Black Monday comes early for two NFL head coaches, the Kansas City Chiefs fire their head coach Todd Haley and the Miami Dolphins have opted to remove their embattled head coach Tony Sparano. Sparano flirted with saving his job in the eyes of the public going four of five leading into Sunday’s showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles. Many believed that Sparano had tilted the scales into his favor and that winning even two of the remaining four would save his job. Stephen Ross felt otherwise.
Reports now are that at seasons end, the Vice President of Football Operations, vacant since the departure of Bill Parcells will be filled with Ross’ close friend and business partner Carl Peterson. Peterson is rumored to be the man who will lead the charge to find the Dolphins next head coach. As Mike Rosenbloom reported earlier on this site, assistant head coach Todd Bowles will assume the duties of HC for the remaining three games.
Only a week ago, fans had changed their tune about Sparano and many felt that a strong finish could sway the owner of the team to keep him for another season despite the fact that Ross has been apparently searching for a star name. According to reports, Sparano was informed of his release early this afternoon. Ross will now work closely with Peterson, if that rumor holds to be true, in finding a successor to Sparano.
The next man that comes into the micro-scope is general manager Jeff Ireland. Despite reports that Ireland is currently safe, nothing is eminent and after the seasons conclusion, a determination will be made by either Peterson and Ross or by the new head coach that is hired. In other words, if a name becomes the next HC, he could demand full control of the teams decisions.
For now however, Ireland is safe and could remain given his relationship to Carl Peterson who gave Ireland his first NFL job. Peterson suddenly becomes the key or at least will when the announcement of his hiring becomes fact and not rumor. Peterson is a highly respected NFL executive, something the Dolphins thought they were getting with Bill Parcells. He has a long lineage of coaching connections that include the hiring and eventual firing of Marty Schottenheimer in Kansas City. Schottenheimer gave Bill Cowher his first assistant coaching job and has been a rumored favorite of Stephen Ross since last season.
For the Dolphins Stephen Ross, what happens next will be his first imprint on the team. Ross was part owner of the Miami Dolphins in Bill Parcells’ second season and took over full control of the team from Wayne Huizenga a year later. He inherited a guaranteed salary regardless of whether Parcells stayed or quit. He would quit a week before the season was to begin leaving Jeff Ireland to manage the team.
Now, Stephen Ross will make his first mark. His first task will be to decide on Carl Peterson’s future with the team and regardless of that decision, will need to start looking for a new head coach. The waters are new for Ross and he must navigate them carefully. He must take care to not simply throw money amounts that can not be turned down to coach the team, something that Wayne Huizenga did on several occasions. He must be diligent in his efforts and conduct thorough interviews to find the right piece that will turn this franchise around, or he will suffer continuing drops in attendance at the stadium and will be faced with major changes again in a short three years.
Many believe that Ross will also try and convince his GM, HC, or possibly Peterson to trade up if need be to land one of the top QB’s in the draft. Some believe he will even allow a move to number one to get Andrew Luck. A bold move if it happens for an owner who is trying to step out of the shadows of blame that so many fans have attributed to him for the teams failures.
For now, the coaching search will only begin behind closed doors but there is no head coach still on the roster to circumvent or protect unlike last year. Ross can do the numbers, talk to some of the agents, make some calls to find out more about the coaches available now and at seasons end will be free to explore the free agent coaching market. Todd Bowles will serve as the HC until seasons end and likely will satisfy the “Rooney Rule” for the NFL.
Sparano will not go down in the history of the Miami Dolphins as the worst head coach, in fact he likely will come nowhere near. The reality is that much the same way Chad Henne drowned in a bad system, Sparano was kept tied early by Bill Parcells, suffered through major off-season change heading into the 2011 season while enduring a lockout and simply played a badly dealt hand of cards. The facts remain that Sparano failed because the team around him failed. He failed because it took him too long to change his approach. He failed because his team often played mimicking their head coach.
What Sparano managed to keep was his pride, dignity, and drive. Not one time in four years did he blame anyone for anything but himself. Not once did he call out a player but instead, in the eyes of his players, he stuck up for them. It was just not meant to be here in Miami. Too many obstacles to overcome for a coach who was supposed to have the shoulder of Bill Parcells to “lean” on, not forced to sit in the background and watch.
Following the Denver loss, Sparano reportedly told his players that if they wanted to lose and get him fired, then fine, but he wouldn’t be the only one gone next year. That likely will also prove to be true.
Sparano finishes his Miami career with 29 wins and 39 losses. Two shy of matching the win/loss total of Bill Belichick’s first four years in the NFL with Cleveland.