Dolphins lock in coach Tony Sparano
DAVIE, Fla. -- Tony Sparano stared into space stone-faced, tapping his foot and chomping on gum.
Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland also wore a somber expression, his cheeks turning red as awkward details were discussed.
Team owner Stephen Ross sat between them, sweat glistening above his upper lip while he tried to put lipstick on a pig of a week for the Dolphins.
I realized after having read the papers the anguish I had put Tony through. It's probably a mistake on my part not thinking that when you do something like this, it's public.” -- Dolphins owner Stephen Ross
on his courting of Jim Harbaugh
They did damage control Saturday, holding an extraordinary news conference to announce a two-year contract extension for Sparano, which a source told ESPN Senior NFL Analyst Chris Mortensen was worth in excess of $3 million a year -- and to acknowledge mistakes in dealing with the team's coaching situation.
"The lines of communication should be handled differently," Ireland said.
"Now," Ross said, "I would go about it a different way."
Ross and Ireland flew to California for an interview Thursday with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, leaving Sparano in very public limbo. Negotiations broke off, Harbaugh took a job with the 49ers, and Ross decided to keep Sparano.
Ross, who took over the Dolphins two years ago, said he had never interviewed a coach before and was naive to think he could keep his meeting with Harbaugh secret.
"I should have probably let Tony know," Ross said. "I never thought it would be national news. I realized after having read the papers the anguish I had put Tony through. It's probably a mistake on my part not thinking that when you do something like this, it's public."
Ross, Ireland and Sparano said any harm to their relationships had been repaired, but their body language and demeanor suggested otherwise.
Sitting at the end of a long table before 40 media members, they did not look at each other. Ross did most of the talking and occasionally chuckled, while Sparano and Ireland sat rigid with the sort of expressions common on the Dolphins' sideline during their late-season meltdown.
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However, everyone said all the right things, including Sparano regarding his week of uncertainty. He said it was difficult not only for himself, but for his players and assistant coaches and their families.
"I had a lot of different emotions," he said. "Frustrations bubble over a little bit sometimes when there's uncertainty.
"We're in a happy place right now, and we're going to do the best job we can to get things right."
With the extension, Sparano's under contract through 2013, and changes this offseason will be limited to his roster and staff. Offensive coordinator Dan Henning, for one, is leaving.
"The emphasis is going to be on offense -- an exciting offense, a more aggressive offense, creative," Ross said. "I will deliver a winner. That is my commitment."
Sparano was a winner at first, leading the Dolphins to the 2008 AFC East title in his first season as an NFL coach. But he went 7-9 each of the past two seasons, and the team was dreadful in the final few weeks of 2010.
That inspired Ross to consider alternatives. But he said no one from the organization had contact with Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden, despite speculation Miami might be interested in both.
And while the Dolphins did court Harbaugh, Ross denied making an offer.
"We did our due diligence in an effort to improve this organization," said Ireland, reading a statement. "In the beginning and the end of all this, I believe Tony Sparano is the right coach for this team. I've always felt that. That has never changed."
Ireland and Sparano said they'll continue to have a good relationship. It dates back eight years, when both were with the Dallas Cowboys.
"Jeff and I have agreed not to agree a bunch of times," Sparano said. "Sometimes there's smoke coming from that office. If there's not, it's not healthy. It needs to happen.
"At the end of this whole thing, we'll keep communicating, and it's going to be fine. We're going to try to do the best thing for this franchise together. That's the way it has to be -- together."
Speaking from notes, Ross began the 35-minute news conference with an 18-minute statement that chronicled the week's events. On Monday, the day after the Dolphins lost their season finale at New England 38-7, Ross met with Sparano, who laid out a detailed plan of offseason changes.
"Just because you hear a plan, there are still frustrations," Ross said. "It doesn't ease the pain."
That night, Ross met Harbaugh for the first time at the Discover Orange Bowl game. Andrew Luck threw four touchdown passes and Stanford won to complete a 12-1 season.
Ross said he found Harbaugh appealing in part because they're both Michigan alumni, and he decided to arrange their meeting in California.
"He's probably the hottest commodity in America today in terms of an offensive mind," Ross said.
But during their interview, Ross said, he decided to keep Sparano.
"You don't just make change for the sake of change," Ross said.
Instead of offering Harbaugh a job, Ross said, he gave advice.
"Harbaugh wanted to go to the NFL, but he wasn't exactly sure. He asked me, 'What should I do?' I recommended, 'Go back to Stanford and hitch yourself to the quarterback. You've got the best quarterback. You can win the national championship. The pros will be there.' "
On the late-night flight from California to Florida, Ross tried to call Sparano with the news there would be no change in coaches. But Sparano had turned off his phone and gone to bed.
Meanwhile, the news leaked to the media.
"I woke up the next morning and had 31 text messages from my players," Sparano said.
They were sending congratulations.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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