DAVIE, Fla. -- A number of key Dolphins players expressed their surprise Tuesday that coach Tony Sparano was fired with only three games remaining in the season.
Chad Henne, Will Allen, Davone Bess, Dan Carpenter, Brian Hartline and Brandon Fields spoke with the media while taking part in the annual Fins for Kids Holiday Toy Event at the Dolphins training camp. More than 160 local children attended the party.
Sparano was told he was being let go on Monday, a day after the team lost to the Philadelphia Eagles to go 4-9 on the season.
"It's like losing a family member," said defensive back Allen, who like many of the other Dolphins was wearing a Santa Claus hat.
"Obviously, everybody in our business understands the nature of it. We're graded on wins and losses and, unfortunately, Tony was head honcho and all that responsibility was going to fall on him and he knows that."
Sparano issued a statement thanking the organization, his players, his assistant coaches and the fans for their help while he was coach.
"It was an honor and a privilege to have been the head coach for such a storied franchise as the Miami Dolphins," Sparano said. "My heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported me during my tenure with the Dolphins. It was a special time in my life, and I'm looking forward to continuing my coaching career very soon."
In his almost four years as Dolphins coach, Sparano went 29-32. But this season the Dolphins were 0-7 before they went on a four-game winning streak.
"It's a shame he had to go out that way," said Henne. The quarterback has been nursing a shoulder injury to his non-throwing left arm for much of the season. "He and Jeff Ireland drafted me. I wish I could have him for another year as my head coach because I respect the hell out of him.
"We've been through a lot of the same things because it's either the head coach or the quarterback who gets blamed for a lot of things."
While the players admitted to being caught off-guard by Sparano's firing, they diplomatically didn't second-guess the decision.
"You know that's a decision that has nothing to do with me," said placekicker Carpenter when asked if Sparano should've been allowed to finish the season. "That's something that Jeff Ireland and Stephen Ross had to make."
"It is what it is and it's a business," wide receiver Bess said. "Management and players, we all have responsibilities. If you're not productive with what you're doing they want to find someone who could get it done."
Todd Bowles, the Dolphins' assistant head coach/secondary, has been elevated to interim head coach. The players who've worked closely with Bowles speak highly of his abilities.
"He's my coach and he's a great guy and a great coach," Allen said. "He's helped me out tremendously over the past five or six years. So for me as a player it's going to be normal."
A number of the offensive players said they haven't had much contact with Bowles. However, most thought he could step up to the task.
"I don't know a lot about him," receiver Hartline said. "It's an opportunity for him to get his feet wet and maybe he'll be a head coach. I'm not sure a lot will change."
"He knows what it's like to be an NFL player," Henne said of Bowles, who played for eight seasons in the NFL. "He's very soft-spoken, he doesn't talk a lot, but he's very competitive."