"Obviously, you're looking for experience," said Ireland, who was hired a few weeks before Sparano in 2008. "You're looking for a guy that's been in the trenches before, a guy who's a tireless worker. A guy who understands offenses and defenses."
The key word used in that verbal classified ad was "experience," which means promising young assistants — guys like Carolina offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell — who think they're ready to become a head coach likely will be viewed as underdogs.
The Dolphins went that route with Sparano and also with Cam Cameron, the head coach before him.
Sources say owner Steve Ross wants a big name, a proven winner whom he can sell to South Florida's disgruntled and fickle fan base — especially since there's competition for the community's sports dollars from the Miami Heat, Florida Panthers and Miami Marlins.
That means proven coaching veterans like Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Jeff Fisher, Brian Billick, Jack Del Rio, Mike Martz and even Marty Schottenheimer might get recycled.
The only wrinkle in this theory is Ross' stated goal for his first football hire since purchasing the team from Wayne Huizenga for $1.1 billion in 2008.
"I'd like to find a young Don Shula, if that's possible," Ross said.
Few of the above names fit into the young category, which is exactly what Ross targeted when he pursued 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh last offseason, trying to lure the then-Stanford coach to Miami before he picked San Francisco.
"We will make a full effort in looking at everybody who we think really can do the job, and we will do that until we find the right person," Ross said. "I think the team as you all know by the record is not indicative of what I think what the team is capable of. The foundation is there to build a winning team."