Firings are common, but it's not routine for those going through it

Firing Philbin won't solve all Dolphins' problems (1:47)

Ron Jaworski and Adam Schefter dissect the Dolphins situation that doesn't have a veteran to step in as coach to help out a quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who has been regressing this season. (1:47)

By the time Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams was dumped after a season of dysfunction, the weeks-long drumbeat of predictions that his exit was going to happen made it seem like old news. The talk was already about who would be the next to go. It didn't take long to find out, with the Miami Dolphins booting head coach Joe Philbin soon after the Williams news broke.

Getting fired is one of the most taken for granted and yet least illuminated occurrences in sports. Nobody seems immune from getting ousted, canned, axed or the more genteel "relieved of their duties." Players get cut constantly. Head coaches and managers get whacked. Team presidents and general managers get replaced. The backstories are often brutal.

The New Jersey Devils enjoyed frequent success under team president Lou Lamoriello even though he made an extraordinary 20 coaching changes in his 28 years. In the NFL, so many firings are condensed into the day after the regular season ends that there's a name for it: Black Monday.

"I hate it," said former Ravens coach Brian Billick, who did an entire podcast on the topic last season with fellow NFL analyst Steve Mariucci. In it, Mariucci related a story about his 1997 job interview with the San Francisco 49ers.

"When I was hired by the 49ers, I asked Carmen Policy, 'George Seifert won two Super Bowls here -- why isn't George Seifert still your head coach?'" Mariucci recalled. "He said, 'You know what? Every coach has a shelf life. And you know what, Steve? You have a shelf life, too. You're not going to be here forever.'"

The moral of the story?

"You're not married, you're dating," said Mariucci, who was fired by the 49ers after six seasons despite a 57-39 record and four trips to the playoffs.

For most of us on the outside, the story usually ends there, when someone is asked to go away.

But for the person getting fired, the aftershocks are often just starting, or restarting for those who'd been through it before. There are lifestyle and emotional upheavals to endure. Some behind-the-scenes events seem gut-wrenching at the time but later transform into funny or cathartic, now-it-can-be-told stories.

"I knew a coach I called after he'd been fired and he invited me out to his house immediately because he was having a bonfire to burn all of his gear and T-shirts and stuff from that team,'' said Stan Van Gundy, the Detroit Pistons' general manager and coach.

When Van Gundy himself was fired by Wisconsin in 1995 after one season ("I felt like a failure," he admits), he had a garage sale to get rid of his team gear because, "Let's face it, you know you're never going to wear that stuff again. And holy cow, we made a fortune."

"Coaching is the best job in the world, and it can be the worst job in the world," said John Tortorella, who was recently hired to coach Team USA in next year's World Cup of Hockey, his third gig in three years.

Tortorella won a Stanley Cup in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning but knows all too well about the perils of job insecurity, having been fired by the New York Rangers in 2013 and Vancouver Canucks a year later.

Tortorella, never one to mince words, says he "deserved to get fired" in Vancouver for not being able to end the team's losing streaks.

But he said it was "weird" how he learned that new Lightning owners Oren Koules, the producer of the "Saw" horror movies, and Len Barrie were ousting him after the 2008 season. Tortorella was coaching at the world championships when he was tipped off by a GM from another team that the Lightning had reached an agreement to replace him with Barry Melrose.

"So I knew about it before they even told me, which kinda stinks," Tortorella said. "When I got home -- I forget how many days later it was -- my son and I backed up my truck to the arena one night at around 11 o'clock, loaded up my office stuff and I was out of there even before I was officially gone. We just slipped in and out in the middle of night and drove home. And that's how that went down."

Tortorella wasn't surprised when the ownership tenure of Koules and Barrie ended after only two years.

"They didn't last long. They were clowns," Tortorella said.

As it turned out, Melrose lasted only 16 games as Tortorella's successor before he was fired and returned to his job as an ESPN analyst.

Yet the sacking Melrose remembers more was his 1995 dismissal by the Los Angeles Kings. Like Tortorella after his strong run with the Rangers, Melrose didn't totally see his Kings departure coming. He was fired after a game-day morning skate.

"That's crazy -- you're going to fire a coach and his assistant coach after the morning skate?" Melrose said. "Another reason it was weird was because I had my 10-year-old son at the rink, and that was a very tough day for him also.

"A 10-year-old kid doesn't know what the word 'fired' means, and all of a sudden you have to bring him into your office and tell him there's going to be some things said and that dad got fired and he's not going to be coaching the L.A. Kings anymore."

Each of the men mentioned above have something in common: They had postseason success, but it didn't save them when injuries hit and/or their record dipped. Melrose and Wayne Gretzky took the Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to Montreal. Van Gundy took the Orlando Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals and made the playoffs all five seasons he was there.

Billick, who had a nine-season run in Baltimore, won Super Bowl XXXV in his second year. Yet knowing the nature of the game, he was instantly worried "the clock is ticking now."

"I literally had a panic attack the night we won the Super Bowl because I thought, 'Oh god, now what am I going to do to top this?'" Billick said. "Once you win it all, it's, 'OK. How many more championships can you win?'"

That's the high wire coaches and executives have always walked. Fairness or even success often has little to do with job security. That's true today. And it was true back when Tommy Heinsohn coached the Boston Celtics to five consecutive NBA Finals appearances and won it all twice in the 1970s and says he nonetheless found himself undermined by owner Irv Levin.

"The owner was holding [critical] press conferences on the road right in front of me for a good two weeks," Heinsohn said. "There were many indications. I almost resigned and I think he was trying to force me to resign, and then he did something that was really against my grain, and I said, 'If you're going to do stuff like that, then you're going to pay for the privilege [to get rid of me]' because I had a couple more years left on my contract."

When a firing appears to occur without reason or happens under disputed circumstances, it's bound to create uncomfortable situations.

Tom Penn says it was "crazy and completely bizarre and completely out of left field" when the Portland Trail Blazers let him go from his job as vice president of basketball operations in 2010. "It was horribly awkward because everybody knew I was really happy, and with the way it happened so abruptly, the fundamental question was, 'Wow, what did he do? This had to be good,'" Penn said. "So I was put in this awkward situation of having to explain the unexplainable, which is impossible."

Penn, who went on to become an ESPN basketball analyst and president of the MLS expansion Los Angeles Football Club, was also broadsided by many competing emotions when Portland fired him.

"You get through some of the tactical stuff right away in terms of how it [your exit] is going to happen," Penn said, "and then, for me, I had this horrible realization that I had to drive home and tell my wife that I got fired, and that was the hardest thing -- that hit me like a thunderbolt. For her, she's just going through a normal Tuesday when I walk in the door and she asks me what's wrong and I tell her.

"It's a lonely and really uncomfortable spot to be in because what happens is your entire network of what was your [work] family gets ripped right from under you and you can't go back. It's the people you're in the trenches with day in and day out -- friends, colleagues and their wives. And it all goes away immediately."

That's the type of collateral damage that is often overlooked. And the shock waves can spread. When a head coach goes down, multiple staffers and their families might go with him. Fired head coaches often still have a windfall coming from years left on their contracts, but their assistants don't earn nearly as much.

"We [fired coaches] all go through at least a little bit, if not more, guilt," Van Gundy said.

As anybody who's done it knows, having to abruptly pick up and move can have its own set of problems.

"You know one of the biggest things my wife and I have trouble with? Keeping track of our bills or our mail, period -- our credit is awful," Tortorella said with a laugh. "It's not that we don't pay our bills. It's just that sometimes we don't know where our mail is coming or going from. Or when it's coming."

Van Gundy's firing in Orlando was preceded by some soap operatic twists regarding whether star center Dwight Howard wanted to leave the franchise or wanted him fired. Van Gundy's family belatedly admitted something to him after he was let go following the 2011-12 season.

"They felt badly for me because they love me and care for me, but at the same time" -- here Van Gundy laughs -- "they had to hide their happiness that it happened. Seriously. Because they were ready to have it over. And they didn't want to seem too happy."

Bill Laimbeer, the starting center for the Detroit Pistons' "Bad Boys" teams who later coached the Detroit Shock to three WNBA titles, has a more unusual resolution than that. After the New York Liberty cut him loose last October, he flatly told the team executive who broke the news to him, "You're going to ask me back."

Sure enough, it turned out to be the coaching version of a man-bites-dog story.

Three months later, the Liberty rehired Laimbeer and followed his wishes to keep overhauling the roster. The result? Laimbeer was the 2015 coach of the year and led New York to the WNBA's best record and the Eastern Conference finals.

Laimbeer scoffed when told it took gall for him to tell the Liberty they wouldn't like life without him.

"I didn't care!" he boomed. "I'm going to do it my way, and if my way's not good enough? OK, I'll just go do something else. ... I'm just glad I got the opportunity to come back and show where we're going and how it would work."

That's one of the things about getting fired from a coaching job despite having a successful history: There's usually another job to be found (although generally not, as in Laimbeer's case, the same job).

Heinsohn says he had four or five offers to coach after Boston fired him in the middle of the 1977-78 season. He even came close to accepting one in Houston until "they looked at me like I was from Mars" when he talked about particular role player he hoped to acquire.

"I said to myself, 'I'm not going to spend the next five years educating these people,'" Heinsohn said. "So I got on the plane with my agent and we're sitting up in first class and the stewardess says, 'Would you like something to drink?' and I said, 'Yeah, how about some champagne?' She said, 'You're celebrating something?' I said, 'Yeah, you're not going to believe this, but I'm celebrating turning down a million-dollar deal. And I'm the happiest man in the world.'"

ESPN.com's Arash Markazi contributed to this story.