- Associated Press - Thursday, January 6, 2011

MIAMI | Jim Harbaugh’s blowout victory in the Orange Bowl made a big impression on Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

The Stanford coach met Thursday with Ross in the San Francisco area about the Dolphins‘ job, two people with knowledge of the situation said.

Both spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the meeting was to remain confidential. One of them said there was no agreement as of mid-afternoon in California, and Ross‘ plane left San Jose a short time later for Florida.

ESPN was first to report Harbaugh’s meeting with Ross. Harbaugh met Wednesday with the San Francisco 49ers about their coaching vacancy. He may consider other suitors as well and hasn’t ruled out remaining at Stanford.

Talks with the Dolphins were expected to continue even while Tony Sparano remained Miami’s coach. A late-season collapse by the Dolphins left Sparano’s job in jeopardy.

While Stanford may lose Harbaugh, Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck opted to stay in college to get his degree instead of immediately cashing in on the riches of being the likely No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Luck announced his decision Thursday.

Harbaugh returned Tuesday to the Bay Area following Stanford’s 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.

Harbaugh was a star quarterback at Michigan, which also has a coaching vacancy. But Wolverines athletic director Dave Brandon has said he expects Harbaugh to take an NFL job.

Ross is also a Michigan graduate and a major contributor to the university. The school of business carries his name.

Landing Harbaugh will require a significant financial commitment. New Denver 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.

If Harbaugh reaches an agreement with the Dolphins, he would become their sixth coach since 2004. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2000 and haven’t reached the Super Bowl since 1984.

Sparano has a year left on his contract, but a late-season collapse may have sealed his fate. He has been working this week at the team’s complex in Davie, Fla., and when he took an afternoon walk Thursday, he encountered a cluster of media staking out the facility.

“You guys need to find a better hobby,” Sparano said.

While the Dolphins don’t technically having a coaching vacancy, they also must comply with the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires any team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one minority candidate. Harbaugh is the only candidate they’re known to have interviewed.

Miami decided to make courting Harbaugh its first priority. He’s 58-27 overall as a college coach and 29-21 in four seasons at Stanford. He took over a 1-11 team when he was hired in December 2006 and quickly transformed the program. The Cardinal set a school record for victories this season by going 12-1.

Harbaugh played 15 seasons in the NFL for the Bears, Colts, Ravens, Chargers and Panthers. He also has NFL coaching experience — he was the Raiders’ quarterbacks coach in 2002-03, then spent three seasons as head coach at the University of San Diego.

Harbaugh’s brother, John, is the coach of the Baltimore Ravens, who are in the AFC playoffs.

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, losing their final three games to finish 7-9.

They endured a 38-7 drubbing at New England on Sunday and lost at home in December to three sub-.500 teams. Their 1-7 home record matched the worst in franchise history.

Sparano, who led Miami to that lone postseason berth in 2008, has a three-year record of 25-23.


AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.


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