Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy is finishing his eighth season.
The rest of the NFC North will have a combined one year of experience after the Detroit Lions fired Jim Schwartz and the Minnesota Vikings fired Leslie Frazier on Monday. That leaves only McCarthy and Chicago’s Marc Trestman, who just finished his first season guiding the Bears.
One season after the Vikings beat the Packers to get into the playoffs, only to lose at Lambeau Field in the Wild Card round, Frazier was fired after going 5-10-1.
"It's a harsh business," safety Harrison Smith said. "As a player, we all love Coach Frazier, as a coach, as a man. You can't meet a better guy. And also as a player, we didn't make enough plays on the field. So you just feel like you let him down a little bit."
After going 10-6 in 2012, the Vikings were done in by a leaky late-game defense and ongoing instability at quarterback. Frazier finished 21-33-1 in three-plus years, including 8-22-1 outside the Metrodome.
Speaking to the team shortly after his dismissal, he received a round of applause on his way out.
"It was a somber moment. Everybody was really kind of quiet and really just took it all in," cornerback Chris Cook said. "I feel like everyone is sad to see him go."
Frazier wasn't available for comment, but after the season-ending win over Detroit on Sunday he urged the front office to honor the remaining season on his contract and made a point to mention the quarterback problem and a lack of depth the Vikings had this year while expressing pride in the job he'd done.
Hired by Brad Childress to be the defensive coordinator in 2007, Frazier interviewed for seven NFL head coach openings over a three-year span. His chance came with the Vikings when Childress was fired in the middle of a messy 2010 season. Chairman Zygi Wilf and President Mark Wilf made the decision to give Frazier the job for good in 2011, and the owners made the final call on Monday to fire him, general manager Rick Spielman said, despite pervasive fondness for Frazier.
"He was well-respected in this building. That's what makes the decision so difficult," Spielman said.
Spielman touted 13 categories of possible replacements -- college head coaches with NFL experience or current defensive coordinators, for example -- and promised to work swiftly without panic through the interview process.
"Talking to ownership, we will be very busy. I just told them don't plan on any stadium meetings for the next two weeks," Spielman said.
Spielman didn't directly answer a question about whether he gave Frazier a quarterback and a roster he could consistently win with, but he subtly and gently brushed aside the weaknesses the coach noted the day before. Spielman pointed out that Green Bay and Chicago played for the NFC North title on Sunday despite losing Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler for several games each.
"I feel very optimistic about this young talent that we have on this football team," Spielman said.
The Vikings lost four games and tied one this season when they led with 52 seconds or less remaining in regulation, though, so quarterback was far from the only problem.
In Detroit, Schwartz was fired with two years and nearly $12 million left on his contract. The Lions started the season 6-3 but plunged to 7-9. After throttling the Packers 40-10 on Thanksgiving, they lost their last four games — including the final three by six points.
Schwartz informed the players of the decision during a team meeting.
"I feel awful for him," Lions center Dominic Raiola said. "I feel like we let him down."
Team President Tom Lewand said the search has begun for what he thinks is one of the most — if not the most — attractive opportunities for a head coach in the NFL.
"I can verify that by the number of calls we have already gotten since the announcement was made," Lewand said. "Going through a thorough process is extremely important. That doesn't necessarily it has to be a long process."
San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is among the potential candidates. Whisenhunt led the Arizona Cardinals to the Super Bowl during a six-year run as their coach and Lions general manager Martin Mayhew is a former Washington Redskins teammate.
Detroit flopped to a 7-9 record this year after a 6-3 record start put the franchise in a position to win a division title for the first time since 1993.
"That is the reason we are sitting here having this conversation," Lewand said.
Schwartz was 29-51 over five seasons, including a 10-6 mark in 2011 that lifted the Lions to their only postseason appearance this century. The former Titans defensive coordinator was hired in 2009 when Detroit was coming off the NFL's first 0-16 season.
"Jim inherited a very tough job," Mayhew acknowledged.
Schwartz was 12-32 in games in November or later for a .273 winning percentage that was the worst for a coach in five-plus straight seasons with a team since Denver's Lou Saban won one-quarter of those late-season games from 1967-1971, according to STATS. His .363 winning percentage overall with the Lions is the worst by an NFL coach in his first five full seasons since John McKay won fewer than 30 percent of his games with the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976-1980.
Barely 12 hours after the NFL's regular season ended, five head coaches were unemployed, with Washington's Mike Shanahan, Tampa Bay's Greg Schiano and Cleveland Browns’s Rob Chudzinski joining Fraizier and Schwartz.
Shanahan, who won two Super Bowls in Denver in the 1990s, spent four seasons with the Redskins and was 24-40. Schiano only got two years with the Buccaneers, going 11-21. He had three years and $9 million left on his contract.
Tampa Bay also fired general manager Mark Dominik.