Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dolphins end embarrassing charade, sign Tony Sparano to two-year extension

After one of the most poorly executed, unprofessional and downright embarrassing coaching searches I've ever witnessed by an NFL team, the Miami Dolphins have not only decided to retain head coach Tony Sparano, but to sign him to a two-year extension through 2013.

Sparano will not only return for the 2011 season at a salary around the $2.8 million range, but is also under contract for the following two seasons as a "monetary apology" and would be paid if he is terminated any point before.

Additionally, the Dolphins also claim Sparano will have "more control over personnel decisions," although I don't see what exactly this could mean if general manager Jeff Ireland still has final say.

Despite what the Dolphins have said in their meeting with the media today, it seems blatantly obvious to me that the Dolphins did (perhaps through "consultant" Carl Peterson) reach out to Bill Cowher and John Gruden.

I also believe, despite claims they never made an offer to Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, they certainly discussed financial parameters of a deal and were willing to eventually make him their head coach once able to do so.

Admitting they made Harbaugh an offer is admitting they did not comply with the Rooney Rule, as they did not interview a minority candidate. It also means they did so before Tony Sparano was fired, which they obviously couldn't do. So no, they did not officially make Harbaugh an offer which he could immediately accept. Did they offer to make him an offer once they could? Most likely.

Owner Stephen Ross says the franchise decided not to pursue Harbaugh further after meeting with him and concluded Sparano was the best man for the job, although it seems more likely to me they were spurned by Harbaugh and the others, then decided to stick with Sparano once all their big-name candidates rejected their overtures.

So, despite their numerous admissions of the mistakes they made handling the situation, it's quite clear they are still in damage control when it comes to their reputation and relationship with Sparano and aren't being entirely truthful about their pursuit of Harbaugh.

Now, what we have is an extremely awkward situation where the owner has entirely botched his first hands-on NFL decision; where the general manager threw his head coach under the bus to save his own job; and where the three now have to find a way to work together to build a winner in 2011.

Many Dolphins fans—myself included—have expressed their embarrassment over the situation. While this may not be the 62-7 loss to the Jaguars in the playoffs or the Miracle at the Meadowlands, it absolutely makes the Dolphins the laughingstock of the NFL.

A good way to describe it is a way I heard on twitter (and I forget where I got it so I can't directly attribute it, but credit to them for summing it up so perfectly): It's like taking your girlfriend to a bar, hitting on the three hottest girls and getting rejected by all of them, then proposing to your girlfriend later that night.

But Sparano is stuck. Despite disrespect and the lack of professionalism displayed by his employer, Sparano can't resign without giving up a significant salary that he's earning for his family. He can't resign from the organization that tried like hell to replace him without looking like a quitter and letting down his players that are counting on him and are committed to him.

Tony Sparano is a committed guy. He's the kind of head coach that is in the office at 4 a.m. after a loss trying to right the ship and prepare for the next opponent. We know he's going to do his best to guide the Dolphins to the playoffs, for the players, for the staff, for the fans, for himself because he enjoys it more than anything else.

I'm not saying this whole ordeal has ruined the Dolphins for years to come, or even that it will have a noticeable affect on the team's performance on the field.

But there is no doubt the relationship between Tony Sparano and Jeff Ireland has been frayed, and there is no easy way to repair it.

There is no way Tony Sparano can fully trust Jeff Ireland now, and you cannot tell me that kind of disconnect between the most important men in the franchise won't hurt the team to some extent.

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