Flowery Branch, Ga. Dan Reeves was fired abruptly by the Atlanta Falcons Wednesday with three games left in a disappointing season marred by quarterback Michael Vick's injury.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will take over as head coach for the rest of the season.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank told Reeves -- the sixth-winningest coach in NFL history -- that he would be fired at the end of the season but wanted him to coach the rest of the way. Reeves asked to be let go immediately.
"When Arthur told me he had made the decision about the end of the year, I knew it had to come to a fullness today," Reeves said. "I'm an eternal optimist, so yeah, it was a surprise. But I'm also realistic enough about coaching to understand this is how it is in the NFL."
Reeves, 59, is in his 23rd consecutive season as an NFL head coach, by far the longest tenure in the league, and he had one year left on his contract. Reeves led the Denver Broncos to three Super Bowls, losing each time.
Blank said he didn't expect to hire a new coach until after the regular season. Phillips, a former head coach in Denver and Buffalo, isn't thought to be a leading candidate.
Among the possible candidates: ex-Minnesota coach Dennis Green and college coaches Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, Nick Saban of LSU, and Kirk Ferentz of Iowa. Green's former agent is Ray Anderson, the Falcons' executive vice president.