Personnel decisions will fall to new GM

Updated: December 30, 2003, 1:40 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt received a reprieve Monday. And an extension. And a demotion.

Team owner Wayne Huizenga settled on the curious mix to resolve the status of his embattled coach.

Wannstedt gave up some responsibility over personnel decisions in exchange for a two-year contract extension through 2006. The Dolphins will hire a general manager who will have final authority over the draft and free-agent signings.

Wannstedt is 41-23 with Miami, including 10-6 this year. But the Dolphins have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1988-89, which prompted speculation Huizenga might fire Wannstedt.

On the morning after a meaningless season-ending victory over the New York Jets, Wannstedt arrived at work at 5:30 and met with Huizenga several hours later. Wannstedt emerged smiling, saying he embraced his new role.

"It's a seven-days-a-week, 52-weeks-a-year job nowadays," he said. "You need a little bit of a break. It was a time thing that affects you as much as anything. This will help there, where I can spend a little more time with the football part of it."

Candidates for the general manager's job include Dolphins senior vice president Rick Spielman, their personnel boss for four seasons while reporting to Wannstedt, and former New Orleans general manager Randy Mueller, who traded Ricky Williams to Miami in 2002.

Others, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reports, include current Buffalo Bills assistant general manager Tom Modrak and Tim Ruskell, who is currently the personnel director with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Dolphins have asked for and have received permission from the Packers to speak with former Green Bay GM Ron Wolf about the position, ESPN's Chris Mortenson reported. Wolf is still under contract as a team consultant with the Packers, and teams wishing to speak to him would still need to obtain the Packers' permission first.

The Dolphins have endured lackluster results in the draft in recent seasons, which is one reason they've won just one playoff game in four years.

Fans who wanted Wannstedt fired will be dismayed by his contract extension, but without it he would have been seen as a lame duck entering the 2004 season.

"It's sending a message from a confidence standpoint -- not just to the fans, but as importantly to our players -- that this is the guy who is going to be coaching here," Wannstedt said. "And I'm going to finish up my career here."

There was one other change Monday: Wannstedt fired receivers coach Robert Ford.

This year's Dolphins had been widely touted as one of the league's best teams. Instead, they were eliminated from the playoff race a week before the end of the season.

"None of us are happy we're not in the playoffs," president Eddie Jones said. "But we're happy with coach Wannstedt and the way he has handled this team."

After meeting with Wannstedt, Huizenga left the Dolphins' complex by helicopter without speaking to reporters. He released a statement saying the restructuring will better balance authority within the organization.

"It will give coach Wannstedt and his staff the ability to focus even more on preparing the team to play every week," Huizenga said. "With the evolving nature of the NFL since the introduction of a salary cap, it has become increasingly difficult for one individual to be responsible for both coaching and player personnel matters."

About two-thirds of the teams in the NFL have a strong general manager, Jones said. He said the Dolphins will consider half a dozen candidates, and they expect to hire someone by next week.

Spielman, left temporarily in limbo by the restructuring, became the first candidate to be interviewed when he met with Huizenga for an hour.

The new personnel chief will face plenty of challenges. The offensive line and receiving corps need to be upgraded. Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, who led the AFC in sacks, will become a restricted free agent. And injury-prone quarterback Jay Fiedler is due a $2 million option in April and a projected base salary of $3.7 million for 2004 if he returns.

Wannstedt went 22-10 in his first two seasons with the Dolphins, then 19-13 in the past two years. Still, the coach insisted the team had improved this season, the 30th anniversary of Miami's last Super Bowl title.

"I believe that we closed the gap a little bit," he said. "Now we just have to keep climbing."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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