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NFL coaches are first to go

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POSTED January 6, 2016 12:54 a.m.

The San Francisco 49ers were so eager to get rid of Jim Tomsula that he was shown the door almost before the parking lot at Levi Stadium cleared out after his last game.

No matter that Tomsula had the unenviable task of following Jim Harbaugh, and was missing some key players. He did mediocre things with a mediocre roster, and for a team with a new stadium to fill that wasn’t nearly enough.

“We’re in need of somebody that can win Super Bowls,” 49ers CEO Jed York said.

The New York Giants were nicer to Tom Coughlin, who has actually won Super Bowls — two of them in his 12 years with the team. They allowed him to go out on his own terms, well, sort of, with people saying some very nice things as he and the Giants parted ways.

“He’s a Hall of Fame coach, a Hall of Fame person. He leaves big shoes to fill,” co-owner John Mara said.

Make no mistake, Coughlin wanted to stay even if he was the one who made the offer to leave. Coaches always want to coach, and Coughlin indicated at his farewell news conference Tuesday that he may someday prowl the sidelines again.

Still, he got a nice going away party, complete with the promise of an executive job in the organization should he want it.

Two very different coaches. Two very different departures.

And then there’s the curious case of Chuck Pagano, who by now was supposed to have cleaned out his desk in Indianapolis. Instead, he got a four-year contract extension after a meeting with the man who signs his paycheck, along with a promise to keep general manager Ryan Grigson along for the ride.

Word was that Pagano was almost surely done in Indy after somehow finding a way to get eight wins with Andrew Luck injured and both his backups out for the season finale. But owner Jim Irsay liked his relationship with Grigson, and heard what his players were saying.

“You look around the league, all the head coaches that have been around for years, there have been off years,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. “If an off year is 8-8, I know some teams would give their right arm to go 8-8.”

The coaching carousel is, of course, nothing new. It has taken place in various incarnations since, well, forever.

Coaches are indeed, as the saying goes, hired to be fired. They understand when they sign on that heading an NFL team is a temporary job. Even Bill Belichick has been canned, and four Super Bowl wins won’t prevent him from being fired again if he somehow slips too badly in New England.

It doesn’t always matter if you’re good. Sometimes that’s not good enough when dealing with mercurial owners.

Jimmy Johnson got forced out after winning a second straight Super Bowl for the Dallas Cowboys in 1994 when he got into a battle with owner Jerry Jones over personnel decisions. Jones wanted a say in who played for his team, and he showed Johnson who was boss.

Chip Kelly might still be with the Philadelphia Eagles if he hadn’t also tried to run the team like he owned it. But the billionaires who own NFL teams didn’t get where they are by letting other people make all the decisions.

Indeed, it’s a delicate dance between owners who like to meddle in everything, coaches who are control freaks, and general managers who many times are caught in the middle. That it got figured out without a firing in Indianapolis is even more remarkable when judged against a team like Cleveland, which fired both coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer and will be looking for its fifth coach in just seven seasons.

To say Pagano was happy with the outcome would be an understatement.

“I’ve had a lot of great days in my life, but none better than today,” he said Monday. “This is absolutely the best day of my life and I’m grateful and I’m thankful to Mr. Irsay and his family for the opportunity that he’s given me.”

Coughlin, meanwhile, went out almost the way he wanted, with people saying warm and fuzzy things about him instead of grumbling about his 19-29 record the last three seasons. It was a rare feel-good ending for a coach, complete with a teary-eyed Eli Manning watching from the front row.

Tomsula got none of that after nine years with the 49ers, the last one as head coach. Instead of getting rid of the general manager who gave him his roster, the 49ers went the other way and fired the first-year coach.

Not that it was all bad. The coach who began his career sleeping in his car as an unpaid college assistant will enjoy a parting gift of the $10.5 million remaining on his contract.

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