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Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Tony Sparano looks like dead man coaching

By Tim Graham

Tony Sparano can't be feeling too comfortable right now.

The Miami Dolphins head coach should feel like Tony Soprano in the HBO series' final scene. He's scanning the room for all the people who might be set to whack him.

Then the screen goes black.

Sparano is in an unenviable situation. He's either about to get fired or kept around with full knowledge the Dolphins didn't think he was good enough.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is pressing to convince Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh to come aboard. Two sources told Mortensen that Ross, associate and former Kansas City Chiefs president Carl Peterson and general manager Jeff Ireland flew to the West Coast to pitch Harbaugh with an offer that would make him the NFL's highest-paid coach.

Mortensen estimated the offer would be worth between $7 million and $8 million a year. Forbes magazine ranked New England Patriots boss Bill Belichick the NFL's highest-paid NFL coach at $7.5 million a year. Belichick was second only to Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson in all sports.

The Dolphins can't make the hire right away. They still would need to satisfy the NFL's requirements under the Rooney Rule, which mandates a minority candidate be interviewed for head coach vacancies.

A source with knowledge of the process informed me Wednesday afternoon the Dolphins have not initiated talks with any minority candidates and wouldn't be required to do so until Sparano has been dismissed.

Mortensen added Ross intends to keep Ireland as GM, a development that turned off Bill Cowher. The former Pittsburgh Steelers coach reportedly wants to select his own GM.

Sparano needs to be put out of his misery soon.

If the Dolphins can't close the deal on Harbaugh or Cowher or any other big-name candidate and Sparano keeps his job, how will he be able to connect with his team?

Players will know ownership wanted to upgrade, that it preferred somebody else. That, plus back-to-back 7-9 seasons mean Sparano will have lost his locker room for sure.

Running back Ricky Williams and former Dolphins pass-rusher Jason Taylor criticized Sparano's micromanaging style in radio interviews this week.

Whatever message Sparano tries to deliver now will resonate even less than before.

At this point, Sparano can't win.