MIAMI (CBS4) — Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross began Thursday in California with Tony Sparano as his head coach. By the end of the day, and after wild speculation, Ross ended the day in Fort Lauderdale with Tony Sparano still his head coach.
While this is good news for Sparano and the players who enjoy playing for him, it also opened a rift with some players and made the Dolphins owner look like an amateur.
First, Ross held essentially a job interview with Sparano and Fins general manager Jeff Ireland late Monday. Some expected Ross to clean house and relieve both of their jobs. But, both men ended the day with their jobs intact.
But, changes would have to be made to the staff on the offensive side of the football. Then, Ross and his advisor Carl Peterson were spotted making small-talk with Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines before the Orange Bowl.
At that point, speculation surrounding the future of Tony Sparano and the potential hiring of a new head coach exploded.
Ross, Ireland, and Peterson would then board a jet late Wednesday night and head for California to interview Harbaugh for the position that Sparano still held. Sparano was simply left hanging in the wind while Ross tried to find a candidate more to his liking.
Thursday afternoon, stories began to emerge that Ross was willing to pay upwards of $7 million to get Harbaugh to South Beach. But holes began to emerge in the story when Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck decided to stay in school for another season. The timing of the story coming out, while Ross was in town interviewing Harbaugh, seemed suspicious.
By Thursday night and early Friday morning, Ross and company had boarded a plane headed back for Miami without Harbaugh with them. This was accompanied by an ESPN report that said Sparano would indeed be back for another season, a fact that ESPN’s Adam Schefter began to report Thursday afternoon.
So Sparano stays with the Dolphins, but there was still plenty of cost that will come with it.
Sparano will have to find an offensive coordinator willing to come in for a coach who may only be around for one season. The new offensive coordinator has to have a high-flying passing attack that Ross believes will put butts in the seats.
But that’s just the actual fiscal cost, there’s also a loss of respect that Sparano has undoubtedly suffered in the locker room. Starting with Ricky Williams, who spent Monday blasting Sparano, and then moving to Jason Taylor and Brandon Marshall echoing much the same sentiment; Sparano’s going to have a tough time winning over the locker room.
Players can essentially play the way they want, because they know that the coach doesn’t have the full support of the owner or even the general manager.
Profootballtalk.com reported Thursday afternoon that Ireland’s actions of trying to save his own skin at the expense of Sparano was angering owners and league officials around the NFL. Add that to Ireland’s penchant for asking extremely rude questions of draft picks (see Dez Bryant) and Ireland’s stock is definitely in a freefall.
Sparano did nothing wrong this week, but his owner essentially cut his legs out from under him and looked quite bad trying to secure a new coach. Ross reportedly offered the head coaching gig to Jon Gruden, who refused; he then moved on to Bill Cowher, who didn’t want to retain Ireland and passed; then the Harbaugh flirtation ran for 48 hours before Harbaugh backed away.
One has to wonder if Gruden, Cowher, and Harbaugh saw something in Ireland and Ross that may not be readily evident to everyone outside of the football world.
Luckily for the Dolphins, Sparano has the support of many of the veterans in the locker room and if he hires a good offensive coordinator, winning will cure all ills. Sparano has been a hard-worker and will find another job easily if he’s canned after next season.
But, Ross and Ireland are going to have a tough time putting things back together for the Fins. Based on Ireland’s past, he’s going to have a hard time gaining any respect in league circles. For Ross, why would you want to coach for an owner who’s always looking to trade up and give you no job security?
The Fins now have to turn their attention back to football and first and foremost is finding an offensive coordinator. Past that, the Fins have to decide if Chad Henne is salvageable, or do the Fins need to trade up in the draft and go after one of the top quarterbacks in the draft.