Front-office turmoil costs Haley, Sparano

Brian Billick says the NFL is now a GM league.
Brian Billick says the NFL is now a GM league.
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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.


The Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs finally acknowledged what Abraham Lincoln famously said 153 years ago.

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

The head coaches and general managers for both franchises — Todd Haley and Scott Pioli in Kansas City; Tony Sparano and Jeff Ireland in Miami — had developed such dysfunctional relationships that it was clear neither could remain under the same roof.

In the case of Haley and Pioli, they weren’t even living in the same ZIP code anymore. Haley has gotten positive results — the Chiefs won the AFC West last season — but his bombastic nature didn’t sit well with Pioli or others inside Chiefs headquarters.

Haley deserves another chance to become an NFL head coach. He has a sharp offensive mind and can relate well to players who put faith in his demanding style. But some of Haley’s behind-the-scenes decisions and actions created too toxic an environment for him to stay and succeed.

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The wheels began to come off during the preseason. Coming off the NFL lockout, Haley took a more conservative approach to training camp in hopes of reducing injuries. This didn’t pay dividends. The Chiefs lost three key players for the season by Week 3 — running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki — and looked woefully unprepared when losing to Buffalo and Detroit by a combined 89-10 margin.

Even after a brief rebound, the loss of quarterback Matt Cassel after nine games simply accelerated the inevitable. Kansas City (5-8) has lost five of its last six contests despite some quality defensive performances.

Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will deservedly serve as interim head coach. Despite a rough final season as head coach in Cleveland, Crennel should be given a shot at keeping the position permanently. Being from the same Bill Belichick tree, Crennel sees eye-to-eye with Pioli far more than Haley did by the end.

Other names to keep on the Kansas City radar are St. Louis offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. Both have previous ties with Pioli. Ferentz and Pioli worked under Belichick with the Cleveland Browns in the 1990s. McDaniels and Pioli were together during New England’s glory years of the previous decade. McDaniels helped groom Cassel into an NFL starter whom Pioli acquired from New England in 2009.

There also is a belief that McDaniels was Pioli’s first choice as Kansas City’s head coach in 2009. McDaniels went to Denver instead, where he was given power over football decisions — a move the Broncos regret to this day. Having landed in St. Louis as offensive coordinator after his firing in Denver, McDaniels will be looking for work again if the Rams fire their Steve Spagnuolo-led coaching staff as expected.

One plausible scenario: The 64-year-old Crennel keeps the head coaching job, and McDaniels comes aboard as the head-coach-in-waiting.

As for Sparano, the seeds for his failure were planted last January by Ireland and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. Ireland and Sparano were brought to Miami by Bill Parcells from Dallas. They had enjoyed a strong rapport even after Parcells slinked away from the Dolphins at the start of the 2010 season.

Ireland, though, destroyed that bond by never telling Sparano beforehand that he was traveling with Ross to interview his potential replacement in Jim Harbaugh. Ross tried to make nice by giving Sparano a contract extension, but the blood money didn’t heal the damage caused. Sparano and Ireland never regained the same trust, which multiple sources told created a “watch-your-back” mentality among Dolphins employees.

Ireland also did nothing publicly to back Sparano when the Dolphins started 0-7, giving the impression he was trying to distance himself from a mess that he helped create by not properly addressing the quarterback position for the past few seasons. The final straw came Sunday when the Dolphins dropped to 4-9 after a lopsided home loss to Philadelphia.

How much say Ireland will have in naming a new head coach remains uncertain, especially if his presence is a deterrent in landing a desired candidate. It’s likely that ex-Chiefs executive Carl Peterson will assume a prominent role in football operations despite Dolphins denials. Peterson is so close to Ross that both frequently attend events together, including a college football Hall of Fame event last week to honor former University of Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr.

With the Dolphins struggling to sell tickets and becoming an afterthought to the Miami Heat and overhauled Miami Marlins, Ross will probably attempt to make a splash with a big-name head coach. Bill Cowher will likely top Miami’s wish list. There is a Peterson tie: Cowher worked under him as Kansas City’s defensive coordinator from 1989 to 1992 before leaving to become Pittsburgh’s head coach. Interim head coach Todd Bowles will get an interview — which will satisfy Miami’s Rooney Rule obligation — but his connections to the previous regime give him no shot at getting the job.

The Dolphins and Chiefs may very well find the next Don Shula or Hank Stram with their next hire. But even those Hall of Fame selections would have never succeeded in the settings that existed in Miami and Kansas City. That’s why both franchises must make sure the next head coach and the general manager are in lockstep, or more firings are inevitable down the road.

Tagged: Chiefs, Dolphins

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