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Why Ross has faith (for now) in Jeff Ireland; plus Canes, Heat


Many would say general manager Jeff Ireland is every bit as much to blame, or more, for the Dolphins’ problems as Tony Sparano. So why has Dolphins owner Stephen Ross considered replacing Sparano (and likely will at some point) but not Ireland?

For starters, you rarely see front-office executives fired during the season. But Ross’ faith in Ireland is based on numerous factors, according to people close to the situation. Among them:

Ross believes Ireland is a smart, savvy talent evaluator, even though several of his moves haven’t panned out…. He likes what Ireland did in his first draft without Bill Parcells around (Mike Pouncey, Daniel Thomas, etc.)… He doesn’t hold Ireland largely responsible for the 2008-2010 bad picks, such as Pat White, a player Ireland did not push for. He knows Parcells made a lot of those calls…

He knows Sparano had ample say in some of the questionable offensive line pickups, such as Marc Colombo and John Jerry, because that was Sparano’s supposed area of expertise.… Ross liked the Reggie Bush signing, which was Ireland’s call… He agrees with Ireland for not relenting or giving up too much (draft pick and longterm money) for Denver’s Kyle Orton, whose 80.9 quarterback rating this season is barely ahead of Chad Henne’s 79.0…

Though Ireland was permitted to spend up to the cap, Ross likes that Ireland did not overpay players this offseason and made moves based on what he thought were in the franchise’s longterm, not short term, interests. Miami reportedly still has $10 million in cap space….

Ireland assigns a financial value to players and usually is reluctant to pay more than that value, even if the player can help Miami and even if there’s cap space. Ross sees wisdom in that…. And most importantly, Ireland somehow has convinced Ross that talent is not the problem here, that Miami should have enough good players to be a good team. (Many would disagree.)

After the Chargers game, Ross solicited Ireland’s advice on the coaching situation. Ireland endorsed keeping Sparano, which works out great for Ireland instead of having a coach that demands personnel power or might not want him around.

An associate said if there’s a coaching change eventually as expected, Ross’ inclination at this moment – subject to change, obviously – would be to ask a new coach to keep Ireland, expressing his view that Ireland is good at his job, even if the marquee coach (such as Bill Cowher) has final say on personnel.

But if that coach balks at working with Ireland and wants his own personnel guy (which wouldn’t be surprising), it would be unfathomable to think that Ross would allow himself to lose out on, say, Cowher (very high on Miami’s list) because of faith in Ireland. That’s why Ireland’s longterm future here, beyond April’s draft, remains in question, despite Ross’ faith in him. And as one Dolphins official said, at some point that faith would figure to diminish if the losing persists. 

### Despite the perceived vote of confidence, Sparano’s status is week-to-week, with more discussions expected if the Dolphins lose the Jets game. “He wants to see results,” one Ross friend reiterated Monday. Before deciding to keep Sparano for at least the next game, Ross spoke to several players, who endorsed the coach.

Ross also has been consulting former Chiefs executive Carl Peterson, who told him that it’s difficult to have successful in-season coaching change, according to a friend of both. Still, Ross left Qualcomm Stadium upset and knows dumping Sparano before January would give him a jump on the search to replace him.

 ### Defensive coordinator and former 49ers coach Mike Nolan would be the favorite to be interim coach if Sparano is dumped, though one team source noted quarterbacks coach Karl Dorrell also has head coaching experience (at UCLA). For the Jets game, “Tony gives us the best chance to win,” one Dolphins official said, noting Nolan is not an obvious stopgap option because of the defense’s struggles.


### One AFC scout who studied UM’s Marcus Forston questioned his toughness and bemoaned, “He should be better than this. I don’t know if it means enough to him.”

Forston, projected as a first-round pick by ESPN before the season, has five tackles in three games and hasn’t done enough to fight off blocks. “I challenged Marcus,” defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said. “I’m not going to make excuses for him… but he’s in a new scheme, with a new d-line coach and had the surgery in the spring.”

With UM allowing 202.5 rushing yards per game (105th nationally), D’Onofrio admitted it has been more difficult than he expected to get players to eliminate bad habits. Defensive players also are sometimes resorting to technique they learned under the former staff; this staff has changed a lot of that technique. One issue with Forston specifically, coach Al Golden said, is “what the last coach told him shows up.” In fact, Golden said it has been easier to teach the new players than the veteran ones because of that.

### D’Onofrio defended his maligned unit Tuesday, saying, “We’ve given up seven touchdowns in four games, and we’ve played more people on defense this year than they’ve ever played in the past. They didn’t play any [young] linebackers [much last year]. That’s why a lot of these guys playing didn’t have any experience. Brandon McGee didn’t start one game, and I’ve got three corners playing who didn’t play college football at Miami. You’re not going to move your defense forward if you’re not willing to play these guys."

### D’Onofrio said even with Ray-Ray Armstrong back, JoJo Nicolas will remain at safety for now because he has played well there…. Golden said he wants to give more playing time to running back Eduardo Clements. "Eduardo is more reliable" than he was previously, Golden said.... Linebacker Ramon Buchanan, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last Saturday, will get a medical redshirt to return next season.

### Though Edward Mujica said the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez told him he expects to be back in the big leagues, the Marlins have serious doubts whether he will be allowed back in the country in the foreseeable future. Even if he is, there’s sentiment to trade him.

“There is [another] closer on our roster now,” executive Larry Beinfest said, from a group of Mujica, Ryan Webb, Mike Dunn, Steve Cishek and Jose Ceda. “Whether we choose to do that, it’s too early to know. We can always look in free agency.”

### Heat employees, who took a 10 percent paycut July 1 when the lockout started, saw their paycut increase to 25 percent this week, which will be the case for five months or until the lockout ends, whichever comes first... Shane Battier and Grant Hill – who are on Miami’s list of potential free agent targets – both have interest in talking to the Heat after the lockout, friends say.