Beginning of the end for Tony Sparano

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
2:15
AM ET
Brandon MarshallAP Photo/Julio CortezBrandon Marshall's 109 yards wasn't enough to save the Dolphins -- nor possibly Tony Sparano's job.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano took a long look at the scoreboard after Jets receiver Santonio Holmes ran circles around Miami's defense for a 38-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The look on Sparano's face was telling. He realized time was running out in Miami's eventual 24-6 loss to the New York Jets. But -- looking at the big picture -- time also ran out on Sparano's future with the winless Dolphins (0-5).

The slim chance of Miami turning around its awful season and making a miraculous run to save its embattled coach came to an ugly end on "Monday Night Football." The Dolphins were the same sloppy, mistake-prone team they were before the bye week. Two weeks of practices under Sparano resulted in just two field goals.

Change is coming in Miami. It might not happen next week or even next month. But the Dolphins can't continue down this perilous path beyond the 2011 season. Miami lost its eighth straight game under Sparano. Its last win was Dec. 12, 2010. Sparano also is 1-11 in Miami's past 12 home games and 25-28 overall. His only winning season was in 2008, which feels like a decade ago for Dolphins fans.

A third consecutive losing season won't cut it for Sparano. That means the Dolphins need at least eight or nine wins the rest of the way to save his job.

It's the safest assumption in sports that won't happen. The Dolphins are still struggling with fundamentals.

"This team," Sparano said, "we have to learn how to get out of our own way."

From Miami's perspective, this game was as ugly in person as it appeared on television. But to be fair, not everything is Sparano's fault.

It's not the coach's fault quarterback Matt Moore is making his first start for Miami and throws a 100-yard interception return to Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. It's not the coach's fault Miami receiver Brandon Marshall catches a wide-open pass and mysteriously stumbles out of bounds in what should have been a sure touchdown. It's not all the coach's fault players dropped several easy passes.

"It's rough. It's the same old story," Moore said. "We're trying to find answers or make plays down there, and we seem to be hitting a wall."

Miami entered the game as one of the NFL's worst teams in the red zone and on third down. The Dolphins continued that trend by going 2-for-12 on third down and 0-for-3 in the red zone. Sparano admitted the practice time isn't paying off.

"The thing that I'm most frustrated with was third downs," he said. "As I showed the team, just in the bye week alone, we practiced third down almost 80 snaps on both sides of the football. We really felt like we made some progress in competitive situations."

The Dolphins won't make the playoffs and have a great chance for a top-10 pick. Therefore, here is a quick, three-step plan for getting the organization back on the right path:

[+] EnlargeTony Sparano
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesThe last time a Tony Sparano-coached team won was in December 2010.
1. Make a coaching change: This is obvious. Despite owner Stephen Ross’ public backing of Sparano, the job has to be evaluated by wins and losses. The fans in Miami have given up on this current regime and coaching staff. A new coach, particularly a big name, would be the quickest way to infuse energy into this moribund franchise. The Dolphins have a lot of history and would be an easy sell.

2. Draft a quarterback: The ideal situation would be to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. But that would require the Dolphins to lose enough games to secure the top pick. Miami is certainly one of the favorites, but that’s not a guarantee. However, Miami needs a young franchise quarterback under center next season, whether it’s Luck, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones or someone else. The trend of hiring a new coach and quarterback has worked with several other teams, including the Jets with quarterback Mark Sanchez and coach Rex Ryan. Other teams such as the Baltimore Ravens (Joe Flacco, John Harbaugh) and the Atlanta Falcons (Matt Ryan, Mike Smith) are other recent examples.

3. Win at home: The Dolphins are losing a lot of revenue with their lack of support at Sun Life Stadium. It is one of the deadest stadiums in which to watch a football game. Fans in Miami are tired of the home team constantly losing. The Dolphins can start to gain some momentum at home this year and carry that into future seasons.

Marshall summed up Miami's 2011 season best Monday night.

"This is embarrassing," Marshall said.

This season's Dolphins are a lost cause. Everything they do from this point forward should be with an eye on the future -- and that future won't include Sparano.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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