As the 2015 NFL regular season comes to a close today, several teams have already gotten an early start on coaching changes, and more will follow in the coming days.
Prior to Sunday, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam made the decision to fire coach Mike Pettine, multiple sources said. Pettine is scheduled to meet with Haslam on Sunday night.
Pettine leaves after just two seasons full of quarterback movement and a woeful defense.
Haslam has already laid the groundwork for the move, doing work on potential candidates and seeing who will be available to him.
It ends a tumultuous tenure for Cleveland, filled with dysfunction, in-fighting, failed player acquisitions and wasted draft picks. Members of the front office were barely on speaking terms with the coaching staff, while Haslam informed them he must be consulted on endless football decisions. Pettine asked Haslam face-to-face on Friday if he would return, and the owner said nothing. Pettine and his staff then understood it was over.
"If it does go the wrong way for me, my biggest regret is not being able to deliver for these fans who have suffered for a long time," Pettine said. "It's a pass-fail league. Nobody wants to hear it takes time."
So who comes next for the Browns? According to sources, the Browns are expected to interview Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase for the head-coaching job. Former Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone likely will be interviewed by the team, too.
Here is a look at some of the other potential head-coach openings:
Colts coach Chuck Pagano: The expectation is Pagano is coaching his final game for the Colts, just one year after taking Indy to the AFC title game. Owner Jim Irsay hasn't made a formal decision -- a move he'd like to wait on until the season ends. But there is little belief Pagano will be asked back for 2016 in the form of an extension. He turned down a one-year contract before the season, putting himself on the hot seat.
As for general manager Ryan Grigson, he is expected to be retained for the coaching search, at the very least. While Pagano is in the final year of his contract, Grigson saw his option exercised more than a year. The Colts will think big for their next head coach, with names like Sean Payton and potentially Nick Saban on their radar. It is unclear how receptive both coaches will be. Saban gets inquiries every year and rarely considers them.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey: The interim coach hasn't won much, and with quarterback Marcus Mariota, this should be a prime opening. That said, the Titans are expected to consider Mularkey as a legitimate candidate. The organization has strong feelings for him and how he's handled Mariota. They also know it wouldn't be a popular hire for their fan base, which might make it a longshot move. But if they keep general manager Ruston Webster and extend CEO Steve Underwood, this could be the direction they are going.
Saints coach Sean Payton: Long a topic of discussion this season, Payton has made no secret of his openness to consider other options. Speaking with people informed of his thinking, he hasn't ruled out leaving New Orleans, with the hope that it's a clean and respectful break from the organization he took to great heights. The Saints, however, have said privately they'd like to receive compensation. The belief is a decade in one organization is enough.
Chargers coach Mike McCoy: The Chargers' brass will meet Monday to figure out what to do with McCoy following his third and most trying season. Sources say the Chargers will consider all factors that played into the season, including injuries. I'm told they are taking the long view and stepping back to consider how it got to 4-11 heading into Sunday. In addition, firing a coach the same day relocation applications for Los Angeles are due is an entirely new obstacle. Anything is possible, but the assumption just a few weeks ago that McCoy would be fired after the season is no longer valid.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell: The fate of Caldwell is in the hands of the unhired new general manager. There is no way of knowing if he'll return until his boss is hired, despite players speaking out for his return. But inside the organization, it does not feel like Caldwell is set to be fired. The Ford family has strong feelings for him, as he's quickly earned their respect. Given the way his team finished, it is no certainty the Lions job will be open.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin: Three people know Coughlin's fate -- co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, along with Coughlin. They'll meet Monday morning to decide Coughlin's future, and it is very possible he's coached his last game. Mara and Tisch have not shared their views with each other. In most organizations, this would be an easy decision. But the Giants aren't like most places, and they'll carefully weigh every issue, including how to send him out (if it's the end) in a respectful way. But everyone outside the organization believes this job will be open. If that happens, offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo will receive strong consideration for the job. Eli Manning loves him and has played some of his best football with McAdoo.
Niners coach Jim Tomsula: Just one season after parting ways with Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers organization is at a crossroads again. Word is no decision has been made on whether to retain Tomsula. The team's performance as of late will be watched closely. Those in charge will meet on Monday to hear Tomsula's plan for improvement and figure out what is in the best interest of the organization. But it is no sure thing Tomsula returns.