By STEVEN WINE, AP Sports Writer
MIAMI (AP) — More than two dozen frustrated fans gathered outside the Miami Dolphins' complex Tuesday to protest the way the team is being run, and the spectacle moved beleaguered general manager Jeff Ireland to act.
The notoriously media-shy Bill Parcells protege telephoned several reporters and sought to explain a series of decisions and misadventures that have drawn national ridicule.
"I'm not naive to the fact of what's out there," he told The Associated Press as fans protested across the street. The attempt at damage control was the latest surprising turn in a bizarre sequence of events for Ireland and the Dolphins.
Among the fans who gathered at team headquarters at midday, several wore bags over their heads, and others held signs that read "FIRELAND." They were mostly upset about a succession of setbacks involving quarterbacks since free agency began a week ago.
Ireland insisted he's not disappointed with the way Miami's shopping has gone. He said his moves shouldn't be judged until the offseason is over, and he asked fans for patience.
"We're only halfway through the process," he said. "It includes the draft and more free agency."
But the protest has been a long time coming. The Dolphins last won a playoff game 11 years ago, and with a 6-10 finish in 2011, they've endured three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the 1960s.
It's humble stuff for the franchise of Dan Marino, Don Shula and the Perfect Season. And lately things have gone from bad to worse.
Owner Stephen Ross stressed that the top offseason priority was to upgrade at quarterback, and two weeks ago the Dolphins were considered the favorites to sign Peyton Manning. They finished fourth among four finalists.
The Dolphins were then regarded as the front-runners for Green Bay Packers backup Matt Flynn, but after visiting Miami, he opted for the Seattle Seahawks. Ireland then brought in Alex Smith for a visit, and when it appeared he would instead remain with the San Francisco 49ers, Miami signed David Garrard, who didn't play anywhere in 2011.
"The batting average is never going to be 1.000," Ireland said. "There are 31 other teams doing the same thing. It's a very competitive environment. When it comes to the quarterback position, there are only a few out there. ... I'd rather go to the effort to add players like Peyton Manning, even if it doesn't work out. I don't apologize for going out and trying to get Peyton."
Ireland declined to say whether another quarterback might be acquired. But fruitless negotiations with QBs haven't been the team's only head-scratchers this month.
The Dolphins abruptly traded top WR Brandon Marshall for a pair of third-round draft picks. Then they released S Yeremiah Bell, their leading tackler the past four years.
It's enough to make a fan wear a bag over his head.
"We have the most passionate fans in football," team spokesman Harvey Greene said in a statement, "and they are not shy about letting their sentiments be known. We understand and are working hard on giving them something to cheer about this season."
While some fans took to the street, the discontent also went viral.
"Jeff Ireland, you are the reason I am never happy," comedian and Dolphins fan Daniel Tosh tweeted Monday.
A rogue edit to Ireland's Wikipedia entry, quickly removed, described him as "the most incompetent human being in the history of existence."
Pittsburgh Steelers S Ryan Clark piled on. Once courted by Ireland as a free agent, Clark took a veiled shot at the GM on Twitter, saying no one wants to play for Miami.
"I almost went there but it was (an) easy decision not to. Not a good guy making decisions," Clark tweeted.
There's speculation Ireland's reputation hurts him in free-agent negotiations. Some players remember the GM's inappropriate questioning during a predraft interview in 2010, when he asked receiver Dez Bryant whether his mother was ever a prostitute.
Ireland isn't the lone target of fans' ire. There's also Ross, who courted Jim Harbaugh and Jeff Fisher for the head coaching job and was spurned by both.
All told, the Dolphins' pattern of failing to close the deal seems to be a momentum-gathering force. New coach Joe Philbin has thus far been unable to help make a big splash in free agency, although the Dolphins did re-sign NT Paul Soliai, and they signed Garrard and DB Richard Marshall.
"I don't think we're done with the process, so I'm not disappointed," Ireland said. "Have we hit on everything we attempted? No. But we've brought some pieces on board."
Ireland is beginning his fifth year as general manager, and 2012 will be his third season without the guidance of Parcells, who rarely spoke to the Miami media.
"I want to be more accessible," Ireland said. "I don't have Bill Parcells as my boss anymore. I'm trying to improve relations with the media. You need answers to some questions."
The way things have been going with the Dolphins, the questions are likely to keep coming.
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