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NFL coaching changes on way as 2 more fired

By Richard Rosenblatt

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 3 2012 12:31 a.m. MST

Raheem Morris

Associated Press

Let the NFL coaching changes begin.

The St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the latest teams to fire their coaches, bringing to five the number of NFL clubs looking for the right man for the job.

The Rams fired Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney on Monday, and about an hour later the Bucs fired Raheem Morris and his entire staff.

Both were first-time head coaches, and both lasted three seasons. Spagnuolo leaves with a 10-38 record; Morris with a 17-31 mark.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said Monday he hasn't decided whether to retain Jim Caldwell after Indy finished 2-14 without Peyton Manning in the lineup. Irsay, however, fired vice chairman Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian.

The Jacksonville Jaguars started the coaching carousel by firing Jack Del Rio on Nov. 29; two weeks later the Miami Dolphins fired Tony Sparano and the Kansas City Chiefs dismissed Todd Haley.

And the search is on, especially in Florida, where all three NFL teams will have new coaches next season.

The Jaguars, with new owner Shahid Khan taking charge Wednesday, have received permission from the Jets to interview offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and from the Falcons to interview offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey for the vacancy.

Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland said Monday he and owner Stephen Ross have begun their search. Interim coach Todd Bowles is a long shot, and a front-runner has yet to surface.

The Chiefs went 2-1 under interim Romeo Crennel, including a win over the Packers, and he could end up with the job next season. Many Chiefs players have campaigned for Crennel to be hired.

The Rams finished a 2-14 season with a 34-27 loss to the 49ers, and could be interested in former Titans coach Jeff Fisher and former Bucs coach Jon Gruden. Both have relationships with Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff and agent Marvin Demoff.

Morris, 35, was supposed to be the rising young star in the coaching ranks after his Bucs won 10 games last season and just missed the playoffs. But his team lost its last 10 games and finished 4-12 this season.

In San Diego, Chargers coach Norv Turner says he knows a decision on his future is being made by team president Dean Spanos and will be announced in a matter of days. Turner says he'd be "excited" to return to the Chargers for his sixth season because he thinks they "can go do some great things."

NINERS WANT SMITH: Coach Jim Harbaugh has told 49ers quarterback Alex Smith the team plans to re-sign him beyond this season.

Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick out of Utah, received a $4.9 million, one-year contract as a free agent last July after the lockout — when many, including Smith himself, figured he'd be headed elsewhere following six up-and-down seasons. He has thrived under Harbaugh, a former NFL quarterback who recently endorsed Smith as the team's answer behind center moving forward.

"I told Alex, 'Hey, we're going to want you to come back here next year.' He's focused on the season, and that's where his mindset wants to be," said Harbaugh. "And I totally respect that, and we'll talk about it and address it once the season is over. That's the way I understand it right now."

The 27-year-old Smith has thrown for 3,150 yards and 17 touchdowns with only five interceptions for the NFC West champion Niners (13-3), who earned the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC and a first-round bye this week.

Smith is a big reason San Francisco finished with 10 total turnovers, which equaled the 2010 Patriots for fewest in NFL history since 1941.

MENDENHALL OUT: The Pittsburgh Steelers journey through the playoffs won't include running back Rashard Mendenhall.

Mendenhall has a torn ACL in his right knee and is out for the entire postseason.

GOOD NEWS FOR URLACHER: The Chicago Bears say an MRI taken Monday showed Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher suffered no major structural damage to his left knee in a season-ending win at Minnesota.

The Bears announced on their website that the test confirmed he sprained his medial-collateral ligament and partially sprained the posterior-cruciate ligament on an awkward landing late in Sunday's game, but there was no damage to his ACL, menisci or articulating cartilage.

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