Dolphins hire Sparano as head coach, replacing Cameron

Updated: January 16, 2008, 7:46 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Dallas Cowboys assistant head coach Tony Sparano is the new Miami Dolphins head coach.

The two sides on Wednesday morning completed work on what ESPN.com has confirmed is a four-year contract worth about $2.5 million to $2.7 million per year.

Sparano arrived at the team complex Wednesday wearing a suit and accompanied by new Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland. Owner Wayne Huizenga soon joined them, then left about an hour later.

Not counting the interim tenure of Jim Bates in 2004, Sparano becomes the seventh head coach in franchise history, and replaces Cam Cameron, who lasted just one season in the job before being fired. In his first NFL head coaching job, Sparano inherits a team that won just one game in 2007; has obvious holes on the offensive side, including uncertainty at quarterback; and an aging defense.

On the positive side, the Dolphins own the top overall selection in the 2008 draft, and can either exercise it to choose a top-shelf prospect, or perhaps trade the choice for additional picks in the lottery. Sparano also will be surrounded by a strong support group of front-office executives he knows well.

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Ireland, who most recently worked in the Dallas personnel department as vice president of college and pro scouting, is familiar with Sparano and his coaching style. And Dolphins vice president of football operations Bill Parcells hired Sparano as an assistant when Parcells was the Dallas head coach.

"Coach Parcells has taught me the most, prepared me the most for this job," Sparano said. "He's taught me a great deal and I'm going to continue to learn as much as I can."

Sparano, 46, also interviewed for the head coach openings in Atlanta and Baltimore.

Although he has worked in the league only nine seasons, Sparano is widely respected for his offensive acumen and his demeanor with the players. Before joining the Dallas staff in 2003, Sparano was on the staffs of Cleveland (1999-2000), Washington (2001), and Jacksonville (2002).

"When Bill and I discussed what we were looking for in a head coach, we talked about one of high character," Ireland said. "We wanted someone who understood how to develop young players, one who could instill a culture that's all about winning.

"We think we found that guy. We know we found that guy."

Seeking Stability

The Dolphins, since their inception in 1966, have had eight coaches, the most famous of whom is Don Shula, right. But newly hired Tony Sparano is the sixth since 1996.

1970-1995 * 1996-2008
Coaches 1 6
Win pct. .658 .505
Playoff appearances 16 5
* Don Shula

Parcells sat in a corner of the room, smiling occasionally like a proud papa. He declined to meet with reporters, leaving the talk to his proteges.

Before landing his first NFL position, Sparano worked 15 years in the college ranks and was head coach at New Haven from 1994 to 1998.

He worked primarily with the Cowboys' offensive line this season. But when Parcells was the coach, Sparano had much broader responsibilities. Although he didn't hold the title of coordinator, Sparano called the team's plays in 2006. Parcells is known to hold Sparano in high regard.

Sparano is expected to pursue several current Dallas assistant coaches, some of whose contracts with the Cowboys have expired, for key positions on his staff. The Dolphins already have tapped the Dallas pipeline since the arrival of Parcells. Former Cowboys assistant David Lee was hired as quarterbacks coach, and on Tuesday, Brian Gaine was hired as assistant director of player personnel after three years as the Cowboys' assistant director of pro scouting.

The Dolphins can thank the New York Giants for expediting their hiring of a coach. Sparano became available when the Cowboys lost their playoff game to New York on Sunday.

"It does leave a bitter taste in my mouth," Sparano said. "Anybody who knows me knows I'm about finishing. We didn't finish. That left a bad taste in my mouth. ...

"Obviously it has been a real crazy week for me. But I'm glad it ends this way."

"I commend Wayne Huizenga, Bill Parcells and the Miami Dolphins on the hiring of an excellent football coach," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. "I have a great deal of confidence in Tony and his ability to get the job done there in Miami."

Added Cowboys coach Wade Phillips: "I talked to Tony today and told him how proud I was of him, and how happy we are for him."

The Dolphins are coming off the worst season in team history. They lost their first 13 games and missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, extending a franchise record.

"I don't really care what happened in the past," Sparano said. "I'm not afraid of challenges. I look forward to them."

The coach's office became a revolving door since 2004, when Dave Wannstedt quit after nine games and was replaced by Bates. Nick Saban became the coach in 2005, but lasted only two years before leaving for Alabama. Cameron, the former offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, came on board, but after a 1-15 season, was dismissed by Parcells on Jan. 3.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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