One man is gone because he wasn't Vince Lombardi. Or even Mike Holmgren.
Another is gone because he wasn't Bill Parcells.
And a third is gone because he got tired of being Bill Parcells.
On Monday, with one regular-season game left and the playoffs yet to begin, the annual NFL off-season game of finger-pointing and blame-assigning began with three head coaching positions changing.
Two of the head coaches, Ray Rhodes of the Green Bay Packers and Pete Carroll of the New England Patriots, were fired. The third, Parcells of the New York Jets, chose to leave coaching on his own, citing burnout.
Parcells said he would concentrate on running the team from the front office -- he is the team's chief football operations official -- while the coaching reins will be assumed by his close friend, defensive coordinator Bill Belichick.
Howard Katz, president of ABC Sports, wouldn't dismiss the possibility that Parcells might return to the broadcast booth as a third announcer for ''Monday Night Football.''
As soon as Rhodes and Carroll departed speculation on successors began.
New England was initially interested in Belichick. So interested that a Patriot official called the Jets Monday morning to ask permission to talk to Belichick, only to be told that Parcells was stepping aside to let Belichick take command. Parcells' departure might have been hastened by the Jets' desire to keep Belichick, a former head coach of the original Cleveland Browns.
Among those being rumored to replace Carroll are Marty Schottenheimer, who previously coached the Kansas City Chiefs, and Gary Kubiak, offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos.
In Green Bay, the options are less clear. Steve Mariucci would seem to be the favorite -- if he doesn't remain coach of the San Francisco 49ers. But at this point, Mariucci appears to be more likely to remain than General Manager Bill Walsh.
Some still cling to the theory that Parcells resigned so he could go to work for Green Bay General Manager Ron Wolf, a close friend, but that doesn't seem plausible. If Parcells wanted to continue coaching, it seems more likely that he would have finished the job he started with the Jets.
There is even some speculation that the Packers would dip into the college ranks and go after Wisconsin Coach Barry Alvarez, whose team won the Rose Bowl game for the second consecutive year Saturday. Alvarez's coaching philosophy seems more geared to the collegiate game, however, and his wife, Cindy, said last week that Alvarez had turned down one NFL job and wasn't interested in leaving Wisconsin.
Both the Packers and Patriots figure to wait until the list of departing coaches is complete.
Jimmy Johnson may walk away from his job as Miami Dolphin coach if his club is eliminated from the playoffs early. And the New Orleans Saints might still fire Mike Ditka.
Rhodes' departure was the most surprising of the three. He was fired after only one season on the job, after four as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. When the Packers finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time in seven years, Rhodes became only the second Packer coach to be let go after one season.
The first was Ray ''Scooter'' McLean in 1958. He was replaced by Lombardi.
Rhodes joined the Packers with a reputation as a players' coach. It proved to be his undoing because Wolf thought Rhodes had lost control of the team.
Wolf said he'd expected the Packers to be a ''well-disciplined, tough and hard-nosed football team.... Is (Rhodes) a different coach than I thought he was? The answer to that is yes.''
Wolf signed Rhodes to a four-year, $4 million contract a year ago and only a few weeks ago labeled rumors that Rhodes might be fired as ''ludicrous.''
''I'm not an excuse-maker,'' said the Rhodes, 49, at his farewell news conference. ''As a team, we didn't get this thing done this year. I will be the last to try to make any excuses for anything. This is a business about getting things done. Everyone knows that when things don't happen, these are the circumstances that follow.''
Carroll leaves the Patriots with the best winning percentage in team history -- 56.3 percent at 27-21 -- but was never able to fill the shoes of his predecessor, Parcells. Under Carroll, the Patriots went from 10-6 to 9-7 to this season's non-playoff qualifying 8-8.
''This is a business of accountability,'' Patriot owner Bob Kraft said. ''Two years ago, we won the division, last year, we barely made the playoffs, and this year, we're 8-8. We need a momentum change.''
Although Parcells had been dropping hints that he might be ready to leave the sideline, it was thought that he might be persuaded to stay because of the success he had in resurrecting a team that nose-dived after its starting quarterback, Vinny Testaverde, suffered a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury in the first game.
It took Parcells awhile to figure it out, but once he settled on Ray Lucas as the starting quarterback midway through the season, the Jets recovered nicely, winning five of their last seven to wind up 8-8, but still out of the playoffs.
The 58-year-old Parcells, who had retired because of heart trouble after leading the New York Giants to Super Bowl victories in 1987 and '91, returned to coaching and took the Patriots to the Super Bowl three years ago.
Dissatisfied when Kraft wouldn't give him total control of the team, Parcells jumped to the Jets in 1997, when they offered him the dual positions of coach and chief of football operations.
''You can't fool yourself,'' Parcells said Monday. ''This has turned into a 365-day-a-year job.... I coached hard right to the end. I think the players would tell you that.''
In telling his players he would no longer be their coach, Parcells read a poem, ''The Man in the Glass,'' referring to one's mirror image. It concludes:
''You may fool the whole world down the pathway of life,
And get pats on the back as you pass.
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears,
If you've cheated the man in the glass.''
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