Source: Dolphins to retain Tony Sparano

Updated: January 7, 2011, 7:54 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

The Miami Dolphins will retain head coach Tony Sparano, a source told ESPN's Chris Mortensen on Thursday night.

Tony Sparano

Sparano

Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh met earlier Thursday with Miami owner Stephen Ross in the San Francisco area about the Dolphins' job, sources told Mortensen.

But Harbaugh and the Dolphins broke off talks later in the day, sources told The Associated Press.

The Dolphins were willing to make Harbaugh the highest-paid coach in the NFL, which would place his salary in the $7 million-to-$8 million range, sources said.

Ross resumed the meeting Thursday night with Harbaugh's agent, David Dunn, in Southern California after the Dolphins owner traveled south to satisfy an unrelated business commitment following his meeting with Harbaugh, the sources said.

Ross hoped to persuade Harbaugh to take the job and travel to Miami on his private jet to introduce him as his new coach by Friday or this weekend, the sources added.

"Stanford is still a viable option" for Harbaugh, the source said. He could return to coach quarterback Andrew Luck and what is said to be a strong recruiting class, and see what NFL options exist next year.

Luck, the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 pick in this spring's draft, announced Thursday he will stay in school and play his redshirt junior season.

A late-season collapse by the Dolphins put Sparano's job in jeopardy. He has a year left on his contract and was at work at the team's complex in Davie, Fla., while Ross was on the other side of the country courting Harbaugh.

Sparano tried to make the best of the bizarre situation. While still uncertain of his fate, he took an afternoon walk outside the team offices Thursday and encountered a cluster of media staking out the facility.

"You guys need to find a better hobby," Sparano said.

The odd sequence of events threatened to undermine the authority of a coach whose status was already shaky because of a late-season meltdown. The Dolphins lost their final three games, including a 38-7 drubbing at New England in their finale last Sunday, and finished 7-9.

Ross said before the season he expected the Dolphins to reach the Super Bowl. Instead, for the eighth time in nine years they failed to reach the playoffs. The Dolphins lost at home in December to three sub-.500 teams, and their 1-7 home record matched the worst in franchise history.

Sparano led Miami to the AFC East title in 2008, his first year as an NFL coach. He has a three-year record of 25-23 with the Dolphins, who haven't won a playoff game since 2000 and haven't reached the Super Bowl since 1984.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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