday. But Millen didn't place the blame for the team's struggles solely on Mariucci, saying he deserves "plenty" himself.
When Millen left the broadcast booth in January 2001 to oversee the Lions' football operations, the team was coming off a 2000 season in which it went 9-7. The club has gone 20-55 since then, including 4-7 this season. But Millen seems to have the confidence of the Ford family, which owns the franchise. He signed a five-year contract extension this year, although the salaries in the deal reportedly are not guaranteed.
"It hurts," Millen said. "It really does. We've not won here for a long, long time. . . . If anything, you're more resolute and determined. You're just downright ticked off to get this done." . . .
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw met Monday in New York with Benson and Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis to discuss plans for the vagabond team for next season, without reaching any decisions. Tagliabue is scheduled to attend the Saints' game Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Baton Rouge, La.
Benson also is scheduled to attend the game after skipping the club's most recent game in Baton Rouge. The owner was upset about how he was treated the first time the Saints played at LSU's Tiger Stadium this season. He got into a pair of confrontations after the game, lunging at a camera crew and getting into a yelling match with a heckling fan. On Monday, Tagliabue is scheduled to be in New Orleans to meet with city leaders and tour the Superdome. . . .
The league issued a written statement yesterday denying that its officiating department had informed Seahawks Coach Mike Holmgren, as Holmgren indicated Monday, that touchdown catches by New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey and wide receiver Amani Toomer during Seattle's overtime win Sunday should have been ruled incompletions. Shockey had the ball jarred loose by a hit on his second-quarter reception, and Toomer did his best to keep his feet in bounds in the back of the end zone on his fourth-quarter catch. Both plays were reviewed by instant replay and called completions.
Holmgren, a member of the NFL's competition committee, also was miffed that he had to call a timeout in overtime to prompt a booth review of a key would-be catch by Shockey. There are no coaches' challenges in overtime, and no review of the play was ordered by the replay official until Holmgren's timeout provided more time for consideration. Shockey lost the ball on the play, and the ruling on the field was that he fumbled and the ball had been recovered by the Giants. After the replay review, however, the play was called an incompletion. . . .
When the San Diego Chargers pressed to have defensive end Osi Umenyiora included in the draft-day trade last year that sent quarterback Eli Manning to New York, the Giants refused. They said they were prepared to call off the deal before they'd part with Umenyiora. Good move. The speed-rushing end has 10 sacks this season; two of them came Sunday. . . .
The Bears signed former Redskins offensive lineman Lennie Friedman to a one-year contract and placed wide receiver Airese Currie on injured reserve.
Specter Weighs In on T.O.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said during a news conference this week that he thinks the Philadelphia Eagles' deactivation of wide receiver Terrell Owens for the final five games of the season is inappropriate and might violate antitrust law. Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he might refer the matter to the committee's antitrust subcommittee.
"I do not believe, personally, that it is appropriate to punish him" by keeping him from playing for any team the rest of the season, Specter said, according to the Associated Press. "He's not committed a crime. He's committed a breach of contract, and what they're doing against him is vindictive."
Specter indicated he is not a supporter of Owens, but thinks the Eagles' response should have been to withhold his pay or perhaps even sue him for damages. Instead, the Eagles suspended him for four games without pay, and now will pay him but deactivate him for the rest of the season. The players' union challenged the punishment but arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled last week that both the suspension and deactivation were justified.
Jesse L. Jackson, the civil rights leader who has been a vocal supporter of Owens in recent weeks, also expressed his objection to Owens's deactivation.
"The punishment is disproportionate to the infraction," Jackson said in a telephone interview. "It seems that management is trying to make a statement far beyond Terrell Owens, and every player in the NFL should be concerned. " . . .
Monday night's defeat in Indianapolis was only the second regular season loss for Ben Roethlisberger as the Steelers' starting quarterback. His regular season record dropped to 18-2. The loss to the Colts also marked the first time that a team other than New England beat the Steelers with Roethlisberger in the lineup. The Patriots beat the Steelers, with Roethlisberger playing, during last season's playoffs and again early this season. . . .
The 49ers are going back to Alex Smith, the top overall selection in the NFL draft in April, as their starting quarterback. The club has rotated Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett as its starter the last five weeks while Smith has been sidelined by a knee injury.