Next candidate will likely be internal

Three strikes and you're out of candidates?

While that appears to be the specter confronting the Miami Dolphins, who have now been rebuffed by three coaches offered the prestigious position of defensive coordinator, new head coach Nick Saban isn't pressing the panic button.

Neither should Dolphins fans, Saban insisted to a weekend gathering of season ticketholders.

Saban indicated that there is plenty of in-house talent from which to glean a coordinator, and reminded the fans that he was the top defensive aide for Bill Belichick in Cleveland during their stint together there in the early 1990s. Indeed, given recent events Saban may have no recourse but to promote from within to fill the coordinator vacancy.

Florida State linebackers coach Kevin Steele, a longtime friend of Saban with previous NFL experience, over the weekend became the latest candidate to turn down a chance to head up the Miami defense. Previously, the Dolphins were passed over by New England secondary coach Eric Mangini and Houston defensive line coach Todd Grantham.

Mangini opted to remain with the Patriots, where he was promoted to coordinator, taking over the job vacated by Romeo Crennel, the Browns' new head coach. Grantham took a job as Crennel's defensive coordinator in Cleveland.

Steele, 45, was linebackers coach for the Carolina Panthers 1995-98, served as the head coach at Baylor for 1999-02 and joined Bobby Bowden's staff in 2003.

"First of all, if we didn't have a very good feeling about the defensive coaches that we have, we would never have taken the risk of waiting to talk with someone [whose team] played in the Super Bowl," said Saban, referring to Mangini.

True enough. But in his first NFL head coach position, Saban has been exhaustive in seeking out top-flight candidates for staff positions, offering lucrative contracts. In most cases, especially on the offensive side, Saban was able to land his first choice. Filling the defensive coordinator spot, for whatever reason, has proven to more difficult than anyone felt it would be.

In addition to the three men who spurned Dolphins offers, Saban spoke to at least three other league assistants -- Detroit assistant head coach Richard Smith, former Dallas head coach Dave Campo and Tampa Bay secondary coach Mike Tomlin about the position. Tomlin signed a one-year contract extension with the Bucs and Campo, who spent the last two seasons as the Cleveland coordinator, was hired last week by Jacksonville as assistant head coach and secondary coach.

It is not known if Saban requested permission to speak with other coaches in the NFL and was denied. At one point, it was believed he would pursue Patriots linebackers coach and longtime friend Dean Pees. But Pees is under contract and it is likely that New England would not have permitted him to interview.

The team's former coordinator, Jim Bates, who served as interim head coach over the last half of the season, departed to become Green Bay's new defensive chief. There have been some rumblings that Kentucky assistant Mike Archer, a former Pittsburgh assistant, could be a candidate now.

But the most likely scenario at this point, with three strikes already on the scoreboard, is that Saban will opt for the familiar and promote one of two current assistants, either Will Muschamp or George Edwards, to the coordinator spot.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.