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NFL Notebook

Spagnuolo, Morris sent packing

Associated Press / January 3, 2012
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Let the coaching changes begin.

The Rams and Buccaneers yesterday became the latest teams to fire their coaches, bringing to five the number of NFL clubs looking for the right man for the job.

The Rams fired Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney, and about an hour later the Bucs fired Raheem Morris and his entire staff.

Both were first-time head coaches, and both lasted three seasons. Spagnuolo leaves with a 10-38 record; Morris with a 17-31 mark.

Spagnuolo and Devaney were fired one day after the Rams wrapped up a 2-14 season tied for the NFL’s worst. Kevin Demoff, vice president and chief operating officer, said owner Stan Kroenke made the decision Sunday night.

Demoff said a report that former Titans coach Jeff Fisher had already been scheduled for the first interview was “100 percent false.’’ But he added that Fisher was a “potentially attractive candidate.’’

Demoff’s father, Marvin Demoff, is Fisher’s agent.

Demoff expects the search for both positions to be concluded in the next few weeks and said it didn’t necessarily matter which position was filled first. Former coach Dick Vermeil and Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk will be consultants, and Demoff said Kroenke “will be heavily involved.’’

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the only assistant coach under contract through next season.

The Buccaneers announced the change one day after a 45-24 loss to the Falcons extended the franchise’s longest losing streak within the same season since 1977 to 10 games.

Morris went 10-6 in 2010, when the Bucs narrowly missed the playoffs.

“This change is one we felt was necessary,’’ GM Mark Dominik said in a brief statement released by the team.

Wannstedt bumped up

Bills coach Chan Gailey said defensive coordinator George Edwards has been fired and will be replaced by Dave Wannstedt. Wannstedt takes over after spending the past season as the team’s assistant head coach while also responsible for inside linebackers. He is a defensive specialist who previously served as head coach at Chicago and Miami. Edwards had just completed his second season at the position. The move was made a day after the Bills (6-10) closed their season with a 49-21 loss to the Patriots . . . Chargers coach Norv Turner said he knows a decision on his future is being made by team president Dean Spanos and will be announced in a matter of days. Turner said he’d be “excited’’ to return to the Chargers for his sixth season because he thinks they “can go do some great things.’’ Whether he gets the chance is up to Spanos, who also is deciding whether GM A.J. Smith returns. The Chargers (8-8) missed the playoffs for the second straight season . . . Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland began their search for a head coach by interviewing Todd Bowles, who was interim coach for the final three games after Tony Sparano was fired.

Mendenhall out

The Steelers’ journey through the playoffs won’t include running back Rashard Mendenhall. A person familiar with the injury told the AP that Mendenhall has a torn ACL in his right knee and is out for the entire postseason. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not made an official announcement about Mendenhall’s status. Mendenhall will have surgery before the end of January. Second-year back Isaac Redman and rookie John Clay will fill in when the Steelers face Denver in the AFC wild card round Sunday . . . The Broncos won’t have Chris Kuper for the playoffs after the starting right guard broke his left leg in Sunday’s game and was placed on injured reserve. Denver may also be without fullback Spencer Larsen, who has a sprained MCL in his left knee. The Broncos fortified their line by signing tackle Ryan Harris, who was a three-year starter in Denver from 2007-10 . . . The Bears said an MRI showed Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher suffered no major structural damage to his left knee in a season-ending win at Minnesota.

Smith 49ers’ QB

Coach Jim Harbaugh told 49ers quarterback Alex Smith the team plans to re-sign him beyond this season. Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick out of Utah, received a $4.9 million, one-year contract as a free agent last July after the lockout - when many, including Smith, figured he’d be headed elsewhere following six up-and-down seasons. He has thrived under Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback who recently endorsed Smith as the team’s answer behind center. The 27-year-old Smith has thrown for 3,150 yards and 17 touchdowns with only five interceptions for the NFC West champion Niners (13-3), who earned the No. 2 playoff seed and a first-round bye this week . . . Given Chad Clifton’s long and distinguished track record, Packers coach Mike McCarthy apparently didn’t need to see much from the veteran left tackle to give him his job back. After a long injury layoff, Clifton returned to the field in the regular-season finale against Detroit. His play wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough for McCarthy to tell reporters that Clifton will start at left tackle in the playoffs . . . Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald made the spectacular catches that led to the Cardinals’ 23-20 OT victory over Seattle despite a bruised lung.

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