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Fifty Ways to Leave Your Owner
Steve Rushin
January 12, 2004
How would you like to be fired? This is not a threat but an honest question, meaning "In what way would you like to be fired?" The New York Jets, for instance, recently "cut ties" with four assistant coaches, evoking an oddly festive image of four neckties being scissored off, Stooge-style, just below the knot.
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January 12, 2004

Fifty Ways To Leave Your Owner

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How would you like to be fired? This is not a threat but an honest question, meaning "In what way would you like to be fired?" The New York Jets, for instance, recently "cut ties" with four assistant coaches, evoking an oddly festive image of four neckties being scissored off, Stooge-style, just below the knot.

The Miami Dolphins, on the other hand, "stripped" coach Dave Wannstedt of his general manager duties, denuding him of his business suit with one swift yank of the lapels—accompanied, no doubt, by a sound like ripping Velcro.

Perhaps you'd prefer to "resign," as Steve Spurrier did from the Washington Redskins. It's the perfect Nixonian verb—redolent of disgrace—and suggests that Spurrier, who helicoptered into a Redskins pep rally before his first season, likewise choppered out of Washington, flashing twin victory signs, one for each of his losing seasons. Victimized, you might say, by Visorgate.

Spurrier was not, it should be noted, "bought out," which hints at a selling of one's soul. (The buyout is Faustian, which can't be said of Gerry Faust, who resigned after five seasons at Notre Dame, lest he get "canned," like a Christmas ham.)

Rather, the Redskins will tell you, Spurrier was "released" from his contract, like a convalesced sparrow into the wild. In football a Roget's-sized volume of euphemisms is employed lo describe the newly unemployed. The NFL has as many words for fired as the Inuit do for snow. And, like snowflakes, every departure is different, remarkable in its own way.

For instance, in December, Dan Reeves "stepped down" as coach of the 3-10 Atlanta Falcons, implying, delusionally, that he had descended from a great height. To say that Dave McGinnis "stepped down" as coach of the perpetually woeful Arizona Cardinals would be sillier still, like saying a man "stepped down" from his bath mat. And so McGinnis was, instead, "let go" by Arizona.

An owner who "lets someone go" casts himself not as ogre but as emancipator, liberating his employee, Lincoln-like, to "pursue other opportunities." Like the timeless It's-Not-You-It's-Me breakup, letting go puts the onus on the firer. It makes the firee feel better. Which is why I always say, before abruptly ending an unwanted phone call, "I'll let you go now."

Sometimes a contract simply "expires," like lunch meat, leaving an owner no choice but to dispose of it. When Bill Callahan's contract with Oakland expired, the Raiders "declined to extend" it, putting us in mind of a sated Al Davis, napkin tucked into shirt collar, politely declining a second helping of 'Han Salad.

Nor did the Buffalo Bills fire Gregg Williams, though The Buffalo News did use a British synonym ("sack") in its headline. We can sympathize with a coach who's been "sacked"—it's what Huns did to Roman outposts—but Williams's contract was, to read some Transactions columns, simply "not renewed." The distinction is important, for the nonrenewal is entirely passive and implies a benign bureaucratic oversight, as if the Bills had absentmindedly neglected to renew their Redbook subscription.

Time was, Mr. Dithers would call Dagwood into his office and cry, "Bumstead, you're fired!" In December, New York Giants coach Jim Fassel did something like the opposite, charging into his boss's office and crying, in effect, "I'm fired!"

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