The Miami Dolphins are not a disaster. Let's get that clear right from the top.
The team was a disaster three years ago when Bill Parcells was hired and he, in turn, hired general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano. In the last three years, Miami hasn't won a championship, but neither has is it become a stagnant organization.
The Dolphins are probably four or five starters from being a Super Bowl contender -- a quarterback, a running back, someone in the defensive backfield that is a dynamic playmaker, a speed receiver, and probably a really good interior offensive lineman.
[UPDATE: Some of you are noting that four or five starters is a lot to ask. Really? Miami's defense this year has a new NT, SOLB, MILB, WOLB, and FS. It would be five new starters if first round pick Jared Odrick had not been injured, which would have put him at RDE and Starks a first-time starter at NT. And the defense went from tied for 25th in the NFL in points allowed to tied for No. 9 currently. Miami's offense is 29th in the NFL in points scored now.]
It is against that backdrop that owner Stephen Ross will decide in the next couple of weeks whether to retain Ireland and Sparano or cut ties and search for a "star" head coach. A "star" coach, by the way, almost certainly comes with his own choice for a general manager, which is why Ireland is in play in this scenario, and his own staff.
Ross would fire Sparano only if he believes he can improve the situation with that star coach, I'm told by one person familiar with the owner's thinking.
Because, at its roots, this decision on a coach is a money decision. Ross hates losing, which is good reason enough, but beyond that, he is bitterly disappointed his grand plan to make Dolphins home games an experience and an event has been spoiled by the fact Miami finished 1-7 at home this year.
It doesn't matter how many concerts, celebrities and face-painters you have at the stadium on game days if the team on the field doesn't win. Fans cannot go home happy without victories. And those that go home frustrated, upset and angry are apt not to come back.
Beyond that, the fans Ross wants to attract who now have reasons to stay away are likely to continue finding other activities to fill their game days.
So Ross is apparently under pressure from within his own circle to make a change.
Those people are telling Ross that a star coach will reinvigorate the fan base, increase season ticket sales, and ultimately help Miami win. Notice the order I just gave you. Some of the business-marketing-partnership people talking to Ross see the business side of changing a coach first and the on-field result as almost secondary.
Money is first in their minds.
So, again, money is a major variable in this coming decision. Well, here's a money matter Ross should weigh before he makes his decision:
If he fires Sparano and brings in a "star" coach who then brings his own general manager type, the cost is going to be exceptional. Ross will be on the hook for paying the final year of Sparano's contract (approximately $3 million), he'll be on the hook for Ireland (approximately $2 million), he'll be on the hook for Bill Parcells ($4 million), he'll be on the hook for assistants (including Mike Nolan), and he hasn't even started paying the folks that will be actually working for him.
Ross will have to pay that "star" coach and that will cost approximately $6-$8 million. He'll have to pay for the new GM, which will be another $2 million or so, and of course, he'll be paying for a new coaching staff while stay paying off the contracts of the assistants still under contract that the new coach does not retain.
Do the math. Changing administrations could cost Ross between $18-$24 million.
No big deal, you say? Really?
Are you aware Ross moved heaven and earth to try to work a $7.9 million relief on his stadium debt payments recently? I'm not saying he's counting his pennies, but I am saying he's not going to dismiss having to possibly pony up $24 million to make a change without some serious thought.
The argument from the business people might be that Ross will make back the money in season-ticket sales. The Dolphins were slightly over 50,000 season tickets this year and believe a new "star" coach could push them another 6,700 to 10,000 more, depending on who it is and what moves the new guy makes in free agency and the draft.
That is, of course, a short-term view of the situation.
It should be noted when Jimmy Johnson took over from Don Shula in 1996, season ticket sales jumped by about 7,000. And the next year they fell back by about 5,000.
When Nick Saban, the hot coach at the time, took over in 2006, season sales actually fell by 2,000. And the hiring of Parcells as the Football Czar didn't help one iota, as sales fell off the table after 2007 from 54,646 to 46,131.
The point is the hiring of a big name doesn't come with a guarantee that ticket sales will soar. And when they have soared in the past, they have leveled off the following year.
So the season ticket argument is a short-sighted one, if history is to be believed.
Think about that. Stephen Ross probably will.