Ross goes about 'search' all wrong

Posted Jan. 11, 2011 @ 9:39 a.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

It took less than a week for Stephen Ross to turn the Dolphins into the laughingstock of the NFL.

In less than a week, Tony Sparano went from simply being on the hot seat to realizing how little confidence his owner, Ross, and friend, general manager Jeff Ireland, had in him to right the ship.

Yet, all that came out of the six bizarre days in South Florida was what should have happened the Monday after the season ended — a commitment to Sparano. But Ross didn't simply retain the coach for 2011, "to maintain stability," as the Dolphins called it, the owner actually gave Sparano a two-year contract extension after back-to-back 7-9 seasons.

The head coach sat expressionless at a media roundtable as Ross explained the events of the prior days. Sparano never broke his stoic look while Ross and Ireland spoke, even as Ross tried to smooth things over by cracking a few jokes.

"I told Tony that he was my man. Jeff said, 'You've got the best guy. The problems we have are all fixable,' " Ross said.

Then Ireland offered his take: "I believe Tony Sparano is the right coach for this football team. I always thought that, and that has never changed."

But the image that will be indelible in the minds of Dolphins fans is that table. Sparano looked as uncomfortable as can be, and who could blame him?

It was a joke and an embarrassment the way Ross and Ireland treated the entire situation. In today's world of Twitter and the race to get the scoop first, news was leaked faster than Ross could jump on damage control. They should not have gone after Jim Harbaugh without telling Sparano first, but maybe they shouldn't have even got sucked into the Harbaugh party in the first place. Last I checked, Nick Saban went 15-17 the last time the organization brought in a hot college coach.

But it's the way that the duo handled their search and the aftermath, not the idea of it in itself, that made the Dolphins the butt of every joke for six days.

It wasn't ridiculous for Ross and Ireland to consider going in another direction, especially Harbaugh's direction. Sparano's team had an abysmal 1-7 record at home this season, and it's Sparano who had the faith in Chad Henne, and then watched the signalcaller fail in every opportunity to carry the team to victory. It was Sparano's specialty — the offensive line — that brought the running game from one of the league's best to one of the worst. So a guy like Harbaugh, known for grooming quarterbacks, would make sense.

And Ross should get some credit for coming clean in the roundtable, realizing his mistakes in how he handled the six days. But it never should have gotten to the point where Ross believed he needed to extend Sparano's contract. If 2011 is another disappointment in Miami, Ross will lose more money than he would have if he had fired Sparano this time.

Here is what should have happened:

After Ross and Ireland met with Sparano on the Monday following the team's season finale, and after parting ways with offensive coordinator Dan Henning, the Dolphins should have had one goal in mind — go after a new offensive coordinator. That's it. All their focus should have gone in that direction. That's how Ross and Ireland should have spent their six days — not jetting to California and turning the Dolphins into a punch line.


This column was first published in the Jan. 16, 2011, print edition of Pro Football Weekly, which also contains features on Bears QB Jay Cutler, the Patriots' unsung RB duo, Falcons head coach Mike Smith, and rehired interim coaches Leslie Frazier and Jason Garrett, as well as previews of all four divisional playoff games and an early fantasy draft board for 2011. The PFW print edition is on sale at retail outlets across the country and also online at, where both print and electronic (PDF) versions can be purchased.