In a bizarre turn of events in the seemingly never-ending saga of Miami Dolphins’ hunt for a new Head Coach, owner Stephen Ross has pulled out of negotiations with top target Jim Harbaugh and it is believed that Tony Sparano will remain in charge of the team next season.
Sparano was thought to be on his way out, after Ross approached Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Jim Harbaugh about replacing him in Miami. However, no deals came to fruition and as a result, it appears that Sparano will survive to coach out the final year of his contract.
Tony Sparano has been in charge of the Dolphins for three seasons, during which he has led Miami to a 25-23 record and an AFC East championship in 2008, during his first year in charge; the AFC East title was made all the more impressive, as the Dolphins finished 1-15 under Cam Cameron the preceding season.
However, consecutive 7-9 seasons have disappointed many fans and this year was made even more difficult by the team’s 1-7 home record, including losses to Cleveland, Detroit and Buffalo; all teams with records below .500.
Despite the high-profile acquisitions of Brandon Marshall and Karlos Dansby, the Dolphins failed to improve on their 2009 record, losing their final three games in the process and Sparano’s job came under threat as a result.
Ross, perhaps now regrettably, allowed the news of his search for Sparano’s successor to become public and the result has undoubtedly been damaging to the Miami Dolphins.
Running back and Dolphins’ legend Ricky Williams has already expressed his desire to leave Miami, following two disappointing seasons and openly criticised Sparano’s coaching technique on local radio, accusing him of micromanaging the team.
Former Dolphins’ great Jason Taylor, who left Miami as a free agent last year, added weight to Williams’ claims on the same radio station, lifting the lid on his frustration at Sparano’s highly-detailed coaching style.
Now, the Head Coach will return to a team which seemingly lacks a franchise quarterback, and with his players knowing that this is only the case because all other plans fell through.
Cowher, Gruden, Harbaugh and potentially even Jeff Fisher were above Sparano on Ross’ wish-list. Now Ross, Sparano and General Manager Jeff Ireland will have a lot of work to do to repair Sparano’s reputation and convince the dressing room that Sparano can lead the team successfully.
A lot of Miami’s struggles last season came on offense, with Dan Henning’s offensive play-calling a particular frustration. Henning has now agreed to leave the Dolphins for pastures new, be it another job or retirement, so Miami are in the market so a less conservative offensive coordinator.
In addition, quarterback David Lee, who was involved in an argument with Brandon Marshall in the final game of the season, has been criticised for his training of quarterback Chad Henne, who struggled last season.
Lee may also depart Miami with Henning and this could go some way to redeem Miami, as they were arguably the greatest obstacles to the Dolphins’ success last season; however, Sparano is not exempt from criticism.
He was Head Coach and as such, must take the blame for a disappointing season.
While his overall record in Miami is good, and he has turned around a 1-15 team into a very talented group of players who, if they fulfill their potential, could be a regular playoff team, Sparano now appears to be a lame duck as Head Coach in charge for one final year of his contract before he is replaced.
He is well respected in Miami and well-liked by his players, but this may not be enough to override the fact that the owner does not want him in charge of his team and that must be in the minds of the Dolphins’ players.
Sparano has a tough job on his hands, as he must now prove to the players that he can coach them to the next level and lead them to the playoffs again in a very tough division, all the while knowing that the owner does not think he is the right man to coach the team.
Stephen Ross has done a lot of damage to the Dolphins’ organisation in the last few days; not just its off-field reputation, but also potentially on the field as well.
Success next season looks very difficult to achieve already, making Sparano’s job even harder for him before this season has even ended for some teams.
One thing is certain though, Tony Sparano has conducted himself with the utmost respect and tolerance throughout the ongoing saga and this should not go unnoticed.
In this bizarre situation nothing is certain, particularly with Stephen Ross calling the shots, but for now, Tony Sparano will still be Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins next year.