PHOENIX — The Phoenix Cardinals fired Coach Gene Stallings on Monday and named running back coach Hank Kuhlmann as his replacement on an interim basis for the NFL season's final five games.
The moves came two hours after Stallings announced that he would not seek to have his contract renewed at the end of the season.
"It's best that we make a move and put this team back in perspective of what we are here to do, and that's to win," Cardinal General Manager Larry Wilson said at a news conference. "Last year, we lost the last five games. I think we're are very capable of winning the last five games. But I think it would be disruptive if Gene was here as a part of it."
The Cardinals, who moved here from St. Louis in 1988, have had three consecutive losing seasons under the 54-year-old Stallings and were 23-34-1 during his tenure.
Phoenix is 5-6 this year heading to Sunday's home game against Tampa Bay.
Stallings' four-year contract, worth a reported $250,000 this season, was due to expire Feb. 1. The Cardinals said they will honor the remainder of the pact.
Speculation has been growing all season that the Cardinals would not rehire Stallings, and the situation came to a head over the weekend after the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a Wilson interview critical of Stallings.
The article quoted Wilson as saying Stallings works at being popular and was taking too much credit for the organization's success through a rash of injuries this year.
Stallings was given a copy of the story Friday and met with Wilson about it late Saturday night in Anaheim, before Sunday's 37-14 loss to the Rams.
"I asked Larry if the article was accurate. In part, the article reflected some of his feelings--that I wasn't a team player. I don't agree with that," Stallings said. "I'm loyal to the people I work with and work for."
Stallings said he made his decision Sunday night and informed the squad at its 2 p.m. meeting Monday at East High School here.
"The football team still has a chance to make the playoffs. I know it's slim. It's been slim for a long time. But we can't do it the way things are now. I don't think we can accomplish the goals that we want unless everybody's on the same page," Stallings said. "I just don't think the team can survive with controversy, and I don't want to be a part of that."
Stallings told reporters at 2:30 p.m. that he planned to honor the remainder of his contract and coach the final five games. But Wilson met with him 15 minutes later, decided to fire him and hired Kuhlmann at 4 p.m.
"I was caught off guard. But he had already discussed it with his players and his staff and there was no time to talk about it," Wilson said. "I think a number of things in the article were blown way out of proportion.
"I think his feelings are an over-reaction. But that's over and done. He made his decision and I made mine. The situation he put himself in made him part of the problem. That's why I asked him to leave today."
Wilson said Kuhlmann, a fourth-year Cardinal assistant, "will do a good job. He has the respect of the players and the other coaches."
Kuhlmann, 52, has no previous head coaching experience in the pros. He was a special teams coach at Green Bay (1972-74) and Chicago (1978-82), was an assistant at Notre Dame from 1975-77 and Missouri (1966-71) and with Birmingham in the defunct United States Football League in 1983-85.
"I'm going to work as hard as I always have," Kuhlmann said. "I really feel for Gene. But the Cardinals hired me to be a football coach and that's what I'm going to do. I'm honored the position was offered to me and I'm going to work hard at it.
"It's been a shock. Nobody likes to see things like this happen. But once Larry has a team meeting Wednesday morning and we start thinking about Tampa Bay, we'll start tuning our minds toward football again."
Many of the Cardinals said they were stunned by Stallings' decision and some were angry at the organization.
"It was handled in a terrible manner. A class man was handled in a very classless way," said two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Luis Sharpe.