Harbaugh and the Dolphins broke off talks Thursday, and the team was expected to retain Tony Sparano as coach, two people familiar with the negotiations said. Both people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were to remain confidential.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross courted Harbaugh in a meeting in the San Francisco area, two other people with knowledge of the situation said. But after the meeting, Harbaugh was still considering staying at Stanford, one person said.
Harbaugh also met Thursday with the president of the university and the provost. The school made an amended offer to the coach with enhancements from an offer presented in early December.
A late-season collapse by the Dolphins put Sparano’s job in jeopardy. He has a year left on his contract and was at work at the team’s complex in Davie, while Ross was on the other side of the country courting Harbaugh.
Sparano tried to make the best of the bizarre situation. While still uncertain of his fate, he took an afternoon walk outside the team offices Thursday and encountered a cluster of media staking out the facility.
“You guys need to find a better hobby,” Sparano said.
The odd sequence of events threatened to undermine the authority of a coach whose status was already shaky because of a late-season meltdown. The Dolphins lost their final three games, including a 38-7 drubbing at New England in their finale last Sunday, and finished a disappointing 7-9.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck may have helped the Cardinal’s chances of keeping Harbaugh by deciding to stay to get his degree instead of cashing in on the chance to be the likely No. 1 pick in this year’s NFL draft. Luck, a sophomore, announced his decision Thursday.
Harbaugh met Wednesday with the San Francisco 49ers about their coaching vacancy. He may consider other suitors as well.
The Cardinal coach returned Tuesday to the Bay Area following their 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in the stadium Ross owns. Ross, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee and general manager Jeff Ireland were on the Stanford sideline before the game.
Ross said before the season he expected the Dolphins to reach the Super Bowl. Instead, for the eighth time in nine years they failed to reach the playoffs. The Dolphins lost at home in December to three sub-.500 teams, and their 1-7 home record matched the worst in franchise history.
Sparano led Miami to the AFC East title in 2008, his first year as an NFL coach. He has a three-year record of 25-23 with the Dolphins, who haven’t won a playoff game since 2000 and haven’t reached the Super Bowl since 1984.
Among teams still in the market for a coach are Denver and San Francisco. New Broncos chief football executive John Elway has said he hopes to interview Harbaugh for their job, and new 49ers general manager Trent Baalke is looking for the coach to replace Mike Singletary, who was fired.