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A Saint Goes Marching Out: Mora Quits

October 21, 1996 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Jim Mora resigned Monday as coach of the New Orleans Saints, midway through his 11th season and one day after blasting his coaches and players in a profane tirade following a loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Mora had coached the Saints since 1986, the longest tenure with one team of any current coach in major professional sports. His resignation came on the same day Dave Shula was fired as coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

His eyes red and his hands shaking, Mora announced his resignation at a news conference. Unlike Sunday’s postgame outburst, Mora praised the team as he read from a statement.


``They work very hard and this team is very, very close to being a very, very good football team,″ Mora said. He refused to take questions, walked briskly to the parking lot and drove away.

Mora was the first coach in Saints’ history to post a winning record, and he got the team to the playoffs four times _ their only playoff appearances. However, the Saints lost all four.

The Saints are 2-6, having lost their first five games, then winning two before the 19-7 loss at Carolina. His career record is 93-78 but he’s 24-32 since a 12-4 season in 1992.

Owner Tom Benson said Mora’s decision caught him by surprise. He said he and general manager Bill Kuharich would immediately begin looking for a new coach.

``We expect that announcement to be made very quickly,″ Benson said.

Special teams coach Bobby April said the coaches and players will stick to their usual schedule. The Saints have an open date this Sunday.

Players will have Tuesday off, and coaches will spend Tuesday preparing for the Nov. 2 game against San Francisco. Players will report for practice Wednesday.

Like Mora, Benson refused to take questions. He read from a statement in which he praised Mora’s record.

``I hope everyone will remember that this team never had a winning season until he became our coach,″ Benson said.

As recently as two weeks ago, Mora said he would never resign. Sunday’s loss, the second this season to NFC West rival Carolina, apparently changed that.

The game was followed by a profanity-laced news conference during which Mora assailed the effort of his players and coaches.

Assistant coaches said Mora told them he informed Benson of his decision Monday morning, then told the coaching staff at a 1:45 p.m. meeting. He broke down during the meeting and left.

Players said Mora sobbed as he told them of his resignation during a 2 p.m. meeting.

``He told us to keep on fighting, that we were going to be a good team,″ defensive end Joe Johnson said.

Mora’s son, Jim L. Mora, the Saints’ defensive backs coach, said he was not totally surprised at his father’s decision. He was at the news conference and afterward walked to the car with Benson.

Players and assistant coaches were stunned by the resignation.

``I’m kind of numb,″ said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

The last Saints coach to quit was Bum Phillips, who resigned during the 1985 season. His son Wade was named interim coach, and Mora took over in 1986 after a stint as coach of the USFL’s Philadelphia-Baltimore Stars, where he coached the team to two of the league’s three titles.

Mora enjoyed early successes with the Saints, becoming the toast of a town starved for victories. An expansion franchise born in 1967, the Saints had never had a winning season.

After a 7-9 first season, Mora guided the Saints to a 12-3 mark in the strike-shortened 1987 season.

That was the year he took the team to its first playoff appearance _ a loss to Minnesota. Three more playoff appearances would follow in the 1990, 1991 and 1992 seasons. Each loss, though, fed the discontent of fans who had at last become accustomed to winning.

The Saints began the 1993 season with five straight wins. Then things began to fall apart. Mora and the Saints finished that season 8-8. That was followed by two 7-9 seasons and this season’s 2-6 start.

There was speculation he would be fired last year, and after he opened 0-5 Benson reportedly tried to contact Jimmy Johnson, to no avail.

After the 7-9 season, however, Benson chose to honor the final year of Mora’s contract.