Head coach Jim Schwartz was fired by the Detroit Lions after a 2013 season that saw the team go from a 6-3 start to losing six of the final seven games to finish 7-9.
Detroit led in the fourth quarter in all seven of those games, including the season-ending loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
A decision on the fate of general manager Martin Mayhew was made Sunday, and he was informed he was staying with the Lions.
Schwartz, 29-51 in five seasons, met with the team Monday and informed players he was fired. He is owed $12 million for the remainder of his contract.
"He's done a lot of good things for this team and this organization, so it's tough," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "I've only played for one head coach in the NFL, Coach Schwartz, and I felt like we had a great locker room. It's not always what everyone hears on the outside. It was a joy to play for him. It was fun."
The Lions have not won the division in 20 seasons but held a 1 1/2-game lead when they improved to 6-3. But mistakes by Stafford and a leaky defense that was a constant under the defensive-minded head coach were too much to overcome.
The Lions have the second-most salary committed to their 2014 roster, but the roster is thought to be good enough to contend in the NFC North.
Even so, Detroit is hiring a coach for the seventh time since 2000. Schwartz met with his plays after learning of his dismissal Monday.
"He got a little choked up, which is fitting," wide receiver Nate Burlseon said. "He's emotionally tied into this organization. It was tough to deal with. I don't know what my future is. We'll see."
Outside linebacker Ashlee Palmer said "you could hear a pin drop in there," as Schwartz spoke.
"He just wanted to walk out with his head high," said Palmer. "He let us know that they fired him. He said there'd be plenty of times for us to talk one-on-one. We've come a long way with him."
Candidates for the job are likely to be those with experience and a proven ability to coax top performance out of quarterbacks. Stafford is to be paid $90 million over five years thanks to a three-year contract extension signed prior to the 2013 season but became as much of a hindrance as anything late in the season.
San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Penn State coach Bill O'Brien are among early targets if Mayhew and chairman Bill Ford Jr., according to multiple reports.