Mike Shanahan became the latest and most stunning victim of the NFL coaching purge, fired yesterday by the Denver Broncos after a late-season collapse knocked the team out of the playoffs for the third straight year.

Shanahan joined Eric Mangini, Rod Marinelli and Romeo Crennel on the unemployment line after going 24-24 over the last three seasons, including three straight losses this season that turned a three-game division lead to an 8-8 record.

Despite that, and the 52-21 loss to the Chargers that ended Denver's season Sunday, this was a shocker: The ouster of a 14-year coaching veteran who won two Super Bowl titles for Denver and was considered my many in this town to be a lifer.

"After giving this careful consideration, I have concluded that a change in our football operations is in the best interests of the Denver Broncos," owner Pat Bowlen said.

Shanahan's record was 146-89, but the Broncos remained stuck at only one postseason victory since John Elway retired in 1999 after Denver's second championship.

Bowlen and Shanahan were scheduled to hold news conferences today. Shanahan had 3 years left on his contract, worth about $20 million.


* Mike Martz, the headstrong coach who took St. Louis to the 2002 Super Bowl, was fired after one season as the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator.

San Francisco coach Mike Singletary announced Martz's third firing in less than 3 calendar years following an afternoon meeting with the veteran offensive mastermind.

* Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak fired defensive coordinator Richard Smith and two other defensive assistants yesterday.

The dismissals of Smith, secondary coach Jon Hoke and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin came after Houston finished 8-8 for the second straight year.

Kubiak said he would retain several assistants, including defensive backs coach Ray Rhodes. *