Dolphins owner Stephen Ross set the bar high when discussing the caliber of a coach he wants to replace Tony Sparano.
With the Dolphins on pace for their third straight losing season, Sparano was fired Monday. He was 29-32 in nearly four seasons, including 4-9 this year. The organization placed the interim label on assistant head coach Todd Bowles for the remainder of the season, but plans to conduct a national search.
"I'd like to find a young Don Shula, if that's possible," Ross said. "Certainly, we will look at everybody, interview them and try to find the person that we think would be the best fit."
Ross said he made the decision Monday morning, a day after a 26-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that guaranteed a losing record. Sparano, who led the Dolphins to the playoffs his first season in 2008, faced questions about his job status throughout the year after starting 0-7.
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He was asked about it before he was fired during his weekly day-after press conference. Sparano told reporters he was only focusing on facing the Buffalo Bills this weekend.
"No, I want to coach against the Buffalo Bills this week," Sparano said. "I'm going to get ready to coach (against) the Buffalo Bills. That's my sole focus. I can't wait to get my team back here on Wednesday and get ready to go."
Ross said Sparano was disappointed upon hearing the news, but the job scrutiny became a burden for the franchise. Ross called the constant speculation a "distraction." Making a change now instead of after the season allows the Dolphins to begin the process of moving forward.
"I feel that it's in the best interest of the Miami Dolphins that we replace him at this time," Ross said. "As you know, when I purchased the team I told you it was nothing more important to me at all than being a winning team and bring back the glory to Miami."
The Dolphins, who have made the postseason just once since 2001, showed flashes despite the poor start. They had won four of five before falling to the Eagles.
"Coach Sparano and his wife were good to me and my family," receiver Brandon Marshall said. "He's a good coach. This is on all of us, not just him."
"He has been nothing but great to me, giving me opportunity," receiver Davone Bess said. "I was a little down about it but we understand. We're in this business strictly to win."
"We're character guys. We have the same character regardless and want to win whether its for our teammates or whatever else. Regardless (of who is coaching) we're going to play hard and play well," receiver Brian Hartline said.
"It was disheartening. He had so much invested in us and we had so much invested in him. You hate seeing someone you're doing so much with get released but its part of the business," defensive end Jared Odrick said.
Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland will work together on the search. Ireland hinted they may seek a veteran coach. Among the possible candidates that fit the description are Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Jeff Fisher and Brian Billick.
"Obviously, you're looking for experience," Ireland said. "I think you're looking for the best candidate out there, a guy that's been in the trenches before."
Ross said Bowles will interview for the position. He is in his fourth year with the Dolphins, also serving as the secondary coach. Bowles interviewed for head-coaching jobs with the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions in 2009.
"I think Todd Bowles will do an outstanding job as the new head coach," Ross said "?.He has the respect of his players. I think he will exert the same dedication that Tony has and his staff has."
Ross said he feels the new hire will have a solid foundation to build on. He stressed the pieces are there to produce immediate success, and said the team will search for a young quarterback after the season.
"Finding a quarterback is obviously essential," Ross said. "I think everybody kind of recognizes it's a great foundation here to build upon. It's not starting over. This isn't the way the team was when Jeff (Ireland) and Bill Parcells and Tony (Sparano) came in. They had to rebuild the entire roster. Everybody I've spoken with has a lot of respect for the Miami Dolphins and the roster they have and how hard they play."