ALAMEDA, Calif. — Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio was fired Sunday after his third year when the impressive turnaround job he engineered for his hometown team collapsed with a disappointing six-win season.
Del Rio said owner Mark Davis told him after the team's season-ending 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday that he would not be retained as coach in Oakland. Del Rio had signed a four-year contract extension last February after Oakland ended a 13-year playoff drought with a 12-win season.
The Raiders followed that up by becoming one of the league's disappointing teams. Oakland went 6-10 for the second biggest one-season drops in wins in franchise history, leading to Del Rio's firing and raising speculation that former coach Jon Gruden could be in line for a second stint as Raiders coach.
Gruden was traded by the Raiders to Tampa Bay following the 2001 season and beat Oakland for the Super Bowl title the following season. He was fired by the Buccaneers following the 2008 season and has been in the broadcast booth since then. ESPN reported Saturday that the Raiders were interested in bringing Gruden back.
Davis has always been intrigued about a second stint with Gruden but it seemed unlikely the franchise would be in for another change heading into this season. Del Rio had been the ninth coach in Oakland since Gruden left but the only one to get the team to the playoffs.
He took over a three-win team in 2015 and immediately changed the culture and helped Oakland win seven games that season. The Raiders had a breakthrough season in 2016 with 12 wins but it ended in disappointment when a broken leg for quarterback Derek Carr in Week 16 cost the Raiders a chance at a division title and led to a first-round playoff loss.
Expectations were high coming into this year with Carr and most of the key offensive pieces back, along with the addition of running back Marshawn Lynch and tight end Jared Cook.
But Del Rio's decision to fire coordinator Bill Musgrave after last season despite a dynamic offense and replace him with quarterbacks coach Todd Downing backfired.
The offense regressed significantly this season as Carr struggled under Downing's tutelage and the defense showed no signs of improvement before firing coordinator Ken Norton Jr. after 10 games.
The Raiders had major drops in scoring (26 to 18.8), yards per game (373.3 to 324.1) and committed twice as many turnovers (14 to 28) this season as Carr took a major step back in his development after signing a $125 million, five-year extension in the offseason.
The defense became the first in NFL history to fail to record on interception in the first 10 games of the season and generated only 14 takeaways all season compared to 30 in 2016.
That all led to the decision to fire Del Rio, whose 187 games as a head coach are the most for anyone without a division title in his career.
First, Chuck Pagano lost Andrew Luck.
Then the Indianapolis Colts started losing games.
And now it has cost him a job.
Six years after convincing Jim Irsay he could lead the Colts to a Super Bowl, and two years after convincing the team owner to give him a surprise contract extension, Pagano was fired Sunday less than two hours after the Colts' beat Houston 22-13 in their season finale.
The win ended a six-game losing streak but couldn't cloak the fact Indy missed the playoffs three consecutive years, the first time that's happened since a seven-year drought from 1988-94, or finished with its first losing record in six years.
"Chuck Pagano provided Colts fans with many exciting wins and memories as head coach of the Colts," team owner Jim Irsay said in the statement. "Throughout his tenure in Indianapolis, he impacted the lives of the players he coached, those who he worked with in the organization and Colts fans across the globe. Chuck's first season was one of the more inspirational stories in NFL history as he courageously battled and overcame leukemia. As a result, his CHUCKSTRONG Foundation has raised millions for cancer research. We are thankful for Chuck's contributions to our franchise and community and we wish him, Tina and the entire Pagano family nothing but the best moving forward."
It was the worst kept secret in town.
Almost from the moment the Colts (4-12) were eliminated from playoff contention, speculation ramped up about Pagano's ouster being only a matter of time.
Even Pagano hinted at the move Wednesday when he referred to Sunday's game as the "last rodeo."
And before his postgame meeting with Irsay, Pagano sounded more resigned to his fate than he did either of the last two years when his job status also was tenuous.
"Call me crazy, but I'm a believer to the core. You know, I don't know what tomorrow brings. I don't know what the next hour brings," Pagano said. "But I do know I'm very grateful to Jim Irsay and to the Irsay family. His unwavering commitment is second to none in football, and he's given us everything we needed to be successful. And I'm very grateful for the opportunity he gave me."
Pagano wasn't entirely at fault for this season's results.
The early successes and steady decline during Pagano's tenure coincided perfectly tandem with Luck's health.
When Luck started every game during his first three seasons, the Colts won 11 games each year, reached the playoffs three times and advanced one step deeper in the postseason each year.
When the injuries struck, Indy crashed. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback missed 26 of 48 games since 2015, and the result was consecutive 8-8 finishes before this season's (4-12) debacle during which Luck never took a snap.
But to an owner who has grown accustomed to playing games deep into January, Luck's absence wasn't enough of a reason to give Pagano yet another chance — especially after essentially putting Pagano on notice last January that he expected a playoff appearance after firing general manager Ryan Grigson.
"He (Irsay) is like all of us. He wants to win," Pagano said in October after the Colts were shut out for the first time since 1993.
It wasn't just the playoff absences.
Fans became increasingly disgruntled with a long-promised defensive turnaround that never happened, a series of questionable play calls, and persistent penalties.
As the 2017 season wore on, the shrinking home crowds became a gauge of fan sentiment.
But there were plenty of good moments, too.
The 57-year-old Colorado native presided over one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in league history in 2012, turning a 2-14 team that was supposed to be the NFL's worst into an instant playoff contender while waging a courageous public battle against leukemia. When Pagano missed 12 games to undergo chemotherapy, the tag-team coaching tandem of Pagano and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians delivered a nine-game improvement before losing to eventual world champion Baltimore in the wild-card round.
Arians was voted AP Coach of the Year.
Pagano went on to win AFC South titles in 2013 and 2014 and led Indy to the AFC title game following the 2014 season.
He finished with a solid record of 56-46, 3-3 in the postseason.