The losses kept mounting, the tension kept growing and ultimately Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli decided the status quo was no longer good enough.
It was time to part ways with Todd Haley.
The Chiefs fired the combustible head coach Monday with the team Haley led to a surprising AFC West title less than a year ago stuck at the bottom of the division following a series of devastating injuries and discouraging blowouts.
Meanwhile, in Miami, the Dolphins also fired their head coach, Tony Sparano.
The Chiefs dropped to 5-8 after Sunday’s 37-10 loss the New York Jets, their fifth loss in six games. Kansas City committed 11 penalties for 128 yards in the dismal performance, including a 15-yarder on Haley for unsportsmanlike conduct that may have sealed his fate.
“Timing in these situations is always difficult. There never seems to be a right time,” Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said. “We just felt the inconsistent play the team has experienced throughout the season, including yesterday’s game, made today the right day to do it.”
Haley wasn’t the only coach fired Monday; the Dolphins also dumped Tony Sparano after just four seasons. Jacksonville’s Jack Del Rio was fired last month.
Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will serve as the Chiefs’ interim coach for the final three games, and Pioli said he will be considered for the permanent job.
“I don’t perceive Todd Haley as a mistake,” Pioli said. “Todd Haley is a good football coach. I’ll say that. What we need to do is figure out what direction we’re headed in and how we’re going to continue to make progress, how we can get some consistency back.”
Haley took over a team that won six games the previous two seasons under Herm Edwards, and he leaves with a 19-27 record in his first NFL head coaching job. But despite winning the AFC West last season, it’s hard to tell if the team improved under his watch.
The quarterback situation was a mess, even when Matt Cassel was healthy, and the offensive line has three players in Ryan Lilja, Barry Richardson and Casey Wiegmann who may not be back next season. Despite a background on offense, Haley only managed to coax the unit into an average of 293.8 yards, which ranked 28th in the league, and 177.4 yards through the air — 30th out of 32 teams.
It was that lackluster performance that cost Haley his job.
“I guess you never expect it because you always try to be optimistic about things, but this is the NFL. It’s just the nature of the beast,” linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “It goes on all the time, throughout the year. I won’t say it’s no big deal — it’s a very big deal for the Kansas City Chiefs right now — but this goes on throughout the year.”
Hunt and Pioli met late Sunday to discuss Haley’s future, and again Monday morning. They met with Haley after coming to their decision and then informed the rest of the coaching staff.
Crennel met with the players shortly afterward.
“Romeo is going to do things the way Romeo knows how to do them,” Pioli said while seated alongside Hunt in a crowded interview room. “I know Romeo is very similar to Todd. Todd was very passionate about football, Todd was very passionate about this football team, these players, and he was very passionate about winning. Romeo has a lot of those very qualities.”
Sparano’s firing came one day after the Dolphins lost to the Philadelphia Eagles to fall to 4-9. The defeat ended a recent surge by the Dolphins after they lost their first seven games.
With two other teams already in the market for a new coach, owner Stephen Ross didn’t want to wait any longer to start shopping. Sparano’s dismissal came hours after the Chiefs fired Haley. Jacksonville fired coach Jack Del Rio on Nov. 29.
Todd Bowles, who had been Miami’s assistant head coach and secondary coach, will be the interim head coach for the final three games, starting Sunday at Buffalo. Jeff Ireland will remain as general manager and play a role in the coaching search.
The Dolphins are assured of their third consecutive losing season, the longest such streak since the 1960s. They’ll miss the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years.
“The results speak for themselves,” Ross said at a hastily called news conference. “We’re looking to becoming a winning organization, and I thought this was the best time to make the change and let us go in a direction that will allow us to become that.”
Ross is expected to pursue a coach with star power. Among those mentioned as possible candidates are Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher and Jon Gruden.
“I’d like to find a young Don Shula if that’s possible,” Ross said with a smile.
Bowles, in his 20th year as an NFL assistant, is among those who will be interviewed.
Sagging attendance helped doom Sparano, and Ross said he wants a turnaround at the ticket office as well as in the standings.
“Certainly when you’re winning, it’s a lot easier to sell tickets,” Ross said. “If you win, everything takes care of itself, and that’s what we’re really trying to bring back.”
Sparano began the season aware he was on borrowed time. After Miami’s late-season fade to 7-9 last year, Ross embarked on a public courtship with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.
When Harbaugh instead joined the San Francisco 49ers, Ross gave Sparano a contract extension through 2013. But Ross made clear he expected substantial improvement this season, saying the Dolphins had “the nucleus of a great winning team.”
Ross gave Sparano a vote of confidence after the Dolphins lost their first four games, but now they’ll start over again. Bowles is the sixth coach since 2004 for the Dolphins, who haven’t won a playoff game since 2000 and haven’t reached the Super Bowl since 1984.
In Sparano’s first season as an NFL head coach, he led the Dolphins to a surprising 11-5 record, the 2008 AFC East title and their only playoff game since 2001. He departs with a record of 29-32.
Shortly before he was fired, Sparano held his regular Monday news conference. When asked if he wanted to comment on reports he would be fired after the season, he said no.
“I want to coach against the Buffalo Bills this week. That’s my sole focus,” he said.
Sparano was popular with his players, but a dismal home record and declining attendance accelerated his departure. The Dolphins lost 12 of 13 home games during one stretch.
Sparano’s teams tended to be dull, too. Last year Miami ranked third-worst in the NFL in scoring, and this year their offense often sputtered.
His departure represents further dismantling of the regime built by Bill Parcells after he joined the Dolphins in late 2007. Ross took over as owner in early 2009, and Parcells turned control of football operations over to Ireland before last season.