AFC East: NFL coaches 010211

Can Dolphins actually get past this mess?

January, 7, 2011
The Miami Dolphins prolonged their public relations disaster Friday.

Miami Herald beat writer Jeff Darlington reported the Dolphins had set up a meeting with Eric Mangini, but canceled it. Darlington wrote unidentified team sources informed him the Dolphins weren't going to speak with Mangini about being their coach, but just wanted to seek his advice.

Allrighty then.

Also reported Friday was a looming contract adjustment for Sparano, supposedly to smooth over any hard feelings. The Dolphins' front office embarrassed itself with a futile courtship of Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh and and reported contact with retired Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

Chicago Tribune and National Football Post writer Brad Biggs reported the Dolphins never made an actual contract offer to Harbaugh. Biggs, quoting an unnamed source, wrote Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was "intoxicated" with the idea of hiring Harbaugh after spending time with him in the days leading up to the Orange Bowl, but that Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland remained behind Sparano.

The Dolphins called a news conference for 4:45 p.m. Friday presumably to declare their allegiance to Sparano and then postponed it until noon Saturday with no word about whether Sparano's contract has been amended or if he's coming back for next season at all.

Strange days indeed.

All this happened while I was traveling for Saturday night's playoff game between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium. I had been playing phone tag with ESPN analyst Herm Edwards all day, and once we finally connected, I had to ask for his take on the Miami madness.

"Feelings are hurt, obviously, because of the way things went about," said Edwards, the former Jets and Kansas City Chiefs coach. "But, hey, they didn't have a good record. They could have fired him.

"But that's the sad part. They had a coach under contract. They wouldn't fire him, but they went and interviewed people. If you're going to do that, man, you need to do that on the QT. This didn't have to be public. You don't need to bring that attention to your organization."

Edwards, though, stressed this saga won't necessarily drag down the team and noted the more critical concern should be what the Dolphins do at quarterback than the current mess.

"If you win, all this goes away," Edwards said. "If you win, this is no big deal. The good part is the season's over with. The players aren't even in the building right now.

"By the time training camp starts, if anything the players look at it and say 'The coach is in the same boat we're in.' The players get it. But if the quarterback doesn't get better they'll be in that same boat again in a year."

For additional perspective on what it's like to hang by thread, I rang up former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel for his thoughts.

"If you have the right guys on the team, they'll battle for the head coach," Fassel said. "Players know regardless, they're still going to be judged on their own performance. It won't affect their performance unless they're not very smart.

"The way it might play a role is in the discipline phase of it might say 'I don't care what he says to be anymore.' But that would a small minority of the players."

Edwards felt more sympathy for the coaching staff than for Sparano.

"The assistants are the ones who are suffering," Edwards said. "They're tied to the head coach. You want to let these 15 or so guys know because when the merry-go-round stops and all the jobs have been filled, you're stuck."

Report: Dolphins pursuing Jim Harbaugh

January, 4, 2011
The Miami Dolphins might be agreeable to retaining head coach Tony Sparano, but it sounds like they're interested in trading up if they can land the right replacement.

NFL Network reporter Jason La Canfora, citing unnamed league sources, says the Dolphins have had multiple conversations with Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh about a job that's not vacant.

Another source told senior writer Steve Wyche it will be "hard for Sparano to survive."

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross attended Stanford's victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl on Monday night. Ross also owns Sun Life Stadium, where the game took place.

Harbaugh is a hot coaching candidate and likely has spoken to a few teams already. He has developed a reputation as a dynamic playcaller and helped groom quarterback Andrew Luck into the consensus favorite as the No. 1 overall draft choice in April.

Much to the dismay of Ross and Dolfans, the Dolphins' offense struggled mightily despite the owner's belief Chad Henne would be a franchise quarterback with an array of established offensive stars. The Dolphins traded for receiver Brandon Marshall, adding him to a team that already had running backs Ronnie Brown, top slot receiver Davone Bess and elite left tackle Jake Long.

The Dolphins ranked 30th in points, 21st in total offense, 21st in rushing offense and 16th in passing offense.

Ross is a colossal University of Michigan patron. He has donated millions of dollars to Michigan. His name is on the business school. Harbaugh was a star quarterback for the Wolverines in the 1980s.

Forecast improving for Tony Sparano?

January, 3, 2011
Unless we learn something in the next few hours, another evening will pass in South Florida with no word on the fate of Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano or GM Jeff Ireland.

Sparano met with reporters Monday for his news conference to wrap up their disheartening 7-9 season, but he hadn't yet sat down with owner Stephen Ross and wasn't forthcoming on any details of what they would discuss.

Miami Herald scribes Jeff Darlington and Armando Salguero report Ross arrived at the Dolphins' facility at 1 p.m. Monday and met with Ireland first and then Sparano, with chief executive officer Mike Dee participating.

White smoke was not seen billowing into the skies above Davie, Fla. No decisions have been made public.

Ross later attended the Orange Bowl at his Sun Life Stadium and told Darlington the meetings were productive. Darlington tweeted "no decisions have been formalized yet. A clear sense of peace with Ross and CEO Mike Dee. I don't sense change."

Sparano spoke hypothetically about his job status before meeting with Ross.

"Listen, I don't take my job for granted one day, not one second," Sparano said. "I don't take my job for granted. I've been fortunate here.

"I've said this before. This is not the first time you people have heard me say it. I think I have the greatest job in the world, and I enjoy this organization and the people here, and I love coaching this football team. I don't take it for granted at all. In fact, it's kind of the other way around for me. I put it before a lot of personal things in my life."

Gailey likes his D staff, not a Maybin fan

January, 3, 2011
The Buffalo Bills fielded perhaps the NFL's worst defense.

They'll certainly undergo notable changes, but head coach Chan Gailey suggested the coaching staff won't be among them.

Gailey expressed support of defensive coordinator George Edwards and his assistants at Monday's season-ending news conference.

"I feel good about our coaching staff," Gailey said. "We're always evaluating. We'll evaluate the rest of this week about what we need to do at every position. They had a tough go of it this year, but I feel good about the people that are on that side of the ball."

The Bills transitioned from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme and then settled into multiple fronts. They ranked 24th in total defense, 32nd in run defense and (mainly because opponents didn't need to throw) third in pass defense. Quarterbacks still had a 92.6 rating against the Bills. Only four other teams allowed higher ratings.

Gailey was skeptical about the futures of safety Donte Whitner and outside linebacker Aaron Maybin, the 11th overall draft choice in 2009.

Whitner, an unrestricted free agent, has publicly bemoaned his unsuccessful contract negotiations. When reporters showed up Monday, his locker already had been cleared out.

"I didn’t realize that until I was told that a few minutes ago that that had happened," Gailey said of Whitner's empty stall. "He's a really good player. You'd love to have him on your football team, but we're in a business where that doesn't happen every time. So we'll wait and see what happens."

Gailey didn't sound bullish on Maybin's future. Maybin had trouble getting on the field in his second pro season. He played 10 games, started just one and still hasn't recorded an NFL sack.

"Right now, he's on the outside looking in," Gailey said. "That's where he is. If he improves, he'll improve his status. But if he doesn't improve his status, he won't find playing time on this football team."

With jobs at stake, Dolphins are no-shows

January, 2, 2011
With head coach Tony Sparano's job in the balance, the Miami Dolphins came up small Sunday in Gillette Stadium.

[+] EnlargeTony Sparano
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaThe Miami Dolphins won one home game this season under embattled head coach Tony Sparano.
The hodgepodge New England Patriots rested their top two wide receivers and best pass-rushers and shuffled backups in and out of the game throughout. Yet they still dominated the Dolphins 38-7.

The Patriots were up 38-0 with almost seven minutes left in the third quarter. The Dolphins avoided getting skunked when Davone Bess scored with 2:17 to play.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who publicly declared before the season that his team was Super Bowl bound, must be embarrassed.

Ross didn't attend the game and reportedly was out of the country. Sparano, his staff and his players should pray that wherever Ross was they don't show NFL games on television.

The Dolphins were 6-5 and still had hope after Thanksgiving. They lost four of their last five games. The Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions beat them in Sun Life Stadium before the preseason-mode Patriots gave the Dolphins a clear idea how far behind they are in the AFC East.

The Dolphins went 1-7 at home this season, tying their worst record in club history. The only other time they were so bad at home was when they went 1-15 the year before Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland arrived.

Ross didn't hire them. Former football operations boss Bill Parcells did with former owner Wayne Huizenga's consent. Huizenga sold the team shortly thereafter. Parcells supposedly still is with the Dolphins as a consultant, but he cleaned out his office months ago.

Ross put an emphasis on making Sun Life Stadium an entertainment destination from the moment he took over the Dolphins. One measly victory in an arena that was half-full toward the end of the season is unacceptable. And if Sparano can't motivate his players to play with any kind of edge, then how can Ross expect fans to respond at the box office?

The Patriots had nothing to play for Sunday other than tuning up for the postseason. It was like an exhibition for them.

But with jobs on the line, the Dolphins didn't show up.

Miami's offense, defense and special teams were equally disgusting. They gave up big plays all over the field. Their breakdowns were both strategic and mental. Tackling was poor. They committed bad penalties.

Chad Henne threw an interception on the opening drive and had a 29.2 passer rating in the first half. Dan Carpenter missed another field goal, this one from 40 yards. Ricky Williams fumbled, and Ronnie Brown ran six times for 14 yards in what might be the last games as Dolphins for the backfield mates.

Miami went into Week 17 with the third-ranked defense. Even with Wes Welker and Deion Branch not on the field, Tom Brady completed 10 of 16 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

The Dolphins' secondary also got torched by the immortal combo of Brian Hoyer to Brandon Tate for a 42-yard touchdown in the third quarter. One play before the bomb, the Dolphins' defensive line encroached on fourth-and-1.

The Patriots gained 502 yards -- that doesn't include Julian Edelman's 94-yard punt return for a touchdown -- and had the ball for over 36 minutes.

A call from the governor might not even save Sparano after a performance like that, and he has a direct line to Tallahassee. Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll's mother is Florida's new lieutenant governor.

When Ross gets around to examining what transpired Sunday in Gillette Stadium, it very well could be a lethal inspection.