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Monday, December 12, 2011
After Sparano: Next steps for Dolphins

By John Clayton

In the past, NFL teams waited until the Monday after the season to announce their head-coaching firings. It’s called Black Monday.

When the Dolphins jumped into the mix by firing Tony Sparano hours after Todd Haley was let go by Kansas City, it was an indication how the shortage of head-coaching talent forced owner Stephen Ross to make a bold move. Ross didn’t want to fall behind other AFC teams looking for head coaches and reached out to close friend Carl Peterson to help run the Dolphins' operation.

The plan to hire Peterson is an indication the Dolphins will reach out to Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher to start. Gruden is expected to stay with ESPN. Despite his good relationship with Peterson, Cowher might be reluctant to go to the Dolphins for several reasons. Cowher wants front-office control, big money and a top quarterback. The Dolphins have Matt Moore as their quarterback, which wouldn’t attract Cowher. Money might not be a problem, but power is a problem. The team is expected to keep Jeff Ireland as its general manager, and that might be enough to prevent Cowher from being a candidate. That leaves Fisher as a top candidate.

Teams in the hunt for coaches know there are three price tags for coaches. You can get your Cowhers and Fishers in the $7 million-a-year range. If you find the right college or former NFL head coach, he might go for $5 million a year. First-time coaches go for close to $3 million.

By firing Sparano on Monday, Ross is hinting he might be willing to pay top money to get a coach. He worries about the empty seats at home games. Now that pro basketball is back, the Dolphins take a back seat to the Miami Heat, so hiring a big name is important for marketing the team. Because Peterson is an aggressive recruiter and salesman himself, the Dolphins won’t be shy about going for the big names.

Firing Sparano now also gives Peterson and Ireland a chance to evaluate interim coach Todd Bowles, who had been the secondary coach. According to sources, Bowles had become more involved with the defensive play-calling over the past month. The Dolphins also played their best football over the past month. If Bill Parcells were running a team, sources indicate Bowles would have been a person he considered hiring as head coach.

Another name to watch is Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Peterson reinvented the Chiefs and sold out Arrowhead with Brian’s father, Marty Schottenheimer, as Chiefs head coach.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.