The Dolphins have circulated a full transcript of Saturday’s unusual (which sounds more charitable than “bizarre”) roundtable press conference aimed at commencing the longer-than-ownership-realizes process of undoing the damage done by the decision to try to upgrade the coaching position without taking a chance that it may be downgraded.
Owner Stephen Ross claimed during the session that he never offered the job to new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and that, despite rampant reports to the contrary, no effort was made to hire two other “rock star” coaches.
“No time have I contacted, spoken with any potential head coach,” Ross said. “Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, no one, me or this organization has made contact ever with those people.”
In fact, Ross says that he ultimately advised Harbaugh to stay at Stanford. “I know he wanted to go to the NFL but he wasn’t exactly sure,” Ross said. “He asked me, what should I do? I recommended, ‘Go back to Stanford and hitch yourself to the quarterback. You got the best quarterback, you can win a national championship, the pros will be there — I’d go out as soon as he goes out because you want to go out a winner.’”
Ross also explained that he was surprised by the attention the meeting received, and by the questions he later fielded on the matter when arriving at a subsequent business meeting unrelated to football. “[T]he reason I didn’t tell [coach Tony Sparano about the Harbaugh meeting], and this is probably the first time I ever interviewed [a head coaching candidate] and I’m not really familiar with going through this process, but I never thought it would be national news,” Ross said. “We walked into the meeting in Southern California, everybody was asking me about how was your meeting with [Jim] Harbaugh. They knew every step I’d taken over that last 24 hours.”
If that last quote doesn’t demonstrate a shocking amount of naivete on the part of a man who has amassed many millions of personal wealth, try this one on for size: “I think that really clears up all the other ideas that you’ve read about, the dollar amounts thrown around — I mean, I got to tell you, I’m learning a new world that’s out there with people sending out information that isn’t true and trying to create a story. There isn’t any story other than what you’ve just heard from me today, and there’s nothing in between. . . . I’ve never been through this process before but certain people, they have other reasons to get that information out there. You can guess what they are. I don’t want to be accusatory and saying things. I don’t want to start stimulation [of] other controversy. I can just tell you it didn’t come from me and it didn’t, and it certainly was enlightening in seeing it.”
There are two possible explanations, as we see it. First, Ross is saying whatever he has to say in order to get some of the toothpaste back into the tube. Second, Ross is telling the truth, and all reports regarding the owner’s supposedly frantic trip to California to make an “urgent pitch” to Harbaugh (per Chris Mortensen) and the momentum toward a deal and the big-dollar contract figures were embellished and/or fabricated by Harbaugh’s agent(s) in the hopes of building more and more leverage for the deal that Harbaugh ultimately did with the 49ers.
Even if the latter is the case, the owner of an NFL team must demonstrate a higher degree of sophistication in business dealings relating to his team, or he personally should have no business dealings relating to his team. In this case, Ross or someone on his immediate behalf should have been monitoring all media developments and reports and rumors, and Ross or someone on his immediate behalf should have been prepared to pull the plug on any talks with Harbaugh the moment that word of the “urgent pitch” first hit the national radar on Wednesday evening, before the meeting even commenced. At a minimum, Ross or someone on his immediate behalf should have told Harbaugh or Dave Dunn or Jack Bechta or whoever in the hell was negotiating the deal that supposedly was never negotiated that any further leaks would result in an immediate statement that the Dolphins have decided not to pursue Harbaugh because working as the head coach of an NFL team requires at times the exercise of extreme discretion and the Dolphins aren’t convinced that Harbaugh would be able to meet that standard.
As to the notion that Ross should have simply told Sparano that the owner would be meeting with Harbaugh, that wouldn’t have been wise, because Sparano would have said, “If you’re going to do that, you need to fire me.” As to the notion that firing Sparano would have been the right move, it could have left Ross without Sparano or Harbaugh.
Still, Ross should have not courted Harbaugh without firing Sparano. It’s impossible to forage for two in the bush while still trying to clutch the bird in the hand. It appears that the owner’s only real regret is that Sparano found out about the effort to determine whether the team would be better off with Harbaugh.
Either way, Ross genuinely believed that on Saturday he could talk his way out of the corner into which he had clumsily painted himself. In so doing, he provided a glimpse into the sausage-making process that could cause many South Floridians to opt for bacon instead.