With Dolphins coach Tony Sparano’s days numbered and owner Stephen Ross reportedly looking for a superstar, the list of potential candidates is nearly as small as the number of games the Dolphins have won on their home field since December 2009. Short of luring Bill Belichick or Sean Payton or Mike Tomlin or Mike McCarthy — all of whom are under contract with other teams and beyond all doubt not available — to town, the list would consist of three names: Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, and Jon Gruden. (The only other coach to win a Super Bowl in the last decade not named Belichick, Gruden, Cowher, Dungy, Tomlin, Payton, or McCarthy is Tom Coughlin.)
Dungy consistently has said he’s not returning, and based on the time I spend with him every weekend at dinner on Saturday night and all day on Sunday, I completely believe that. So it’s down to Cowher or Gruden.
Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports reports that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross “apparently” has his eyes on Cowher and Gruden, and that Cowher and Gruden could be interested.
“Both Cowher and Gruden have quietly planted seeds that they would like to return to coaching and are more than open to listening to an offer from Miami owner Stephen Ross,” Cole writes. “According to two sources in and around the team, former Dolphins quarterback and current CBS studio analyst Dan Marino has been telling Dolphins management that Cowher, an analyst partner, is geared up for a return. Cowher is also close with Ross confidant Carl Peterson.”
Cole says that Gruden, who signed an “exclusive” five-year deal with ESPN that kicks in next year that apparently doesn’t preclude him from returning to coaching, “told more than a few folks” while in Miami for the Week One game between the Patriots and Dolphins “that he’ll be ready to go next offseason.” (Last year, Gruden’s son blurted out that the former Raiders and Bucs coach could be coming back to the game in 2012.)
Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com takes it one step farther. He reports that the Dolphins already have contacted Cowher through intermediaries. Cowher has refused to discuss any jobs that currently are filled, and Peter King recently reported that Cowher’s primary factor in picking a new team will be whether and to what extent he believes he can win.
The ability to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck may not be enough. With the salary cap back in place, Cowher would need to assess the full roster, and he’d need to analyze whether and to what extent players who need to go can be dumped without creating the kind of cap havoc that could make it hard to acquire competent replacements.
Regardless, it’s not hard to compile a list of “superstar” NFL coaches. With no potential Jim Harbaughs in the college ranks and with Dungy staying put at NBC, it’s Cowher and Gruden.