Coaches Tony Sparano, left, and Todd Haley were fired by the Dolphins and… (Photos by US Presswire and…)
Kansas City's Todd Haley and Miami's Tony Sparano had something in common as NFL coaches. They both enjoyed early success, briefly putting their teams on an upward trajectory, before those clubs leveled off and began to head back down.
Haley and Sparano now have something else in common.
Both were fired Monday, three weeks before the end of the regular season.
They were the second and third firings this season, coming on the heels of Jacksonville dismissing Jack Del Rio two weeks ago.
"Timing in this situation is always difficult," Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said at a news conference. "There never seems to be a right time. We just felt the inconsistent play the team had experienced really throughout the season, including [Sunday's 37-10 loss to the New York Jets], made today the right day to do it."
The Chiefs were 10-6 last season, won the AFC West and made the playoffs for the first time since 2003, a dramatic turnaround from Haley's 4-12 record in his first season.
The Chiefs were 19-26 in the regular season under Haley, who was hired in 2009 to replace Herm Edwards.
Sparano made an even bigger splash at the start of his career with the Dolphins. He took over a 1-15 team and led it to an 11-5 finish and a postseason berth. No coach had ever led a one-win team to the playoffs the next season.
The Dolphins were 7-9 in each of the next two seasons, however, twice finishing third in the AFC East. This season's team lost its first seven games before blowing out the Chiefs, 31-3.
Miami went on to win three of its next four games — its only loss coming by a point to Dallas on Thanksgiving — and suddenly was among the league's hottest teams. But Sunday's 26-10 home loss to Philadelphia was evidently the last straw.
Sparano was 29-32 in nearly four seasons as coach.
The Dolphins have promoted assistant head coach Todd Bowles to interim coach for the remainder of the season.
The Chiefs will hand the reins to defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who coached the Cleveland Browns from 2005 to 2008, although Hunt and General Manager Scott Pioli will study their options after the season.
These won't be the last of this season's firings. Others who could be shown the door include Indianapolis' Jim Caldwell, St. Louis' Steve Spagnuolo, and Tampa Bay's Raheem Morris. And to varying degrees all four NFC East coaches — Philadelphia's Andy Reid, Washington's Mike Shanahan, Dallas' Jason Garrett and the New York Giants' Tom Coughlin — are under the microscope. Houston's Gary Kubiak has the Texans in the playoffs for the first time in their history, but merely getting there might not be enough; he probably needs to win a postseason game to breathe easy.
As for filling the job permanently, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he is looking for a "young Don Shula," referring to the Hall of Fame coach who led the franchise to two Super Bowl victories.
"We're looking for the best head coach," Ross said. "It's important that the head coach and the general manager be able to work together, so you're not going to find someone who has a conflict to start with. You want to have the time to talk to people so you create that chemistry that's required to create a winning environment."
Ross says he wants a young Shula, but many observers figure he is truly looking for an established name, perhaps Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher or Brian Billick — each has won the Super Bowl — or maybe Jeff Fisher or Reid, who each led his team to one.
The Chiefs might try to land one of those coaches, or maybe one of a handful of rising assistant coaches. This is a somewhat unfamiliar situation for the franchise, as Haley was only the second in-season firing in Chiefs history. Paul Wiggin was the first in 1977.
On Monday, Kansas City running back Jackie Battle said he could see both sides of the situation.
"We went to the playoffs last year. I mean, that has to mean something," he told the Associated Press. "The season didn't go the way we wanted this year, but he's proven he can win in the league. I don't know if it's fair or not, but it's part of the business."