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Dolphins’ Sparano on hot seat

December 28, 2010
From AP wire reports

Working against Tony Sparano's job security are a turnover-prone quarterback and plodding offense, disgruntled fans, Bill Cowher and even LeBron James.

Sparano has a few things in his favor, too, but the Miami Dolphins' latest loss makes it increasingly likely they'll soon fire the only coach to lead them to the playoffs since 2001.

The decision will be made by owner Stephen Ross, who inherited Sparano when he completed his purchase of the franchise two years ago. Sparano said Monday he has talked by phone with Ross about the disappointing 2010 season, and looks forward to further discussions regarding his future and the direction of the team.

"I'm pretty confident that I can get it turned around," Sparano said. "I feel like I know these pieces pretty well."

There's no doubt some pieces need to be replaced. The Dolphins blew a late 10-point lead Sunday in a loss to last-place Detroit that left them 1-7 at home, matching the worst home record in franchise history.

Miami (7-8) was eliminated from the playoff race more than a week ago and will sit out the postseason for the eighth time in nine years. Sparano led the Dolphins to that lone playoff berth in 2008, his first season as an NFL head coach, but he's 14-17 since then.

Sparano said he was in his office at 2:30 Monday morning to begin preparations for the meaningless season finale Sunday at New England, but concedes any turnaround must wait until 2011.

"Obviously we're out of at-bats right now," Sparano said.

Ross could cite plenty of reasons for changing coaches. Many fans find Sparano's team not only mediocre but dull, with a conservative offense that tends to settle for field goals because the play-calling is designed to limit mistakes by erratic QB Chad Henne.

The Dolphins are last in the AFC in scoring and especially inept at home, which helps explain the numerous empty seats at recent games. While the Dolphins have long been South Florida's flagship franchise, they've been overshadowed this season by James and the Miami Heat.

Sparano lost a layer of job security when Bill Parcells gave up control of football operations in September. Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland were Parcells proteges, and he hired them after taking over the Dolphins three years ago. The potential availability of such attractive coaching candidates as Cowher and Jon Gruden also works against Sparano, whose contract runs through the 2011 season.

Bucs face roadblock

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't spending a lot of time going over the various scenarios under which they can make the playoffs.

None of them work unless the NFL's youngest team can defeat an opponent with a winning record for the first time all season. So, coach Raheem Morris and his players say they're focused solely on trying to beat New Orleans this week.

While a win over the Saints won't necessarily guarantee a NFC wild-card berth, a loss to the defending Super Bowl champions will eliminate any chance of the Bucs (9-6) earning a spot over the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants.

"That's all we can think about. That's our playoff game," Morris said. "If we go out and win it, whatever happens happens. ... If you waste time during the week worrying about scenarios, usually you take away from time in preparation, and we don't like to do that."

The Bucs kept their hopes alive with a 38-15 victory over Seattle, clinching a winning record after going 3-13 in their first season under the 34-year-old Morris.

There were snickers during training camp when the league's youngest head coach declared his largely inexperienced team was capable of winning 10 games and making the playoffs, however no one is laughing now.

With Sunday's victory over the Seahawks, the Bucs became the first team since the NFL/AFL merger in 1970 to start 10 or more rookies during the course of a non-strike season and finish with a winning record.

Their one-year improvement from three wins to nine matches the biggest single-season turnaround in franchise history. They've done it with second-year quarterback Josh Freeman, who threw for a career-best five touchdowns and had a single-game 144.2 passer rating against Seattle.

 
 

 

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