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Chicago Bears, N.Y. Jets make major front-office changes

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By 10 a.m. ET Monday, the purge was essentially over. The coaches and general managers who were told they no longer had a place to work were relieved of their jobs before much of the country even reported to theirs. This is how it goes on the most brutal day of the NFL calendar -- when just 12 teams are happy and an unlucky handful are thrust into turmoil.

It took one coach who wasn't even on the firing line to sum up the mindset.

"There are only two kinds of coaches," Arizona's Bruce Arians said. "Ones that have been fired and ones that are gonna get fired."

Arians' well-regarded defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, is likely to receive a few calls this week, though the handful of those fired was smaller than it has been in recent years. Five teams are looking for new head coaches -- Jim Harbaugh's separation from the San Francisco 49ers sounded more like a celebrity divorce than a firing -- and two of them, the New York Jets and the Chicago Bears, also sent their general managers packing the day after the regular season concluded, indicating that a complete franchise-altering overhaul is underway.

None of the moves was a surprise -- each offseason usually features one stunner, like Cleveland's Rob Chudzinski last year, but so far, not this time. Still, the demise of Harbaugh and the turn of fortune for Mike Smith, who had a chance to take the Atlanta Falcons to the playoffs a little more than 12 hours before he was fired, were stark.

But the moves left behind the two most desirable openings, in large part because of the talented rosters in San Francisco and Atlanta and because of the feeling that both teams are in position for quick rebounds, such as the one Jim Caldwell constructed in his first season in Detroit.

The pressure on whomever San Francisco hires is likely to be immense. Harbaugh might have had a prickly relationship with owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke, but he engineered staggering, immediate success when he took over the 49ers after they had not had a winning season in eight years. York and Baalke, in a tense press conference Monday, struggled to answer directly why they could not work things out with Harbaugh, who signed on to be Michigan's head coach hours later.

"Again, we've had philosophical discussions, and when we sat down, we just couldn't come to a place where we thought moving together was the best for either party," York said. "It wasn't us saying, 'Jim, you're fired. You're not here anymore.' This wasn't Jim saying, 'I don't want to be here: I'm leaving.'

"It was a discussion that took place over, you know, a decent amount of time to figure out what's best for everybody involved, and it was the conclusion that we came to. It wasn't an easy conclusion for anybody, but that's where we ended up."

Harbaugh's success in San Francisco and Caldwell's experience in Detroit this season should be instructive to owners because of how unusual it is. Caldwell was the only new head coach from the seven this season who took his team to the playoffs.

The teams that have openings now, though, appear to be positioned for, at least, quick improvement.

The Jets, while coming off a season full of shortcomings owner Woody Johnson enumerated in a press conference Monday, own the sixth overall draft pick in 2015, at least $45 million in salary-cap space and some important pieces, such as Sheldon Richardson and Eric Decker, to build around.

Johnson has employed former general managers Charley Casserly and Ron Wolf to help him (consultants are a hot trend -- the Bears hired former general manager Ernie Accorsi, and the Falcons are using the executive search firm Korn Ferry) replace Rex Ryan and John Idzik, but the most important step in the process might have been made by Johnson himself. He admitted that he erred when he forced Idzik to retain Ryan two years ago, and that he regrets not re-signing cornerback Darrelle Revis or spending more money on the roster. Idzik and Ryan have paid with their jobs, but Johnson bears some of the blame for putting Idzik into a job he was not prepared for, for foisting a coach on him, for not trying to work out a deal for Revis because of past experiences with his agents.

"I get all the blame," Johnson said Monday. "I have to get a lot better."

The Falcons have Matt Ryan and one of the most dynamic players in the game in receiver Julio Jones. The Raiders have young cornerstones in quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack. And the Bears, who might be in a sticky situation with Jay Cutler's massive contract and a defense in need of reconstruction, still have receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

The makeups and relative shortcomings of the Bears and Falcons would seem to make their head-coaching jobs well-suited to Rex, who is considered a premier defensive mind. And while Rex might be able to make an immediate impact on that side of the ball, he did struggle to identify and develop a franchise quarterback in New York. Cutler and Ryan are seemingly entrenched in Chicago and Atlanta, respectively -- Cutler's contract makes his departure unlikely and Rex might take so small a role in the offense that he would not spar with the embattled passer -- and that would relieve Rex of the task that most directly led to his downfall with the Jets. If Rex were to go to Chicago, he would follow in the footsteps of his father, Buddy, whose famed 46 defense helped take the Bears to a Super Bowl in 1985.

Rex is likely to be sought after for interviews, though the scrambling for jobs with so few available might resemble a frenetic game of musical chairs. Among the other coaches expected to get a long look: Adam Gase, the Broncos' offensive coordinator. The 49ers and Falcons have already asked for permission to interview Gase, who drew interest last year but chose to focus on the Broncos' playoff run.

With the difficult dismissals out of the way, the work of moving on begins in earnest Tuesday. It took only one quote to sum up the mood of the teams that are in the middle of searches after their seasons collapsed. It came from Bears chairman George H. McCaskey, when asked how his 91-year-old mother, Virginia -- the principal owner and the daughter of George Halas -- was feeling about her team right now.

"She's pissed off," he said.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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