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Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Updated: December 20, 5:01 PM ET
Dolphins likely reel in Tuna as Falcons fish for answers

By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Captains of industry and members of one of the world's most elite rich-guy fraternities as NFL owners, Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons and the Miami Dolphins' Wayne Huizenga have a lot in common.

Both are billionaires. Each has had a high-profile coach bolt on him after very brief tenures to return to the college ranks. And in large part because of the departures of those coaches, Nick Saban in Miami and more recently Bobby Petrino with Atlanta, both have stewardship over franchises in disarray.

And both men wanted to hire Bill Parcells to help rectify their dismal situations. But it appears the commonality between the two desperate owners ends there.

Barring some glitch in negotiations -- which given Parcells' history of flirting and spurning is always a possibility -- the owner of The Fish seems to have reeled in The Tuna. As reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen Thursday morning, Parcells signed a four-year contract with the Dolphins to become the team's executive vice president of football operations, according to a Dolphins source.

Of course, Blank thought he had the hook buried pretty deep, too. But Wednesday night, there was Blank, once again staring at an empty net.

Arthur Blank
Falcons owner Arthur Blank was left at the altar by Bill Parcells on Wednesday.

And perhaps wondering to whom he should turn next.

Blank, who surely is distraught over the sudden irrelevance of his franchise with the local sports fans here, isn't a singles hitter. He swings for the fences, every gambit defined by his desire to bring a Vince Lombardi Trophy to long-suffering Falcons fans. But when you take such big cuts and whiff, the results can be devastating. And right now, Blank and the Falcons continue to whiff at a staggering rate.

The face of the franchise (Michael Vick) is sitting in a federal corrections facility. The head coach (Petrino) with the allegedly high-octane offense decided after 13 games that he was tactically overmatched and woefully outmanned. The president/general manager (Rich McKay), so vigorously pursued for more than a year, is about to have half his title amputated and will be relegated to functionary status. The most notable unemployed coach in the game (Bill Cowher) has rejected Blank's advances. The Georgia Dome, into which Blank will sink millions of his own money to renovate, typically has only a few thousand fans rattling around in it by conclusion of most games.

And now Blank has been left at the altar by Parcells, jilted by his best hope for a quick-fix, and perhaps embarrassed by the long series of disastrous events that has fractured his franchise.

Parcells is a brilliant coach and solid talent evaluator. As pool reporter for the AFC team in Super Bowl XXXI, I watched him prepare the New England Patriots for the title game, and every one of his practice sessions was a lesson in how a club should prepare for a big game. The Patriots' loss to the Green Bay Packers in the Superdome was hardly a function of being outcoached, but rather a case of not having enough talent to have coped with Brett Favre, Reggie White, et al.

But the tiny flaw in Parcells is that he has a wandering eye. Any overture to him must be made with eyes wide open. For a man whose success has been based on his decisiveness on the sidelines, Parcells agonizes over the tough calls off the field.

And his decisions, Blank should have known entering the Parcells chase, generally leave one party disappointed.

Blank earned his billions as co-founder of The Home Depot and probably as a better judge of people in the business sector than the professional sports arena. With two games remaining in the sixth season of Blank's ownership, the Falcons' record is 42-51-1, a .452 winning percentage. In the final six years under the late Rankin Smith, the team's founder and the man whose estate sold the team to Blank, the franchise was 40-56, a .417 mark. In the unlikely event the Falcons win the final two games the season, they will have averaged less than one victory more per season than in the final six seasons of the Smith family ownership.

Wayne Huizenga
Miami's Wayne Huizenga isn't known as a hands-on owner, perhaps one reason Bill Parcells is attracted to the Dolphins.

For all the time and effort and money that Blank has invested in the team, that is a paucity of progress, isn't it? Someone must take the blame and it isn't apt to be Blank, who essentially blamed the media for having scuttled his courtship of Parcells. How would you like to be McKay right now, ever loyal but hung out to dry, his future jeopardized by the fixation on Parcells? Suffice to say, the mood inside the team's offices can't be too cheery right now.

"Things are crazy around here," tailback Warrick Dunn told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.

Several hundred miles to the South, though, Huizenga and the Dolphins might actually be feeling a little better about themselves. By virtue of Sunday's overtime victory, Miami has avoided the infamy of the NFL's first 0-16 season. That win aside, the Dolphins will almost certainly earn the first overall choice in the 2008 draft. And now it appears the man who will help identify the player most deserving of No. 1 status is on the way.

For Huizenga, who is said to have gotten Parcells' attention Wednesday by announcing that the Dolphins are no longer for sale, the situation isn't quite so grim.

Of the two jobs, Parcells may have always wanted the Miami position more but was concerned over the reports Huizenga was in active negotiations to sell the team. Certainly the Miami job puts him closer to the home he owns in Jupiter, Fla. And while there is no doubt about the commitment of Blank or Huizenga to spend freely in pursuit of a championship, the latter owner is perceived as far less meddlesome.

The history of Huizenga is that he hires his football people and gets out of the way, signs the checks but doesn't really care much to be the front man. Blank hardly shuns the spotlight, prefers a hands-on approach and is a regular visitor to his team's sideline during games. Whether the disparate personas of the two men entered into Parcells' decision to reject the Atlanta offer and to enter into substantive talks with Miami, only he knows.

But here's the bottom line: Huizenga, who made his early fortune in waste disposal, is on the cusp of hiring a guy who will back up a dumpster to the team complex, haul out the debris, and perhaps provide the Dolphins a clean slate. And Blank, the man whose business was helping people build things, still hasn't been able to lay much of a foundation for his team.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.