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A listing of 2019/NYE 2018 NFL Coaching changes, retirement or coaches being safe as the day after the NFL Regular Season ends, known as NFL Black Monday, we will update this post during the offseason with those updates being in the beginning of each season 1st. Thanks again to AP Sports/ Pro 32 for photos & articles.
Head Coach Firings
Jets fire coach Todd Bowles after 4 seasons with no playoffs
NEW YORK (AP) — Todd Bowles’ tenure with the New York Jets began four years ago with plenty of promise. It ended with too many losses and no playoff appearances.
The team announced the long-expected decision that it moved on from Bowles on Sunday night, a few hours after the Jets wrapped up their season with a 38-3 loss at New England.
“I would like to thank coach Bowles for his dedication to the New York Jets for the last four years,” Jets Chairman and CEO Christopher Johnson said in a statement. “After carefully evaluating the situation, I have concluded that this is the right direction for the organization to take. I would like to wish Todd, Taneka and their family only the best.”
Bowles, 54, was hired in January 2015 after New York fired Rex Ryan. The Jets got off to a solid start under Bowles, who guided them to a 10-6 record. But they fell a win shy of the playoffs in his first season after losing a win-and-in game against Ryan’s Bills. Still, many expected the Jets to take the next step under Bowles.
It never happened.
There was some uncertainty surrounding general manager Mike Maccagnan’s job status, but it appears he will remain in his role and help lead the Jets’ search for a new coach.
New York went 4-12 this year after going 5-11 in each of the last two seasons, and Bowles’ in-game management became a focus of heavy criticism. The stoic coach also never endeared himself to frustrated fans who often mistook Bowles’ lack of public emotion for an absence of passion.
Bowles was on the hot seat last season, but the team stuck together and he and Maccagnan were given two-year extensions last December by Johnson.
The Jets entered this season with their focus on developing rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, the No. 3 overall draft pick in April, and Johnson did not set a playoff mandate for Bowles or Maccagnan. But the former USC star threw a league-leading 14 interceptions before straining his right foot against Miami on Nov. 4 and sitting out three games.
There were glimmers of promise when Darnold returned from the foot injury, with the rookie throwing for 931 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception — and looking very much a quarterback who can lead the team into the future.
Darnold will have to do that with a new coach, though.
It appeared Bowles’ fate was sealed when the Jets were blown out by AFC East-rival Buffalo 41-10 on Nov. 11. But Johnson chose to have Bowles finish the season, something New York has traditionally done with its head coaches. The Jets haven’t had an in-season coaching change since 1976, when Lou Holtz resigned with one game remaining and was replaced by Mike Holovak.
Still, Bowles was headed to an inevitable ending with the Jets — but never allowed the outside speculation and rumors affect his day-to-day approach with his players.
Several players praised Bowles for how he handled himself through everything, and often insisted the team’s failing weren’t the coach’s fault. Still, when asked last week of his assessment of his performance, Bowles pointed the finger only at himself.
“The record says it all,” Bowles said.
The Jets’ next coach will likely be working with a revamped roster, with the team expected to have more than $100 million in salary cap space in the offseason. The goal will be to surround Darnold with as much talent as possible while the franchise builds for the future.
Maccagnan has also been heavily criticized for his spotty track record in the draft and lack of overall roster depth at key spots, but will get a chance to continue shaping the team.
“You have to go get players, man,” safety Jamal Adams said after the game. “You have to get big-time players. It’s simple. You look at the Saints. You look at the Rams. You look at the Chicago Bears. You look at all those teams. You have to go get players.”
Maccagnan was hired by the Jets a day before they brought on Bowles, and the two appeared to have a mostly solid working relationship. But the makeup of the roster has left something to be desired — and Maccagnan didn’t have the ultimate say in the hiring of Bowles, something he will likely have this time around.
Recent first-rounders Adams, Leonard Williams and Darron Lee are starters, along with Darnold, but only 12 of the 22 players drafted from 2015-17 under Maccagnan remain on the roster. The bulk of the crop from those draft classes should be major depth pieces now, namely wide receivers Devin Smith (second round, 2015), ArDarius Stewart (third round, 2017) and Chad Hansen (fourth, 2017), and linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (third round, 2015).
Maccagnan’s biggest draft blunder came in 2016, when he took quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the second round despite most NFL scouts considering the former Penn State star a major project. Hackenberg never developed, was traded to Oakland in May and is now in the Alliance of American Football after stops with two other NFL teams.
As a result of the lackluster drafts, the Jets will need to make a big-time splash in free agency during the offseason.
Bowles came to the Jets as a highly sought candidate after leading Arizona’s aggressive-style defense for two seasons and winning the first AP Assistant Coach of the Year award in 2014. He beat out five other candidates, including current Atlanta coach Dan Quinn and Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone.
It marked a homecoming for Bowles, a native of Elizabeth, New Jersey, who also served as the Jets’ defensive backs coach under Al Groh during the 2000 season. Bowles played eight NFL seasons as a defensive back before working his way through the coaching ranks as an assistant. He went 2-1 as Miami’s interim head coach in 2011.
Bowles was the Jets’ sixth straight defense-focused head coach and fifth since Woody Johnson took over the Jets in 2000, joining Ryan, Eric Mangini, Herm Edwards, Groh and Bill Parcells.
New York could opt to go with an offense-minded coach this time around, especially with Darnold the face of the franchise and the team’s inability in recent years to develop young quarterbacks.
The franchise is also starving for a Super Bowl appearance, something it hasn’t had since 1969.
Buccaneers fire coach Dirk Koetter after 3 seasons
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Dirk Koetter seemed resigned to his fate.
The coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was fired Sunday night a little more than three hours after the Bucs concluded a disappointing season with a 34-32 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Koetter was promoted from offensive coordinator to his first NFL head coaching position when Tampa Bay fired Lovie Smith in January 2016. He led the Bucs to a 9-7 record that year, but followed up with consecutive 5-11 finishes.
His successor will be the sixth coach will be the fifth coach the team has had since firing Jon Gruden after the 2008 season. The Bucs have missed the playoffs 11 straight seasons and haven’t won a playoff game since their Super bowl run under Gruden in 2002.
“I’d love to finish out my contract, of course I would,” Koetter said during his postgame news conference.
“Whatever is going to happen is going to happen, and that’s just the way this business works,” he added. “If this is the last one for me, I appreciate the opportunity they gave me. It’s awesome to be a head football coach in the NFL. Coaching in the NFL period is awesome. It’s the best of the best.”
The Bucs started 2-0 this year, and then lost 11 of 14 down the stretch, including four straight games to finish the season.
Koetter, who had a 19-29 record, was dismissed after meeting with team ownership after the news conference.
“We sincerely appreciate the hard work and commitment shown by Dirk over the past several years,” Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said in a statement.
Glazer said general manager Jason Licht would begin the search for a new coach immediately.
Koetter was asked if he believed he deserved to keep his job after constructing an offense that ranked among the league leaders this season, including No. 1 in passing yards.
‘There is no such thing as deserve in the NFL,” he said. . Numbers are nice but this is a winning league. I’ve been fired before and I’ve been hired before. I know this, if look yourself in the mirror at end the day and know you did everything you could, then I’ve no problem holding my head up.”
Licht, whose record since taking over as general manager five years ago is 27-53, apparently is keeping his job despite a spotty track record in the draft and free agency, where Tampa Bay has made numerous mistakes — especially in Licht’s effort to overhaul a porous defense.
Defensive coordinator Mike Smith was fired in October with the Bucs yielding a NFL-high 34.6 points a game through the first six weeks of the season.
The team also must decide this winter whether Jameis Winston is the team’s quarterback of the future. Koetter was named coach, in part, because of his relationship with the No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft, however Winston has not blossomed into the dominating quarterback the team envisioned him becoming under Koetter’s guidance.
Winston, finishing his fourth season, is due to earn $20.92 million next season in the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie.
“It’s an empty feeling when you lose, no matter how you lose. It was an up and down year and didn’t turn out how we wanted it to turn out,”” Winston said, adding he has not been told if he will return in 2019.
Winston and other teammates continued to express support Koetter right up to the end.
Receiver Mike Evans, who set a club single-season record for receiving yards this year, called playing for the former coach “awesome.”
“The fans might put stuff on him. That’s how sports works. You look at the head coach, Evans said. “I’m very fortunate to have played for him. “He took my game to new heights.”
Broncos fire Vance Joseph after 11-21 mark over 2 years
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — John Elway is looking for his fourth head coach in six seasons after firing Vance Joseph for presiding over the Denver Broncos’ worst two-year stretch since the late 1960s.
Elway acknowledged being part of the problem in the Broncos’ 20-28 record since their Super Bowl 50 parade, including 11-21 under Joseph.
“The first guy I look at is the guy in the mirror,” Elway said Monday. “And I’m just as responsible for this, if not more, than anybody else because it’s my job to make sure that we win more football games. And so I take full responsibility for that.”
It was Joseph who took the fall, however, fired with two years and about $6 million left on his contract.
“Vance is a good man. He worked his tail off,” Elway said. “And unfortunately, we didn’t get it done. We didn’t win enough football games and ultimately that’s what we have to do.”
Elway almost fired Joseph last year after a 5-11 debacle but gave him a second chance. He got no similar reprieve after going 6-10.
“It’s disappointing not being able to finish what we started, but I’m incredibly proud of the players and coaches for how they fought and worked every week,” Joseph said in a statement. “I also appreciate the support staffs who put in countless hours behind the scenes helping our team. This is a special place with great fans.”
The Broncos immediately sought permission to interview Steelers offensive line coach and former Titans head coach Mike Munchak, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores.
Later Monday, the Broncos added former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, a native of Boulder, Colorado, to their wish list and also asked the Los Angeles Rams for permission to interview 35-year-old quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor.
“I will continue to do the best I can, knowing we’re going to try to win football games. We’re going to compete for world championships,” Elway said. “That’s what I’m about. I hate to lose. I hate it more now than I ever have. And we’re going to do everything we can to get us back on track … and get us back to completing for world championships.”
Elway said the franchise’s winningest coach, Mike Shanahan, whom he considered re-hiring a year ago, isn’t in the mix “at this point in time.” Nor is former Broncos assistant Adam Gase, who was fired by Miami, on his wish list.
Elway indicated that Gary Kubiak, his senior personnel adviser, might move back onto the field as an offensive assistant for the new coach. Kubiak stepped down two years ago over health concerns 11 months after leading the franchise to its third Super Bowl victory.
Elway insisted the Broncos’ opening is just as attractive today as it was then, when Joseph called the opportunity the best in football because it required a reboot and not a rebuild.
Yet the Broncos didn’t innovate as quickly as other teams that incorporated more of their prospects’ college DNA into their playbooks, like the AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs with Patrick Mahomes and the Baltimore Ravens with Lamar Jackson.
“I think we just haven’t evolved here,” star cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “I think after the Super Bowl we kind of just got stagnant. We haven’t evolved. We’ve got to figure out how we can evolve on offense, defense, special teams and everything, get better as players. We have to evolve with the times of the NFL. We’re behind right now.”
The Broncos are mired in a three-year playoff drought. They lack a franchise quarterback like the ones the Packers, Browns and Jets have in place to help them lure their next head coach. They haven’t had a title sponsor for their stadium for several seasons. And they need a massive makeover to modernize a jalopy of an offense that sputtered behind free agent quarterback Case Keenum.
Team president Joe Ellis insisted there was ownership stability even as a family feud has gone public with Pat Bowlen’s relatives haggling over the future of the franchise while the family patriarch, who has Alzheimer’s, comes up for a possible Hall of Fame election Feb. 2.
Then there’s Elway, a hands-on, high-standard GM with a Hall of Fame gold jacket who has little patience for losing, tried to hire Shanahan a year ago and didn’t cut Joseph any slack after trading away perennial Pro Bowlers Aqib Talib and Demaryius Thomas.
“Vance was on board with every decision that we made. It wasn’t one where I was going off and saying, ‘We’re doing this,'” Elway said. “The decisions that were made were joint decisions, so we’ll leave it at that.”
With Keenum at quarterback, the Broncos’ top selling point from a player perspective is probably the league’s top pass-rushing duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, who combined for 26½ sacks.
“I’d like to think that I’m a coach’s dream,” Miller said. “We’ve got a lot of big-time players here. We’ve got Bradley Chubb, who’s coming into his second year. Denver’s a great city. Denver’s a great place to come coach. It’s a great franchise to be a part of, known for winning and all types of wonderful stuff.
“So, I think the Denver Broncos organization will be the main attraction for the next head coach.”
Elway concurred, suggesting, “People may disagree, but we’re not that far off.”
Dolphins fire Gase after 7-9 season; Tannenbaum demoted
MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Dolphins’ coaching carousel is spinning again.
Adam Gase was fired Monday as part of the latest organizational shake-up after the Dolphins finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the 15th time in 17 years. Owner Stephen Ross ordered a roster overhaul and acknowledged it may take several seasons to build a winner.
Ross demoted executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum. General manager Chris Grier, who has been with the team in various capacities for 19 seasons, was given more authority and will oversee football operations while reporting directly to Ross.
The team said it will immediately conduct a search for Gase’s successor, who will report to Grier under the team’s new, more streamlined leadership structure.
The next coach will be the Dolphins’ 10th since 2004, including three interim coaches. This time, Ross said, will be different.
“Today we’re no further along than when I bought the team,” said Ross, who became majority owner a decade ago. “I thought it was time for the organization to take a different approach.”
Ross, 78, said he’s willing to be patient because the Dolphins’ win-now philosophy hasn’t worked, and he wants a longer-term view regarding player personnel decisions.
In the past the Dolphins counted on free agents to get over the hump and instead became stuck on a treadmill of mediocrity. They’ve finished with six to eight wins in nine of the past 10 seasons, and haven’t won a playoff game since 2000.
“To keep operating under that philosophy would be like the definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result,” Ross said. “What I want is sustained winning seasons. That’s what the fans want and deserve. We’re going to build this organization based on our needs, and if it takes a year or so, two years, three years, we’re going to be there.”
The approach makes sense given the Dolphins are likely starting over at quarterback. Ryan Tannehill has been with Miami since 2012 but has never taken a postseason snap, and he’s widely expected to be traded or released because of an escalating salary.
Gase went 23-26 with Miami, including a playoff game in 2016. After the 2018 Dolphins beat New England on the play of the season — a pass and double lateral for a touchdown as time ran out — they were outscored 100-41 in their final three games by other also-ran teams, including a 42-17 loss at Buffalo on Sundaythat sealed Gase’s fate.
“Probably one of the toughest decisions I’ve made,” Ross said. “He worked his tail off, and unfortunately things didn’t go the way we all hoped.”
Tannenbaum, who held his job for four years and was involved with several disappointing drafts, was reassigned within the organization.
Grier, the GM for the past three seasons, said the team will “investigate every avenue” in pursuing a coach, and said NFL experience wasn’t a necessity. Grier said he’s committed to Ross’ new, more patient approach in building a winner.
“It’s knowing who you want to be,” Grier said. “You have a vision for what your team wants to be, and you stay with it.”
Most preseason prognosticators predicted the 2018 Dolphins would finish with a losing record, and a wave of injuries complicated Gase’s task. The Dolphins lost 13 key players to season-ending injuries, including two top offensive linemen, their best run stopper, top cornerback Xavien Howard and explosive receivers Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant. Tannehill missed five games.
There’s already speculation the 40-year-old Gase will be coaching another team in 2019, and his supporters argue he overachieved this season, given the quality of the Dolphins’ roster.
They were outgained by 1,619 yards, worst in franchise history, and outscored by 114 points. They ranked 31st in the NFL in offense, also a franchise worst, and 29th in defense, allowing a franchise-record 6,257 yards.
Gase went 7-1 in one-score games, and 20-6 in three seasons. But his record in games decided by more than one score was 3-20, including 0-8 this season. His teams struggled especially on the road, losing their final seven away games this year while being outscored 248-117.
Gase was seen as a rising young star when the Dolphins hired him, and even more so after they went 10-6 in his first season and made the playoffs for the only time since 2008.
But they regressed to 6-10 in 2017, when Tannehill missed the entire season following knee surgery. And the poor finish this season raised questions about whether Gase had lost the support of some players.
News of his firing was applauded by at least a couple of Dolphins discards. Cleveland Browns receiver Jarvis Landry tweeted emojis laughing so hard they cried. Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Jordan Phillips did the same and added, “YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
The dynamic Wilson, who missed the final nine games because of a hip injury, had a different perspective on Gase’s departure.
“A full year I could (have) shown how much of a genius he was!” Wilson tweeted.
Cardinals fire Steve Wilks after 1 season as head coach
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals have fired Steve Wilks after just one season as head coach.
Wilks’ firing Monday followed a 3-13 season, the franchise’s worst record in 18 years and the worst in the NFL this season.
He is the first Cardinals coach to be fired after one season since Joe Kuharich in 1952.
At a news conference, team President Michael Bidwill called Wilks “one of the hardest-working coaches I’ve ever been around” and a man respected throughout the organization.
But Bidwill cited the number of losses and the lack of competitiveness in many of those games as a reason for the firing, saying the team went backward on offense and defense.
“It’s a results-oriented business,” Bidwill said, “and if you don’t win everybody knows what happens.”
Wilks, 49, was hired after Bruce Arians retired following five seasons in Arizona. It was a dramatic shift in styles and a mistake, Bidwill acknowledged.
“When I look back at last year obviously I didn’t get it right,” Bidwill said. “I take responsibility for it and we’re going to make sure we get it right this time around.”
He said he couldn’t get behind a plan Wilks presented for the 2019 season.
Bidwill contended the now-vacant Cardinals job would be the most attractive of the eight NFL openings, noting the team’s core of talented players, a young franchise quarterback, the top overall draft pick and subsequent picks and plenty of salary cap space.
Bidwill said requests for interviews would go out to teams shortly and informal contact already had been made with two coaches who are out of football.
Arians was known for his flamboyant personality and dynamic offense. The low-keyed Wilks came to the job with an entire coaching resume on defense.
He was defensive backs coach at Carolina for five seasons before being promoted to defensive coordinator by Panthers coach Ron Rivera for the 2017 season.
Wilks wanted to build a team centered on toughness up front and a power running game. But things fell apart quickly. The offensive line struggled even before it was decimated by injuries and the defense was susceptible to big plays, especially on the ground.
Rookie Josh Rosen took over at quarterback four games into the season, replacing the ineffective Sam Bradford.
The offense struggled and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was fired seven games into the season, replaced by quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich.
Injuries continued to accumulate. Eventually, 17 players ended up on injured reserve. On the offensive line, only rookie center Mason Cole made it through the season.
Arizona lost nine games by double digits, five by 20 points or more. The Cardinals were 1-7 at home, their worst record there since moving to Arizona. The miserable record guaranteed the Cardinals their first No. 1 overall draft pick in 60 years.
Bidwill said he had concerns about the coaching situation early on.
“It was a cumulative effect as it went on, but I wanted to make sure I gave him the whole season, every opportunity, to turn it around because I thought it was most fair to him,” he said. “But you saw from the very beginning, even when we had a healthy squad, the first two games we were outscored 58-6 so I had some concerns from the very beginning.”
Bidwill said he understood the frustration of fans as the season got worse.
“I’m a fan first,” he said. “It’s been frustrating for me to watch these games and I don’t know that anybody has been hurting more than me. I’ve been extremely frustrated, had a lot of sleepless nights, looked in the mirror about what things I can be doing differently to make this organization better and that’s what we’re going to be doing going forward, is make sure we get it right.”
The team’s offense finished last in the league, where it had been all season.
General manager Steve Keim acknowledged he bears some responsibility for this awful season but added “at the end of the day I have the utmost confidence in myself that I’m going to be able to get this thing turned around and head us in the right direction.”
Bidwill voiced his support for Keim, noting the general manager was “the chief architect of the winningest five years in this franchise’s history.”
After Arizona’s last-second 27-24 loss at Seattle on Sunday, players seemed unanimous in their desire for Wilks to be given a second season.
“I’ve let it be known, I love the man,” star receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “I think he’s an unbelievable coach. It’s been a tough year, and we all understand this is a results business, but it’s hard for me to separate the business from the personal. I’ve got a heart, and I’m human. I really like coach.”
With Wilks’ status confirmed, there is still one major uncertainty: Will Fitzgerald be back for a 16th season?
Bengals fire coach Marvin Lewis after 16th season
CINCINNATI (AP) — The surprise isn’t that Marvin Lewis is gone, but that it took so long for the Bengals to make the change.
Lewis arrived in 2003 and elevated one of the NFL’s most forlorn franchises to respectability, but couldn’t take it to the next level. He was fired Monday after his 16th season of failing to win a playoff game.
Now, owner Mike Brown will decide whether to bring in an outsider who will shake things up, or stay the course with someone who is familiar.
“I didn’t deliver what the No. 1 goal is, and that’s to be world champions, and we did not get that done,” Lewis said at a news conference. “A lot of positives, but that’s the one goal as a coach you look forward to doing. Mike and I both decided it’s time. I think it’s a tough moment for both of us, but we both realized.”
Lewis’ departure ends the second-longest active coaching tenure in the NFL . New England’s Bill Belichick is wrapping up his 19th season with another postseason berth. He’s won five Super Bowls and made eight appearances in the title game, both NFL records.
By contrast, Lewis leaves Cincinnati with a postseason record of 0-7, the worst in NFL history. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, tied with Washington for the fifth-longest futility in league history.
A third straight losing season punctuated by plummeting attendance prompted the change-resistant owner to cut ties with Lewis.
The Bengals (6-10) lost in Pittsburgh 16-13 on Sunday — their eighth straight defeat against their AFC North rival — and finished last in the division for only the second time under Lewis. Attendance at Paul Brown Stadium has fallen to second-lowest in the league, ahead of only the Los Angeles Chargers, who are playing in a small, temporary stadium.
The empty seats were undoubtedly one of the factors. Cincinnati averaged 50,753 fans, the third straight year with a notable decline. Brown said before the start of training camp that he was keenly aware of fans’ growing animosity and indifference.
Brown didn’t appear with Lewis on Monday. He said in a statement that he’s “very fond of Marvin.”
“But it is time to turn the page and look toward the next chapter for our organization, and we are excited about what the future holds for the team and our fans,” Brown said.
Lewis lobbied Monday for Hue Jackson to get an interview for the job. Lewis hired Jackson, a close friend, as a special assistant after he was fired by the Browns in October.
“I think he’s more than qualified,” Lewis said. “I think he’s been in a couple of difficult situations (in Oakland and Cleveland) and that’s tough, and it hasn’t broke his way. But I think he’s an excellent football coach, he’s a great motivator, he’s detailed. So I think he deserves an opportunity, if not here somewhere else.”
Jackson walked through the locker room on Monday on his way to the dining room and declined interviews.
“I’m going to lunch,” he said.
As Jackson ate with other staff members, a big-screen television on the wall was tuned to a station recapping the firings around the league. It was odd for players to think of someone else as the head coach.
“Me growing up here, that’s all I knew since I was 10 years old,” said 26-year-old linebacker Preston Brown, a Cincinnati native. “It’s kind of a surreal moment to see right now that he’s not here anymore. I mean, he’s part of Cincinnati. To have him gone is a big shock to me.”
Lewis has readily acknowledged he wouldn’t have lasted so long anywhere else. The owner’s well-known loyalty provided second, third, and ultimately a 16th chance in a what-have-you-done-this-year league. He leaves as the franchise’s leader in coaching tenure, wins and losses with a record of 131-129-3.
Lewis was a rare hire from outside the organization when Brown brought him aboard in 2003, three years after he helped Baltimore win a Super Bowl. He made a glittery arrival, flashing his diamond-encrusted Ravens Super Bowl ring at his introductory news conference.
He quickly turned the downtrodden Bengals into a competitive team, and then a playoff team. Lewis couldn’t win a playoff game, though.
The Bengals made a club-record five straight playoff appearances from 2011-15, but lost in the first round every time, setting an NFL record for ineffectiveness. His best chance was frittered away by two players who were brought to Cincinnati in spite of their history of outbursts.
Leading the Steelers in the closing minutes during the playoffs after the 2015 season, Lewis’ team had one of the worst meltdowns in NFL history. Jeremy Hill’s fumble gave the Steelers one last chance, and Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones got 15-yard penalties that set up the Steelers’ field goal with 14 seconds left for an 18-16 win.
The Bengals sparked hope of a turnaround this season with a 4-1 start, but a historically bad defense undercut it. Lewis fired coordinator Teryl Austin at midseason, and Cincinnati finished the season by dropping nine of its last 11 games in what amounted to Lewis’ final chance.
“It’s been a lot,” Lewis said. “This season’s been a lot.”
Assistant Coaches Firings
Falcons fire 3 top assistant coaches following 7-9 finish
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Widespread changes came quickly following the Atlanta Falcons’ first losing season since 2014.
Changes were expected, and out are offensive coordinator Steve Sarkasian, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong — all fired on Monday.
Coach Dan Quinn announced the firings and said he will take over the defense.
“All three of these men are excellent coaches that I have a lot of respect for,” Quinn said in a statement released by the team. “While these are difficult decisions, we know we have a group of players here we are excited about and in order for us to consistently play true to our identity in all three phases we thought we needed some changes.”
Falcons owner Arthur Blank said recently he still has confidence in Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Still, changes were expected after a 7-9 finish.
The change in the leadership of all three phases of the team came quickly, even after the Falcons closed the season with three straight wins, including Sunday’s 34-32 win at Tampa Bay.
The strong finish wasn’t enough to save the jobs of the coordinators.
Manuel came to Atlanta with Quinn from Seattle in 2015 as secondary coach and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2017.
“Marquand is a talented coach and excellent teacher that I have coached with for a number of years,” Quinn said. “I believe he should have the opportunity to call plays for a defense, so we have decided to allow his contract to expire so he can explore those opportunities.”
Armstrong had led the special teams since 2008, Mike Smith’s first year as coach. Sarkasian was in his second season.
Quinn said Sarkasian “has shown he’s a good coach and play caller.” Quinn said he decided the offense needed new leadership.
“After evaluating the entire season, I decided it was necessary that we had a new voice and direction for our offensive unit,” Quinn said. “I have a ton of respect for Sark, both personally and professionally, and I appreciate all he’s done during his time here.”
Quinn and Dimitroff have scheduled a Thursday news conference as the team begins looking for new offensive and special teams coordinators.
Only two years after their 2016 Super Bowl season, the Falcons were hurt by injuries and inconsistent play this season, Quinn’s fourth as head coach.
“We didn’t make the standard this year,” left tackle Jake Matthews said Monday before the firings were announced. “… It isn’t good enough, not making the playoffs.”
It won’t be easy for the Falcons to be gracious hosts at the Atlanta Super Bowl on Feb. 3. After winning at least one postseason game in two straight seasons, Atlanta had high expectations this year but couldn’t overcome losing nine players to injured reserve.
Starting running back Devonta Freeman played in only two games. The IR list also included safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen and linebacker Deion Jones, who returned for the last five games.
It was a season of inconsistency. The Falcons started 1-4 before winning three straight to return to .500. They then lost five consecutive games, scoring no more than 20 points during the devastating stretch. Already eliminated from the playoffs, the Falcons closed with three straight wins.
“I think it leads to optimism for us moving forward,” Ryan said after Sunday’s game.
Ryan passed for 4,924 yards with 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions — almost an exact match for his 2016 MVP season, when he threw for 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
There will be no MVP talk this year, but Ryan showed his big 2016 season wasn’t a career outlier.
Even in a year both starting guards and running back Devonta Freeman suffered season-ending injuries , the Falcons had a top-five passing attack. Julio Jones led the NFL in yards receiving , rookie Calvin Ridley had 10 touchdown catches and tight end Austin Hooper had 71 receptions.
Monday’s firings support the belief this team underachieved, even with all the injuries.
“We’ve got plenty of talent around here and we expect a lot from ourselves,” Matthews said.
Quinn and Dimitroff face decisions on such pending unrestricted free agents as defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, running back Tevin Coleman, guards Andy Levitre and Ben Garland, and defensive ends Bruce Irvin and Derrick Shelby. Cornerback Brian Poole is a restricted free agent.
After making 20 of 21 field goals in 13 games this season, kicker Matt Bryant, 43, told The Associated Press Monday he plans to return next season.
“I’d never have envisioned it going this far,” Bryan said of his 17-year career. “It has, so just ride it as long as you can.”
AP source: Jaguars fire Wheatley, 3 more assistants
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Leonard Fournette’s season-long struggles proved costly for his position coach.
The Jacksonville Jaguars fired running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley and three more assistants Monday night, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity and said offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, secondary coach Perry Fewell and defensive line coach Marion Hobby also were let go one day after the season finale.
Wheatley’s dismissal was the least surprising. It came one day after Fournette and T.J. Yeldon were sharply criticized for being disengaged from coaches and teammates during the 20-3 loss at Houston.
Coughlin ripped both players for being “disrespectful” and “selfish.” He said “their behavior was unbecoming of a professional football player.”
Fournette has missed 11 games in two seasons, including two because of suspensions, and has shown little interest in being a good professional. Yeldon, a pending free agent, barely played down the stretch. Jacksonville also traded a fifth-round pick for Carlos Hyde, who ran for 189 yards in eight games.
All four assistants had been with the team for two seasons.
Wheatley’s position group was among the least production in 2018. Fournette was one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments, finishing with 439 yards rushing and five touchdowns while missing eight games.
Flaherty’s line was ravaged by injuries, but he also got little out of free-agent guard Andrew Norwell. Fewell’s secondary wasn’t nearly as productive as it was in 2017 and saw veteran safety Barry Church waived late in the season. Hobby’s unit underperformed at several positions, and first-round draft pick Taven Bryan made marginal gains in his rookie year.
Coach Doug Marrone also fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett in late November, meaning he now has five job openings heading into the new year.
Marrone said earlier Monday that he didn’t want to make any staff changes based on emotion, adding that he would make sure “it’s for the right reasons and not just a reaction.”
Lions not renewing offensive coordinator Cooter’s contract
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — The Detroit Lions are not renewing offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s contract after the team sputtered to a 6-10 season while quarterback Matthew Stafford struggled.
The Lions announced their decision Tuesday, two days after finishing 6-10 in coach Matt Patricia’s first season at the helm. Cooter was a holdover from Jim Caldwell’s staff, but his first season with Patricia did not go well.
Only two teams in the NFC scored fewer points than Detroit’s 324. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson gave the Lions’ running game a bit of a boost before he was lost for the season with a knee injury. Stafford took a step back, falling short of 4,000 yards passing for the first time since his injury-filled 2010 campaign.
Detroit won its finale 31-0 over Green Bay, but that was the only time in its last 10 games that the Lions scored more than 22 points.
Cooter was a quarterbacks coach for the Lions before taking over as offensive coordinator during the 2015 season. Detroit kept him after firing Caldwell and hiring Patricia, but that continuity didn’t seem to help much this season.
Stafford threw 21 touchdown passes, also his lowest mark since 2010, and his passer rating of 89.9 was his lowest since 2014.
“I think there are games where we were able to execute well in the passing game, and obviously games where we didn’t, and that’s why we are where we are right now,” Patricia said Monday. “We’ll evaluate all of it.”
The Lions’ offense also took a hit when they traded Golden Tate for a draft pick in October. Receiver Marvin Jones ended up going on injured reserve. So did Johnson , who rushed for 641 yards in the 10 games he did play.
Although Patricia has only been the coach for one season, Detroit’s decline from a 9-7 record in 2017 was stark enough that this should be an intriguing offseason. Now the Lions have a chance to reassess their offense as they move forward.
AP Source confirms Bills fire offensive line coach Castillo
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — A person familiar with the Buffalo Bills’ decision confirms the team has fired offensive line coach Juan Castillo.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because the Bills have not announced the move. CBSSports.com first reported Castillo’s firing Tuesday.
Castillo also oversaw the running game during his two seasons in Buffalo. Both the offensive line and LeSean McCoy-led running game struggled in contributing to Buffalo’s 6-10 finish.
The Bills ranked ninth in the NFL with 1,984 yards rushing, though rookie quarterback Josh Allen accounted for nearly a third of that with a team-leading 631 yards. McCoy had career lows with 514 yards rushing and by averaging 3.2 yards per carry.
Buffalo’s patchwork line never entirely jelled in having difficulty replacing the offseason losses of center Eric Wood and guard Richie Incognito.
NFL head coaching positions a slippery ride
Sean Payton despises the term “Black Monday.” And he’s one of the coaches who always survives it.
Six head coaches were fired as the NFL season concluded, four of them on Monday. Two, Mike McCarthy in Green Bay and Hue Jackson in Cleveland, didn’t even make it that far.
Saints coach Payton, finishing his 13th season in New Orleans and now owning the second-longest tenure with a team after Cincinnati fired Marvin Lewis , had some strong words about how the coaching carousel gets derailed every year.
“Our owners’ network that they own have created this,” Payton said, referring to NFL Network that is owned by the league, “marketed this and sold this ‘Black Monday,’ and that’s just disappointing.”
In reference to Lewis, who was with the Bengals since 2003, but went an all-time worst 0-7 in the playoffs, Payton added: “He’s been a fabulous coach, but I don’t want to comment on anyone or all of them (who were fired).”
He added that the whole Black Monday scene, which some media outlets promote the way they do actual competition, is “ridiculous.”
Payton and every other coach in pro sports recognize that change is understandable and at times necessary. As long as it is thought out and includes a plan for the future, revision can make sense.
When it’s more on an owner’s whim or due to some serious impatience, that’s another story.
Steve Wilks , fired after a 3-13 record in his first — and only — season in Arizona, might be a case in point. Had Bruce Arians not retired, he still would have been with the Cardinals, but Wilks was a hot candidate for several openings last offseason following his work as Carolina’s defensive coordinator. Barring a full-out revolt by the players, as happened with Ben McAdoo and the Giants in 2017, how is one year enough to judge a head coach’s capabilities?
Also fired on Monday were Vance Joseph in Denver and Adam Gasein Miami. On Sunday night, Todd Bowles with the Jets and Dirk Koetter with the Bucs were let go.
A year ago, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Oakland, Detroit, Chicago, Arizona and the New York Giants made changes. That’s 14 franchises out of 32 with different head coaches since 2016. The Cardinals and Giants will have had three coaches from 2016-19.
Also taking a hit has been the NFL’s initiative on diversity in coaching. The Rooney Rule is exemplary in purpose, though it sometimes gets criticized for how it is implemented.
Of the eight head men released, only Koetter, Gase and McCarthy are not minorities. Just three minority head coaches remain: Ron Rivera with the Panthers, Anthony Lynn with the Chargers, and Mike Tomlin with the Steelers.
Impatience by owners can’t be blamed for the moves by the Bengals or Jets, both clearly on a downward spiral.
Otherwise, well, it normally takes at the very least three years for a coach’s program to take root. Joseph got two, Gase got three injury-ravaged years, and Koetter also got three.
Jackson simply lost too often, particularly with a vastly improved roster early this season, to remain on the job.
McCarthy, a Super Bowl winner, had seen things go stale in Green Bay, and he often has been blamed for the Packers getting to just the one Super Bowl with a generational quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
Still, the word stability seems to have been dropped from owners’ dictionaries. They give lip service to wanting to be like the Patriots, Saints or Seahawks.
Then, if things turn sour for one season, they begin wondering if the right people are in place. Imagine if John Mara had done that with Tom Coughlin before the 2007 or 2011 seasons, when fans and media were calling for the coach’s removal.
Yet, we hear things like this from Broncos boss John Elway:
— “Vance made a lot of strides and deserves credit for how hard and competitively the team played this season. There’s always going to be a high standard here. The bottom line is we need to win more football games. We’re excited about the foundation that’s being built and look forward to putting in the work to get the Broncos back on the winning track.”
In most places, that winning track has lots of potholes. Not many coaches get the opportunity to navigate around them.
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel contributed to this report.
Jaguars keeping Marrone, Caldwell despite AFC South flop
HOUSTON (AP) — Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell will return next season.
The futures of quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Leonard Fournette are far less certain.
Team owner Shad Khan issued a statement after the season finale saying top executive Tom Coughlin has decided to retain Marrone and Caldwell, even though the team flopped to last place in the AFC South.
The Jaguars fell to 5-11 with Sunday’s 20-3 loss to the Houston Texans, a year after finishing 10-6 and reaching the AFC championship game.
“We get judged on wins and losses,” Marrone said. “Obviously, this year, I didn’t do a good job. Period. I’m never going to step away from that. I’m happy with the faith because I do believe I will get this right.”
Khan gave Coughlin, Marrone and Caldwell one-year contract extensions after Jacksonville faltered in the title game and seemingly viewed this season’s slew of injuries — most of them on the offensive side of the ball — as a main culprit for the team’s failure.
“I have the same trust in Tom, Dave and Doug as I did upon their introduction two years ago, and I do believe our best path forward for the moment is the one less disruptive and dramatic,” Khan said. “Stability should not be confused with satisfaction, however. I am far from content with the status quo and while it’s best to put 2018 behind us, I will not overlook how poorly we accounted for ourselves following a 3-1 start.
“There were far too many long Sundays over the last three quarters of the season, with today’s loss in Houston being the final example that cannot repeat itself in 2019,” he continued. “That’s my message to our football people and players, but also our sponsors and fans, both of whom were remarkable.”
The Jaguars returned to Bortles as the starter after benching the quarterback following a loss to Buffalo on Nov. 25. But he did little to get Jacksonville’s offense going. He was 15 of 28 for 107 yards as the Jaguars managed only six first downs.
Bortles compiled a 24-49 record as a starter in five seasons. The third overall pick in the 2014 draft is due to count $21 million against the salary cap, and the Jags can save $9.5 million by cutting him with a post-June 1 designation.
Bortles was asked if he thought Sunday’s game would be his last for Jacksonville.
“I don’t know,” he said. “If I did … I hope I’ll get an opportunity to come play again, but if not, I’ll figure it out and go play somewhere else. We’ll see what happens. I’ve got to wait until they let me know.”
When asked how he wants to be remembered for his time in Jacksonville, he said: “Hopefully, not by this game.”
Marrone said his team’s offensive struggles went far beyond Bortles.
“My confidence level is not about Blake Bortles. It’s about what we have to do offensively,” Marrone said. “Right now, that confidence is low, judging by the numbers. I’d be a fool to say I have confidence in anything, from an offensive standpoint.”
The Jaguars also could be done with Fournette, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft who missed eight games because of injuries and a suspension.
Fournette, who was inactive because of foot and ankle injuries, was caught by TV cameras sitting on the bench during the game and chatting with running back T.J. Yeldon while the offense had the ball. They were clearly disengaged with teammates and coaches.
Coughlin had strong words for both of them afterward.
“I am disappointed in the behavior today from T.J. Yeldon and Leonard Fournette,” Coughlin said in a statement. “They were disrespectful, selfish and their behavior was unbecoming that of a professional football player.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera expects to return for 2019 season
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Ron Rivera walked into the Panthers locker room wearing a shirt that read, “Wofford is coming.”
While several other head coaches around the league were being fired on Monday, Rivera said he expects to be coaching when the Panthers report to training camp next year at Wofford College following meetings with owner David Tepper.
“That’s my assumption because of our conversations talking about going forward. We will continue doing that,” Rivera said.
The Panthers started the season 6-2, but lost seven straight games leaving Rivera’s future in doubt. Carolina finished 7-9, missing the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Rivera’s track record likely saved his job.
He is 71-56-1 in his eight seasons with Carolina has been to the playoffs four times and won three division titles, reaching the Super Bowl in 2015 after going 15-1 during the regular season.
Tepper, a former minority owner with the Steelers, is giving Rivera a little time to turn things around despite the surprising midseason meltdown. That follows suit with the Steelers’ business model, with only three head coaches since 1969.
“Ultimately you think about where Mr. Tepper is coming from, and that’s having been in Pittsburgh where they do things with patience and very direct with things,” Rivera said. “So I feel very fortunate. I have an opportunity to visit with him and talk with him about things in terms of our preparation going forward. We will continue do that and I will continue to work as we’re working toward next season.”
Tepper again declined interview requests on Monday through the team’s public relations department.
“He’s a great coach and he definitely deserves to be back,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said of Rivera.
While Rivera is staying, the Panthers face plenty of other offseason challenges.
The most pressing revolves around the future of quarterback Cam Newton.
Newton, who has two years left on his contract, has struggled the last two seasons with shoulder problems and the team had to shut him down the final two games because he was unable to throw effectively more than 20 yards down the field. Newton has previously said he’s had the shoulder looked at but doctors can’t seem to determine what the issue is — or how to fix it.
He had surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in 2017 and his arm strength has slowly deteriorated since, to the point where the Panthers would sub Newton out when they needed to throw a Hail Mary down the field.
Rivera said Monday he doesn’t know if the 2015 league MVP will need surgery or just rest.
“That’s a medical question and I’m not going to speculate on anything,” Rivera said. “I don’t know what the plan will be in terms of that until I get an opportunity to talk with (the doctors), but they’re going to talk to Cam eventually and Cam will have to make decisions going forward, as well.”
Rivera said if Newton needs surgery he would prefer he does it right away.
When asked Monday if he had time to talk, Newton breezed past reporters in the locker room and said, “Nope.”
There was a somber tone as many of the team’s long-time veterans cleaned out their lockers, putting personal items in cardboard boxes provided by the team. In many respects, it felt like the end of an era as many of the faces so familiar to this organization could be gone for good.
Five-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil already announced that he is retiring after 12 seasons in Carolina, and Rivera hinted after Sunday’s win in New Orleans that 38-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers wouldn’t be back either.
Peppers hasn’t talked about his future and wasn’t in the locker room.
However, defensive tackle Kyle Love wasn’t buying the idea that Peppers is done just yet, saying “I kind of feel like he is going to come back.”
“He’s been smiling and kind of giving little hints and whatever, so we will see,” Love said. “He still has something left in the tank.”
Outside linebacker Thomas Davis, a longtime fan favorite who has spent 13 seasons with the organization, said he wants to return.
But, like Peppers, Davis is set to become a free agent and it’s unclear if the Panthers will look to younger alternatives.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney will also have to make difficult decisions on whether to bring back 33-year-old tight end Greg Olsen, left tackle Matt Kalil, wide receiver Torrey Smith, defensive tackle Dontari Poe, safety Mike Adams and Munnerlyn — players who have missed time due to injuries or just older veterans.
Devin Funchess, once considered the team’s No. 1 receiver, is not expected to be re-signed after his role was vastly reduced near the end of the season and he was deactivated in Week 17.
Panthers wide receiver Jarius Wright called it a “rollercoaster season,” but said the team still has a lot of pieces in place to build around for the future including running back Christian McCaffrey, who amassed 1,965 yards from scrimmage and scored 13 touchdowns. The Panthers will draft 16th overall in April.
Raiders hire draft analyst Mike Mayock as general manager
ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Mike Mayock has spent more than a decade as an analyst at NFL Network, studying all the teams and their rosters trying to find the best fits for each player in the draft.
Now Mayock gets the chance to use that knowledge he gained to try to rebuild the Oakland Raiders after he was hired Monday to be the team’s new general manager alongside coach Jon Gruden.
Mayock replaced the recently fired Reggie McKenzie and now gets his first chance in an NFL front office at age 60.
“For the last 15 years, I think I’ve tried to be the GM for all 32 teams,” he said. “I’ve been in all 32 buildings for the last 15 years. I know what it looks like, I know what it smells like. I just need a little help with the mechanics.”
Gruden had been searching for a general manager after the team fired McKenzie earlier in a 4-12 season that ended Sunday with a 35-3 loss to Kansas City. It was an underwhelming return to the sideline for Gruden, who got a 10-year, $100 million contract to return for a second stint in Oakland after spending nine seasons as an analyst at ESPN.
Gruden inherited McKenzie, who won the 2016 NFL executive of the year award for his rebuilding job after the death of owner Al Davis in 2011. The pairing didn’t work as Gruden frequently criticized McKenzie’s recent drafts and got rid of many of those players.
Now the Raiders are hoping for a better working relationship between Gruden and Mayock, who have known each other for more than 20 years and frequently talked about draft prospects when they were analysts for ESPN and NFL Network, respectively.
“I know a lot of people in this business who love football and study football,” Gruden said. “I don’t really know anybody who loves it and studies it more than Mike Mayock.”
The Raiders will have three first-round picks in April’s draft. Oakland has its own pick, which will be fourth in the draft, as well as first-rounders from Chicago and Dallas, which will be in the bottom 12 picks in the first round.
Oakland acquired those picks by dealing McKenzie’s best two first-round picks from his seven-year tenure in Oakland. Star pass rusher Khalil Mack was traded to the Bears before the season for a package that included two first-round picks following a contract holdout, and receiver Amari Cooper was dealt during the season to the Cowboys for a 2019 first-rounder.
Only 11 players drafted by McKenzie from 2012 to 2017 remain under contract with the Raiders, led by quarterback Derek Carr and right guard Gabe Jackson from the 2014 class, and 2016 first-round safety Karl Joseph and 2017 first-round cornerback Gareon Conley.
The Raiders will have plenty of holes to fill this offseason following another disappointing campaign. Oakland has just one winning season in the past 16 years, going 12-4 under Jack Del Rio in 2016.
But otherwise the team has experienced nothing but losing, posting the second-worst record in the NFL since the start of the 2003 season.
This season was up there with some of the worst in that stretch. The Raiders allowed their most points (467) in a season since 1961 and set marks for franchise worsts in sacks (13) and yards per play allowed (6.27) as the absence of an impact pass rusher like Mack was felt all season.
The offense had its own problems as a line featuring rookie tackles Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker for most of the season failed to protect Carr. Oakland allowed 52 sacks, its most since 2006, and Carr often struggled to find the time to get the ball downfield.
That leaves plenty of holes for Mayock to try to fill starting with free agency and the trade market, where he has no experience.
“I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “To sit in there and try to pretend I did would be disingenuous. The bottom line for me, I was very honest. There were some things I needed some help with. I talked about the mechanics of the daily regimen. When you start talking about the trades and negotiations and draft day and being on the clock and all that, it’s the first time for me for real.”
While Carr showed some signs of improvement late in the season as he grew more comfortable in Gruden’s system, the offense lacked playmakers on the outside and a game-breaking running back.
The Raiders were barely competitive for much of the season, losing nine games by at least 14 points, tied for the most lopsided losses in the NFL since New England had 10 in 1990.
Oakland was outscored by 177 points on the season, the second-worst mark in the NFL to Arizona.
The next big question for the Raiders will be finding a place to play next season. They are moving to Las Vegas in 2020 but don’t have a lease for next season. Oakland city officials have sued the team and NFL over the move and the Raiders have withdrawn a proposal to stay at the Coliseum for one more year. While they could still return to Oakland, the Raiders also have had talks with the San Francisco Giants about playing in AT&T Park, could look into sharing Levi’s Stadium with the San Francisco 49ers or try to move out of the market for a year.
A decision is expected before the Super Bowl.
“We’ll let the emotion get out of the decision-making process and we’ll go from there,” owner Mark Davis said.