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Eagles Fire Head Coach Ray Rhodes

December 28, 1998

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Ray Rhodes was fired as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles today, ending a four-year reign that began with a coach of the year award and collapsed with a 3-13 season.

Following Rhodes’ advice and prediction, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie fired the 48-year-old coach after the team’s final game, a 20-10 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday that clinched Philadelphia’s first 13-loss season and worst record since 1972.

``When you don’t win, changes have to be made. This is part of the business,″ Rhodes said at a news conference with Lurie.

Rhodes acknowledged the worst-kept secret in the NFL two weeks ago, saying he knew he’d be fired and asking that it be done as soon as possible.

``This is kind of a culminaton for me of a very tough season,″ Lurie said. ``This is the first time, really, I’ve had to make a change with somebody I’m not only close to but I regard as a friend.″

On Sunday, Rhodes said goodbye to the team and gave another farewell speech _ even though Lurie waited until today to make the dismissal official.

``We are 3-13,″ Rhodes said. ``A new coach will be in here shortly.″

The firing was one of five today. Other coaches dismissed were the Chicago Bears’ Dave Wannstedt, the Baltimore Ravens’ Ted Marchibroda, the Carolina Panthers’ Dom Capers and the Seattle Seahawks’ Dennis Erickson.

Some early candidates to replace Rhodes are Capers; Steelers defensive coordinator Jim Haslett; Jacksonville offensive coordinator Chris Palmer; Minnesota offensive coordinator Brian Billick; and Wisconsin Badgers coach Barry Alvarez.

Rhodes’ dismissal left the NFL with only two black head coaches _ Minnesota’s Dennis Green and Tampa Bay’s Tony Dungy _ just as the league is ready to redouble efforts to give blacks more head coaching opportunities. Rhodes became only the third black head coach in NFL history when he was hired to replace Rich Kotite on Feb. 2, 1995.

``When Ray lands on his feet, I’m sure there will be a lot of guys who would love to be around him,″ said Eagles quarterback Rodney Peete, supportive of Rhodes despite being benched by him several times.

Rhodes led a veteran team with limited star power to a 10-6 record and playoff berth in his first season and was named coach of the year. The Eagles were 10-6 and made the playoffs again in his second season, but are 9-22-1 since then.

The season-ending loss to the Giants guaranteed Philadelphia the No. 2 in the upcoming draft, their highest position since they took running back Leroy Keyes in 1969. The expansion Cleveland Browns have the first pick.

The 3-13 record was the Eagles’ worst winning percentage since 1972, when Ed Khayat’s team was 2-11-1. They were shut out three times in a season for the first time since 1942 and became the first team in NFL history to twice be shut out at home in the same season _ 38-0 to Seattle in the season opener and 34-0 to Dallas on Nov. 2 in a Monday night game.

The Eagles haven’t won a road game since Dec. 14, 1996 _ at the Meadowlands against the Jets, a streak of 16 consecutive regular-season games.

Rhodes reportedly is a contender for the defensive coordinator job in Cleveland.

``I’m going to take a few weeks off, and then I’ll look around and see what’s out there,″ he said.

The season-opening loss to Seattle was a harbinger of just how troubling this season would become for fans waiting for their first championship since 1960. The perennial playoff appearances and cocky defenses under coach Buddy Ryan in the late ’80s _ when Veterans Stadium was the ``House of Pain″ _ seem a lifetime ago.

The Vet is a painful place again in Rhodes’ fourth season, but not in a good way.

``You would have to have a crystal ball to see how bad this pain was going to be,″ Rhodes said.

The Eagles’ only victories came against the Washington Redskins _ who were 0-5 at the time _ a 1-point win over the Detroit Lions and an overtime victory against Vermeil’s St. Louis Rams.

A long list of bad drafts and personnel decisions is blamed for the team’s decline in the Rhodes era. The trail of ineptitude started with the decision to move up and draft defensive end Mike Mamula with the seventh pick in the 1995 draft. It continued with the selection of offensive tackle Jermaine Mayberry in 1996 and defensive end Jon Harris in 1997.

Free-agent mistakes during Rhodes’ reign included signing George Hegamin ($10 million, five years) and letting running back Ricky Watters sign with Seattle before this season without replacing him with a bona fide featured back.

``I’m not happy with our drafts,″ said Lurie, taking one last swipe at Rhodes. ``... If you have intelligent people, you hope that your football decisions will be smart and lucky at the same time.″

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