Tony Sparano's lame duck season has finally come to an end, as Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has fired his head coach a day after the Dolphins fell to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 14 and saw their record fall to 4-9 on the season.
Sparano departs with a 29-31 record as Dolphins' eighth head coach in franchise history. He was the Coach of the Year runner-up in his first season in 2008 after going 11-5 and winning the AFC East, but he oversaw a team that performed consistently worse during his nearly four years in Miami and began the 2011 season with seven straight losses.
The Dolphins conducted a heavily-scrutinized head coaching search last offseason that saw them court Stanford's Jim Harbaugh while Sparano was still in place. After Harbaugh joined the San Francisco 49ers, the Dolphins' front office publicly denied the search ever took place and even handed Sparano a two-year contract extension through 2013.
That contract extension will pay Sparano roughly $2.8 million a year over the next two seasons despite his departure. It certainly isn't a monetary issue for Ross and the Dolphins, but it does show just how much of a farce that contract extension was to begin with and how little commitment Ross actually had to Sparano.
Assistant head coach/secondary coach Todd Bowles, who came over from the Dallas Cowboys along with Sparano in 2008, will serve as the interim head coach for the remaining three games of the 2011 season. The Dolphins take on the Buffalo Bills in Week 15.
An eight-year NFL safety for the Redskins and 49ers from 1986 to 1993, Bowles served as the Cowboys' secondary coach for four seasons before joining Sparano's inaugural staff in 2008. Bowles is widely regarded as a future NFL head coach and had interviews for the Cardinals' defensive coordinator position and the Cowboys' head coach and defensive coordinator positions this past offseason.
There are also reports that Ross will hire business colleague and former Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson in Bill Parcells' old role as executive vice president of football operations, but the always honesty and forthright owner has denied those reports. Such a move could lead to a reduce role or even departure of Jeff Ireland, despite the GM having a history with Peterson from their Kansas City days.
With Jack Del Rio fired by Jacksonville earlier in the season and Todd Haley fired by the Chiefs today as well, Ross obviously felt there was no point in delaying the inevitable any longer and wanted to get a jump on the head-coaching search for 2012.
As much as I like Sparano, I'm glad this move was made since the owner clearly didn't back him and was never going to stick with him long-term. Sparano always seemed like a good man and someone that players enjoyed playing for, but it's hard to excuse an 0-7 start in his fourth season as head coach. I personally think Parcells and Ireland are also pretty responsible for the current woes of the organization, but Sparano takes the fall.
Bowles is a logical interim coach as the assistant head coach and an up-and-coming assistant in the NFL ranks. A three-game stint as a head coach will give Bowles a chance to show the other 31 NFL teams what he can do when he's in charge and he should be able to land a defensive coordinator or head coaching gig in the near future.
It also helps the Dolphins, who can satisfy the Rooney Rule (requiring an interview with a minority candidate) simply by interviewing an in-house guy and the interim head coach. Bowles has no realistic shot at the Dolphins' head-coaching job and he knows it, as I suspect the entire coaching staff will be overhauled in 2012.
Who do you want to be the next head coach of the Dolphins?
Ross stated in today's press conference that he was looking for a head coach with experience, and the three names that instantly come to mind there are Bill Cowher, Jeff Fisher and Jon Gruden. I think Ross will and likely already has reached out to some or all of these guys and I could see him being happy with any of them as the Dolphins' next head coach.
I personally would like Cowher of that bunch, although there are questions of whether or not Cowher will want full control over personnel. Ross says Ireland will remain the team's general manager and that he has no plans to bring in Carl Peterson, but color me skeptical of anything that is said in these press conferences.
Making me believe that Cowher is indeed a candidate is the fact that he has a relationship with Peterson dating back to 1989 in Kansas City. Also, I personally found Cowher's denial of interest a few months back to pretty flimsy, as saying "I do not plan on coaching next year" doesn't mean he won't change his mind if the right opportunity presents itself.
For those of us hoping for a few more losses to finish the season and a premium draft spot, here's hoping the Dolphins' shuffling of head coaches shakes up the team and make it more difficult for them to win their next few games. A top-five draft choice and the prospect of landing a franchise quarterback, coupled with a roster that is fairly stocked with talent, will make the Dolphins' head-coaching gig all the more appealing.
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Chris J. Nelson majored in journalism at Georgia State University and currently works for Turner Sports in Atlanta. He operates his own Miami Dolphins website, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and he can be followed on Twitter here.