It's Winter, Time For NFL Teams To Shed Their Coaches

It's culling time in the NFL — coaches who have not performed up to par this season are out and new coaches are starting to step in. Sports correspondent Mike Pesca speaks with NPR's Rachel Martin about the latest hirings and firings, as well as this week's wild-card games.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And it is coach firing season in the NFL. A new year brings in a batch of new head coaches. More on who's gotten the axe and who's signing shiny new contracts in a moment, but first we have some of last night's games to talk about.

NPR's Mike Pesca joins us to run through them. Hey, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hey.

MARTIN: Two big wild card matches ups - matches up - that's a new word. Match-ups yesterday. I'm just so excited because I actually watched one of these games. The Chiefs against the Colts, I mean the Saints also faced off against the Eagles. But can we start with that first game because I stayed up, I watched it. It was amazing.

PESCA: Stayed up to watch, 7 in the East? Come on.

MARTIN: Yes, I did.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: That's right, you do get up early. So I'm sitting on the couch with my 6-year-old during this game telling him: This could be the greatest game I've ever seen. And he said, No. And I said: I'm telling you, I'm telling you, there was a 28-point comeback in this game.

MARTIN: I know.

PESCA: Indianapolis was down 28. They won the game. That's the first time that's ever happened in regulation - well, maybe the second time it's ever happened in regulation. The final score was 45-to-44, and that score has never been achieved. It was amazing and my 6-year-old saying, No. I'm saying, yes. This game couldn't have been more exciting. And, you know, so many records - like they combined for over a thousand yards of offense.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PESCA: There was no defense, by the way. It was just incredible.

MARTIN: Then I went to bed. But then there was another amazing game.

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: A one-point decision in the first game, two points decided the Saints-Eagles game though, on the very last play?

PESCA: Yes, last second field goal. And I think both of these games epitomize the NFL. Because they were so, so entertaining but they were so, so brutal. There were so many injuries in these games and the two are not unconnected, how entertaining and how brutal they are. I mean in the Eagles game, the Kennan Lewis, who plays defensive back for the Saints, went out with a head injury, a concussion and they kept him off the field.

And right the next play, the Eagles go at, you know, they complete forward passes to the guys who took over his position. And then he's on the sideline arguing to come in the game. And there's this, you know, head trauma decision that they have to make. It's a different NFL. It's just - it's putting it right there. That's - it's one of the things that makes this as a compelling a sport as there is.

MARTIN: OK, so more games today. Chargers versus the Bengals, San Francisco at Green Bay. It's going to be cold.

PESCA: It's going to be called. It could be minus-30 with wind chill. I don't know if Green Bay will take that. The Weather Channel is doing all these specials on the game. And yeah, they do say especially for fans, don't have any exposed skin, you will get frostbite.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK, on to the hiring and firing of the NFL coaches. Were there any surprises in all this?

PESCA: Well, I mean, Rob Chudzinski of the Browns was fired after a year. That's not a huge shock - about 14 coaches in history have. One of them is a guy named Pete Carroll who's coaching the team right now that's likely to win the Super Bowl. It's usually a quick trigger.

But it's pretty easy. If you go down the list of the best quarterbacks, those guys are all playoff quarterbacks with the exception of maybe Jay Cutler. If you go from the bottom of the list of the worst quarterbacks, those guys are all the coaches who got fired. So you have to have a good quarterback to succeed in the NFL.

MARTIN: Were there a lot of people who were let go this season?

PESCA: It's up to seven. Mike Munchak of the Titans was just fired the other day. And, you know, I think that owners are easily displeased and fan bases are displeased. There are too many coaches who are fired logically. The thing is we don't know who are the bad firings and who are the good firings.

I think in retrospect we could say a guy like Lovie Smith, who coached the Bears to 10-and-6 season last season, maybe shouldn't have been fired. And guess what? He just got hired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So, retribution for Lovie.

MARTIN: Good for Lovie. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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