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'It was clear cut'

Saints fire Ditka, clean house after disastrous season

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Posted: Thursday January 06, 2000 08:39 PM

  Mike Ditka After promising to take the Saints to the Super Bowl, Mike Ditka led the team to three straight below-.500 seasons. AP

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Mike Ditka's grand plans to transform the New Orleans Saints ended Wednesday when he was fired along with his assistants and the general manager following a 3-13 season.

The 60-year-old coach, who won a Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears in 1986, said he will never coach again.

"I'm sorry it didn't work out," Ditka said.

Ditka had a 15-33 record in his three years with the Saints, including a 6-23 mark in the last 29 games.

Also dismissed was general manager Bill Kuharich in a housecleaning by Saints owner Tom Benson three days after the season. Terry O'Neil, the Saints executive in charge of the salary cap, was fired as well.

"It was necessary to clear the slate," said Benson, who returned a day early from a Florida vacation to make the moves.

Peter King's Insight

The legendary Ditka apparently took the firing very well. He will be paid the remaining three years on his contract, which was just extended a year ago by Benson and Kuharich. Ditka is expected to be an immediate candidate for the television booth, either as the third man on the "Monday Night Football" team at ABC, or as a studio analyst for one of the other networks.

Sources said Benson is expected to hire one man to run the football organization -- perhaps former Washington Redskins general manager Charley Casserly -- and give that person the authority to hire a new coach.

It is expected that defensive coordinators Dom Capers of Jacksonville and Jim Haslett of Pittsburgh -- both former New Orleans assistants -- will be given consideration as the replacement for Ditka.


"Bill rose through the ranks here to become president of the company," he added. "Mike Ditka is one of the greatest football people ever. Both men were tremendous contributors to our community."

Ditka said he didn't fight to keep his job.

"I understand it fully: You're 3-13, you have the expectations we do, you bring in Ricky Williams, and it doesn't work out," Ditka said. "I mean, we got to be realists."

Ditka traded every draft pick and first- and third-round picks in 2000 to get Williams, the Heisman Trophy winning running back. But Williams was injured much of this season.

Ditka signed a contract last year that pays him about $2 million annually until 2002. Kuharich signed in August for about $500,000 a year through 2003.

Ditka said that despite the team's weak record he thought he and his staff would have another year. But Kuharich, who has been with the Saints for 14 years, said he wasn't surprised.

"Unfortunately in this business if you don't win enough games, there are days like this," he said.

The 45-13 loss to the Panthers on Sunday was the worst in Ditka's coaching career. It wrapped up the seventh-straight season New Orleans has finished without a winning record.

Ditka coached the Bears for 11 years. Under his iron command, Chicago dominated the NFC Central with 52 regular season victories between 1985-88. That was the most wins by an NFL team in any four-year period.

Ditka ranked second among Bears coaches in both tenure and victories. He coached the Bears to six NFC Central titles, three appearances in the NFC title game and a Super Bowl title. The Bears were 18-1 that year. After the Super Bowl, Ditka was honored as coach of the year.

After being fired by Chicago in 1993, Ditka worked as an NFL commentator for four years. He was hired by the Saints on Jan. 28, 1997, and Ditka immediately announced his plans to take the Saints to the Super Bowl. He said he planned to stock the team with high character players who would do what it took to win.

His first year was marked by sideline tantrums, yanking players out of games and even a threat to quit, which he rescinded later. The Saints were 6-10 and 6-10 in Ditka's first two years.

He maintained close ties with Chicago, where he ran a restaurant and returned frequently, among other things to twice sing during the Cubs' seventh-inning stretch.

Ditka played in five Pro Bowls and two league championships (1963, 1971) and a Super Bowl during his NFL playing career with the Dallas Cowboys. He was the first tight end to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was the NFL rookie of the year in 1961. Ditka was also an assistant coach with Dallas in 1977.

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