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The NFL’s Black Monday: A Nightmare for Coaches and Families

Most will downplay and dismiss it, especially when pressed in front of a microphone. They’ll claim it’s the last thing on their radar, then lean on some trusty clichés to get through a few weeks of uncomfortable news conferences: on to the next practice, the next meeting, the next game. They’ll say there’s no point in worrying about what they can’t control.

But privately, the worry is in the back of their minds and in the pits of their stomach. It weighs on them, their staff, their players, their families. The fear. The angst. The unknown.

“It happens from Thanksgiving on in the NFL,” said former Bengals coach Marvin Lewis.

For a handful of head coaches across the league — like Washington’s Ron Rivera, Chicago’s Matt Eberflus, Atlanta’s Arthur Smith, New Orleans’ Dennis Allen, even New England’s Bill Belichick — an already stressful job grows even more tense late in the year, as disappointing seasons crawl to a close and they await ownership’s decision on their future with the team.

Will they keep their jobs?
Or are they out?
“When you’re in it and playing meaningful games this time of year, there’s nothing better,” said former Colts coach Chuck Pagano. “And there’s nothing worse than being on the other end of it … for the coaches and families, it’s an absolute nightmare.”

Rare is the profession where a single day on the calendar is synonymous with pink slips. In the NFL it’s called Black Monday, the first day after the regular season ends, and it’s usually when coaches on the proverbial hot seat find out their fates.

For some, a firing can bring closure, even peace. But it stings nonetheless.
“No one likes to be told their services are no longer needed,” said former Bucs coach Dirk Koetter.

But even when they sense it’s coming, it’s a hard pill to swallow. In Minnesota in 2013, Leslie Frazier drove into work on Black Monday “hoping against all hope” he’d keep his job. After he was let go, he sat in his car and prayed. Pagano, fired immediately after the Colts’ last game in 2017, went home and poured a drink with his wife, Tina.
Win or lose, we booze, right?” he said, laughing at the memory.
The final few weeks of the season can be draining.

“You see things slipping a little bit, and those rumors are beginning,” Frazier said. “I got friends right now who are in the same situation, who told me they’ve already talked to their owner and they can’t get a feel for what he’s thinking.”

Black Monday awaits.
Based on conversations with a half-dozen former head coaches, here’s a peek inside the unease, disappointment and fallout that accompanies one of the most daunting days on the NFL calendar. After he was fired in Minnesota in 2013, Leslie Frazier said a prayer in his car. When he got home, his players started calling, including Adrian Peterson (above). “That was really hard,” Frazier said. (Nam Y. Huh / AP)

The weeks before
They hear the chatter. They just pretend they don’t.
Playing into that speculation publicly would serve no point. There are practices to run, opponents to study, game plans to script. Coaches, already creatures of habit, lean even more into their weekly routines, walling themselves off from the outside noise as much as possible.
Sometimes, it’s their families that can’t escape it.
“That was one of the biggest things I had to battle,” Pagano said. “They wanna protect you. They wanna stand up for you. They wanna fight, so they’re gonna pay attention to what’s being said. ‘Hey, Dad, did you hear this?’ Of course I did! My whole deal was blinders and earmuffs, but we’re all human. It gets to you.
“(Coaches) have families. They have kids who go to school and listen to stuff. Can you imagine?”
Added Koetter: “It’s so tough on a coach’s family, the wife and kids not knowing what the future holds. Because in this day and age, you can’t get away from it. It’s everywhere.”
Frazier said the team’s PR staff would keep that type of news away from him — the rumors, the speculation — so most of what he knew about his job status came from concerned family and friends. “Hey, look out!” they’d tell him. “A lot of things swirling about your job security.”
Norv Turner, twice fired on Black Monday — after the 2005 season with the Raiders, then after the 2012 season with the Chargers — said he wouldn’t let any of it creep into his mind.
That is, until it was time for his news conference.
“Someone asks you that question: ‘There’s a lot of speculation that you’re gonna be fired. Do you have an opinion?’” Turner said. “Your opinion is, ‘Yeah, it’s part of the business.’ There’s always a lot of speculation. We can’t sit around worrying about it.”
Near the end of his run in San Diego, Turner used to joke with the team’s public relations director that as soon as his news conference was finished, he wanted it promptly scrubbed from his memory.
“You know in ‘Men in Black,’ that flasher they have where they can flash and you don’t remember anything? I used to tell them after my media thing, just get that ‘Men in Black’ flasher and flash me so I can go do my stuff.”
There’s also the matter of getting the team ready to play, which comes with its own challenges, especially as the losses pile up and any dreams of a miracle run to the playoffs fade away.
“You’re always telling your players, ‘Be a pro, be a pro, be a pro,’” Koetter said.
Added Pagano: “If it goes south, and it looks like ‘Oh, he’s lost the locker room,’ and that comes out and you don’t do anything to change it? Then there’s a good chance you’re gone.
“But like I always said, we all know what we signed up for.”

The last game
Turner knew it was over before his last game in Oakland. It was New Year’s Eve 2005. After a 30-21 loss to the Giants — the Raiders’ sixth in a row — he and his wife, Nancy, had some friends over to the house.
“I don’t think I was stressed,” he said. “I was eager to leave.”
Frazier’s last game with the Vikings was a 14-13 victory over the Lions, a divisional win that left him optimistic ownership could be convinced to let him stay another year. He went out for dinner with his family that night, trying not to stress about what might happen the following morning.
“It’s definitely in the back of your mind,” he says. “What’s tomorrow going to be like?
“We had gone to the playoffs the year before. And then we took a step back, and there were circumstances that allowed that to happen. I felt like I was growing as a head coach, and I could see what we needed to do to get back to the playoffs.”
Most know it’s coming, or at least have a hunch. It’s the ones who are left stunned that Lewis can’t figure out.
He was the defensive coordinator for a Ravens team in 1998 that dropped three of its final four. After it was over, coach Ted Marchibroda and his staff were let go.
“It’s weird because we all kind of expected it, but there were coaches that were shocked,” Lewis said, laughing. “And I was like, ‘What season were you just in?’ That’s the hilarious part. There was one coach who had all his binders normally on his shelves, and the binders that were there were completely empty. Most coaches can figure it out. You don’t wanna be the one hanging around, cleaning your s— out.”

Black Monday
Romeo Crennel, fired in Cleveland on Black Monday in 2008, then in Kansas City in 2012, said most of the time the coach’s fate has already been decided when he pulls into the team facility a day after the season finale.
“They usually don’t tell you until Black Monday,” Crennel says, “and you’re not given much of a chance to make a case.”
He had a feeling he was done in Cleveland when he got word that the team’s owner at the time, Randy Lerner, was in town a day early. “That threw up some flags, because he was usually in town on Tuesday,” Crennel remembers.
Lerner came down to his office and delivered the news. “I figured I should probably leave the office, which I did, and I depended on my secretary to help get the office in order.”


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