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NFL: WEEK 17

Cardinals fire Green; Falcons dismiss Mora

Dennis Green and Jim Mora yesterday became the first, but possibly not the last, NFL coaches fired this season.

Green was canned by the Arizona Cardinals after he failed to turn the downtrodden franchise into a winner in three seasons on the job.

Mora was jettisoned by the Atlanta Falcons just two years after he led the team to the NFC Championship game but after two disappointing seasons.

Green was dismissed one day after the Cardinals concluded a 5-11 season with a 27-20 loss at San Diego. He finished with a 16-32 record at Arizona.

The Cardinals will pay $2.5 million to buy out the final year of his contract.

He was the seventh coach the Cardinals have had since the franchise moved to Arizona in 1988. Green's teams in Arizona went 6-10, 5-11, and 5-11. He has a career NFL coaching record of 124-115.

"In the final analysis, when you look at the three years of wins and losses, we didn't win enough games," said Cardinals vice president and general counsel Michael Bidwill, son of owner Bill Bidwill.

Michael Bidwill announced at a news conference that Rod Graves, vice president for football operations, has been given a three-year extension to his contract that expired after this season.

Graves identified several candidates to replace Green and said the list could grow. One of the candidates is Mike Sherman, the former Green Bay Packers coach and now assistant head coach of the Houston Texans. Sherman is to be interviewed Thursday, Graves said.

Among the other candidates are Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera; Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow; Indianapolis Colts assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell; Russ Grimm, assistant head coach/offensive line coach in Pittsburgh; and Ken Whisenhut, offensive coordinator of the Steelers.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank decided to fire Mora, whose team lost six of its final eight games in 2005 to miss the playoffs, and finished 7-9 this season by losing seven of its last nine contests.

Atlanta went into the final weekend with a slim chance to slip into the playoffs with a .500 record.

That ended Saturday night when the New York Giants won at Washington; the Falcons closed the season Sunday with a meaningless 24-17 loss at Philadelphia.

The 45-year-old Mora, son of longtime NFL coach Jim Mora, went 26-22 in three seasons as Atlanta's coach.

A former defensive coordinator in San Francisco, the younger Mora led the Falcons to the NFC South title in his rookie season. The team slumped to 8-8 a year ago, then endured his first losing record.

"I'm proud of the many things we accomplished here, even though we fell short of our goal to bring a Super Bowl title back home to these people," Mora said.

Mora had two years left on his contract, which was extended before this season.

"This was an extremely difficult decision for us," Blank said in a statement before an afternoon news conference. "We had the highest hopes and aspirations for a long run with Jim as our coach, but we feel this decision is in the best long-term interests of our franchise. I have great respect for Jim's passion for the game, and we wish Jim and his family all of the best."

Mora's third season was his most difficult. The defense was weakened by injuries to star ends Patrick Kerney and John Abraham, while the offense had to make do without reliable receiver Brian Finneran, who tore up a knee in training camp.

But Mora's tenure also was marked by an odd series of off-field distractions, including the embarrassment he caused himself during a Seattle radio station interview before a crucial game against Dallas last month.

Mora said his "dream job" was to coach at the University of Washington, his alma mater, and that he'd jump at the chance to take it -- even if the Falcons were in the middle of the playoffs.

The fact the school already has a coach, Tyrone Willingham, only added to the embarrassment.

Mora also endured an awkward situation created by his father. The senior Mora, also speaking on a radio show, agreed with a co-host that quarterback Michael Vick was a "coach killer."

Vick was clearly upset by the comment and left to wonder if the father's opinion was influenced by private comments from Atlanta's coach.

Saban not talking
The University of Alabama renewed its courtship of Dolphins coach Nick Saban, and he declined to say whether he'll remain with Miami. "I've got a rule that I'm not talking about any of that stuff," Saban said. At a 25-minute day-after-the-season news conference, Saban tried to limit the conversation to the Dolphins' disappointing year and offseason issues. But several newspapers have reported that Alabama is prepared to offer Saban a seven-year deal that would make him college football's highest-paid coach. When asked if there's an Alabama offer on the table, Saban said, "I have not talked to anyone." When asked if he's scheduled to meet with school officials this week, he said, "I don't know about that." . . . Following his best season, Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor says he'll consider retirement at age 32. Taylor scored twice on interceptions, had 13 1/2 sacks, and is a contender for NFL defensive player of the year. But following Sunday's season-ending loss at Indianapolis, he said retirement is a possibility. "Yes, I will have to think about it, and there are no guarantees," Taylor said. Said Saban: "He plays and competes so hard, that guy is just worn out right now."

Meetings for Crennel
Romeo Crennel's second season with the Cleveland Browns was defined by injuries, distractions, and more losses. He still isn't certain if he'll be back to coach a third one. "I believe I will [return]," Crennel said. "I have no reason to believe otherwise." However, that could hinge on upcoming meetings with general manager Phil Savage and owner Randy Lerner, who plan to dissect Cleveland's 4-12 season, the club's fourth straight with at least 10 losses. In order for Crennel to stay, he may have to make sweeping changes to his coaching staff and promise to apply a heavier hand with discipline to some of his players, specifically wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who was late for team meetings, threw a sideline tantrum during one game, and had several crucial drops.

Morgan gets OK
Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Dan Morgan said he's been cleared to return to football next season despite multiple concussions. Morgan suffered at least the fifth concussion of his career in the season opener against Atlanta and missed the rest of the season. But Morgan said he was in Pittsburgh last week, where he took numerous tests and a team of physicians led by concussion expert Mickey Collins gave him the OK to begin playing again during minicamps in the spring . . . The Steelers don't yet know whether they will be losing coach Bill Cowher, but yesterday it was announced that Dick Hoak, a Steelers player or coach all but one season since 1961, is retiring after an NFL-record 35 continuous seasons as an assistant coach with the team. The 67-year-old Hoak was the only assistant to work for Chuck Noll and Cowher . . . Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Travis Taylor was arrested early yesterday outside a downtown Minneapolis nightclub, hours after the team's season-ending 41-21 loss to St. Louis. Taylor, 27, refused an officer's request that he get into a waiting limousine-bus as police tried to disperse a large, unruly crowd so an ambulance could get through around 2:30 a.m., a police spokesman said. Taylor began pushing the officer and the officer used a Taser to subdue Taylor. He was booked into the Hennepin County Jail on allegations of fifth-degree assault, disorderly conduct, and interfering with pedestrian or vehicular traffic. He posted $50 bail and was released.

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