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Black Monday: A Look At Coach, GM Firings In The NFL


It's Black Monday, the day after the end of the regular NFL season when teams that had disappointing seasons start firing coaches. We're going to talk about this and more with Emily Kaplan. She covers the NFL for Sports Illustrated, where she's a staff writer. Hey there, Emily

EMILY KAPLAN: Hey. How are you?

CORNISH: Good. So let's start with what's being describe as the end of an era. New York Giants' coach Tom Coughlin stepped down. And this is a guy who'd been with the team for 12 years, two Super Bowl titles under his belt, right? What happened?

KAPLAN: Yeah. Well, Tom Coughlin - yeah, it was a - kind of a long time coming, or everyone kind of knew it. He's 69 years old, and the bottom line is that six out of the last seven years, the Giants haven't been in the playoffs. And they kind of need to cut the cord, so it was a mutual parting.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, a team sort of jumping the gun on Black Monday - the Philadelphia Eagles, right? They're coaching change came early last week. Tell us what happened.

KAPLAN: Sure. They fired Chip Kelly, who, when he was hired three years ago, was the hot candidate. Everyone wanted him. He came from a super successful program at the University of Oregon and was seen as this offensive wizard. So them cutting ties with him kind of just admits that maybe they didn't have the patients to see if he could make it work.

CORNISH: Now, how much of a surprise is any of this, right? I mean, there are teams like the Cleveland Browns where there's, like, perennial change, and there's always speculation.

KAPLAN: Yeah. Well, you mentioned the Browns, and they're a model of inconsistency under owner Jimmy Haslam over the last three years. They've fired two presidents-slash-CEOs, three GMs and three head coaches. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have the Giants, who had a coach for 12 years and also a longstanding GM. So I think kind of what Black Monday always reminds us, is that, there really - it's so rare to have a happy ending in the NFL. It's just such a frail, you know, line of work, and you know, turnover's really high.

CORNISH: In order for all this to work, there needs to be a pipeline of editors, right? There needs to be applicants. In this gets to the idea of diversity in coaching, which is something the NFL's been talking about for a few years now. Give us the update. How well is the league doing on that note?

KAPLAN: Yeah. A couple years ago, they instituted something called the Rooney Rule, which really is affirmative action. It means that every NFL team with a head coaching vacancy must interview at least one minority candidate. Now, you'll never hear teams go out and, you know, kind of announce that, this is our Rooney Rule applicant, but sometimes, it's a little bit obvious. I think that we are seeing a little bit more diversity than we definitely have, especially before this rule was instituted. Earlier this year, you know, for the entire season, six out of the 32 NFL head coaches were minorities, either black or Hispanic. And I think that, you know, if you look at the reflection of the league, I think that that number should be probably higher.

CORNISH: Just to take a step back for a moment, I mean, for sports fans, people treat Black Monday kind of, you know, like an event, like the draft, and it can be funny, play for laughs. But for coaches, can this be traumatic? I mean, have you ever heard of coaches talking about what this experience is like going through this day?

KAPLAN: I think it's absolutely traumatic because the think about NFL coaches is that, you know, it's their life on the line. It's their career. But they're also responsible for a lot of people. When you hear about coaching trees, that means that there's a head coach, and they have five or six assistants under them who travel with them. So you know, when they're getting fired, it's not only their job and their family that has to uproot. They're responsible for five or six other men. And so if you think of how many lives are affected, that's a lot. So you know, I think this is a really high time of anxiety and a really stressful time for so many people.

CORNISH: Now, this is also the day that football fans basically digest the playoff matchups, right? They're either feeling really happy or probably bummed out by this point. What have been the highlights? What are the highlights for you, looking forward?

KAPLAN: Looking forward, I think that the NFC and AFC paint two really diverse pictures. The NFC has some of the most, you know, dominant teams all season. That's the Carolina Panthers, who almost went undefeated, and the Arizona Cardinals, who just have an absolutely fantastic offense and defense. Meanwhile, in the AFC, you have some teams that came in hot - Pittsburgh Steelers, the Kansas City Chiefs. Both come in on really ridiculous hot streaks. So there's going to be kind of a clash of a titans going forward.

CORNISH: That's Emily Kaplan. She covers the NFL for Sports Illustrated. Emily, thanks so much.

KAPLAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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