Today was not a good day to be a head coach in the National Football League. Dave Shula was replaced as the Cincinnati Bengals’ head coach, and Jim Mora resigned from the New Orleans Saints.
Dave Shula had his father’s prominent jaw but not his knack for winning. He was replaced by offensive coordinator Bruce Coslet, who will coach the team for the rest of the season. Coslet, a former New York Jets head coach, rejoined the Bengals prior to the 1994 season after a prior tour as offensive coordinator.
“I’ve asked Dave to step aside as head coach. That’s a hard thing for me to do,” Bengals general manager Mike Brown told a news conference. “He’s good people, worked hard. … We just didn’t get the wins. In this game, in this business, you have to do that.”
Shula is the first NFL coach to lose his job this season.
“I wish Bruce Coslet and the Bengals all the luck in the world,” said Shula, who stood with Brown before reporters. “I thank Mike for the patience he’s shown through the years as we’ve struggled to put a winner on the field.”
Shula, 37, was the youngest coach in the NFL and one of the least successful. He was 19-52 in four-plus seasons and lost 50 games faster than any coach in league history.
His final loss was one of the most demoralizing. The Bengals blew a 21-point lead in San Francisco on Sunday, giving up a pair of touchdowns in the closing minutes for a 28-21 defeat that left them 1-6.
It is only the second mid-season coaching change in the franchise’s 29-year history. The last such change also followed a loss in San Francisco — Bill Johnson was replaced by Homer Rice in 1978 after a 28-12 loss to the 49ers left Cincinnati winless in five games.
Shula lost his job nine months after his father, Don, resigned from the Miami Dolphins. The elder Shula had a career record of 347-173-6, including a pair of victories over Dave’s Bengals in the only father-son head coaching matchups in NFL history.
Mike Shula, the offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is the last member of the family still coaching in the NFL.
Dave Shula got his first head coaching job in part because of the family name, but he never fulfilled its legacy of winning. The Bengals’ best season under Shula was last year, when they went 7-9 and created expectations that they would contend this season.
The 1-6 start doomed Shula, who was in the final year of his contract and probably needed to make the playoffs to get an extension.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Shula’s coaching career is that he lasted so long with such a bad record. His longevity was the result of Brown’s patience.
Brown hired Shula in part because he was the antithesis of Sam Wyche, an emotional and unpredictable head coach who left after going 3-13 in 1991.
Shula, who was an assistant under Wyche, applied for the job and got it. Brown liked Shula’s unflappable demeanor, his attention to detail and his pedigree.
The Bengals inched up to 5-11 in Shula’s first season, then went 3-13 each of the next two years to intensify fans’ grumbling. Shula developed the reputation of a nice guy who couldn’t get his players to give their all.
While the Bengals were losing their first 10 games in 1993 for the worst start in franchise history, running back Harold Green referred to Shula as the worst coach in Bengals history.
Brown stood behind Shula and extended his original three-year contract for another two years, taking him through 1996. The general manager took the blame for the Bengals’ failings, noting he is responsible for bringing in players.
But the stakes were raised considerably last year, when the team went 7-9 and Brown began campaigning for a tax increase to build a football stadium. Voters passed it three months after the season ended.
Brown expected the team to contend for the playoffs this season, which would help with the next step in securing a new stadium. The team must sell 50,000 season tickets for the 2000 season, plus specified numbers of club seats and luxury suites by next April 30 for construction to begin.
The poor start alienated fans and led to thousands of empty seats. Two of the Bengals’ first three home games did not come close to selling out, intensifying the pressure to win now.
A 20-10 loss in Pittsburgh on Oct. 13 probably sealed Shula’s fate. The Bengals gave up 10 sacks in the game and fell to 1-5, ending any hope of a turnaround.
In New Orleans today, an embittered Jim Mora took matters into his own hands and resigned as coach of the New Orleans Saints, one day after a profane tirade following a loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Mora had coached the Saints since 1986, the longest tenure with one team of any current NFL coach.
“I would encourage everyone to continue to support this team and this organization,” Mora, his eyes red and his hands shaking, said at a news conference. “They work very hard and this team is very very close to being a very, very good football team.”
He was the first coach in Saints’ history to post a winning record, and he got the team to the playoffs four times — their only playoff appearances. However, the Saints lost all four.
The Saints are 2-6, having lost their first five games. They won two straight before the 19-7 loss at Carolina. His career record is 93-78.
Mora did not answer questions at the news conference. He left the team’s practice facility and drove away.
Owner Tom Benson said the choice of Mora’s successor had not been made. He said he and general manager Bill Kuharich will immediately begin looking for a new coach.
“We expect that announcement to be made very quickly,” Benson said.
The Saints have an open date this weekend, then play the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 2.
Benson said Mora’s decision caught him by surprise.
“I hope everyone will remember that this team never had a winning season until he became our coach,” said Benson, reading from a statement.
Benson also refused to answer questions.
Mora had said as recently as two weeks ago he would never resign. Sunday’s loss, the second this season to NFC West rival Panthers, apparently changed that.
The game was followed by a profanity-laced news conference during which Mora blasted the effort of his players and coaches.
Mora’s son, Jim L. Mora, the Saints’ defensive backs coach, said he was shocked, but not surprised at his father’s decision. He was at the news conference and afterward walked to the car with Benson.
Players and assistant coaches were stunned by the resignation.
“I’m kind of numb,” said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
Defensive end Joe Johnson said Mora told the players of his plans before making the announcement. Mora did not give his reasons, Johnson said.
“He told us to keep on fighting, that we were going to be a good team,” Johnson said. He said there had never been any indication before today that Mora would quit.
The last Saints coach to quit was Bum Phillips in 1985, who turned the coaching position over to his son Wade.
Mora enjoyed early successes after taking over the team in 1986, becoming the toast of a town starved for victories. An expansion franchise born in 1967, the Saints had never had a winning season when Mora took over after a stint as coach of the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars.
After a 7-9 first season, Mora guided the Saints to a 12-3 mark in the strike-shortened 1987 season.
That was the year he took the team to its first playoff appearance — a loss to Minnesota. Three more playoff appearances would follow the 1990, 1991 and 1992 seasons. Each loss though fed the discontent of fans who had at last become accustomed to winning.
The Saints began the 1993 season with five straight wins. Then things began to fall apart. Mora and the Saints finished that season 8-8. That was followed by two 7-9 seasons and this season’s 2-6 start.