<
>

Personnel decisions will fall to new GM

DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt received a reprieve Monday. And an extension. And a demotion.

Team owner Wayne Huizenga settled on the curious mix to resolve the status of his embattled coach.

Wannstedt gave up some responsibility over personnel decisions
in exchange for a two-year contract extension through 2006. The
Dolphins will hire a general manager who will have final authority
over the draft and free-agent signings.

Wannstedt is 41-23 with Miami, including 10-6 this year. But the
Dolphins have missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the
first time since 1988-89, which prompted speculation Huizenga might
fire Wannstedt.

On the morning after a meaningless season-ending victory over
the New York Jets, Wannstedt arrived at work at 5:30 and met with
Huizenga several hours later. Wannstedt emerged smiling, saying he
embraced his new role.

"It's a seven-days-a-week, 52-weeks-a-year job nowadays," he
said. "You need a little bit of a break. It was a time thing that
affects you as much as anything. This will help there, where I can
spend a little more time with the football part of it."

Candidates for the general manager's job include Dolphins senior
vice president Rick Spielman, their personnel boss for four seasons
while reporting to Wannstedt, and former New Orleans general
manager Randy Mueller, who traded Ricky Williams to Miami in 2002.

Others, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli reports, include current Buffalo Bills assistant general manager Tom Modrak and Tim Ruskell, who is currently the personnel director with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Dolphins have asked for and have received permission from the Packers to speak with former Green Bay GM Ron Wolf about the position, ESPN's Chris Mortenson reported. Wolf is still under contract as a team consultant with the Packers, and teams wishing to speak to him would still need to obtain the Packers' permission first.

The Dolphins have endured lackluster results in the draft in
recent seasons, which is one reason they've won just one playoff
game in four years.

Fans who wanted Wannstedt fired will be dismayed by his contract extension, but without it he would have been seen as a lame duck entering the 2004 season.

"It's sending a message from a confidence standpoint -- not just
to the fans, but as importantly to our players -- that this is the
guy who is going to be coaching here," Wannstedt said. "And I'm
going to finish up my career here."

There was one other change Monday: Wannstedt fired receivers
coach Robert Ford.

This year's Dolphins had been widely touted as one of the
league's best teams. Instead, they were eliminated from the playoff
race a week before the end of the season.

"None of us are happy we're not in the playoffs," president
Eddie Jones said. "But we're happy with coach Wannstedt and the
way he has handled this team."

After meeting with Wannstedt, Huizenga left the Dolphins'
complex by helicopter without speaking to reporters. He released a
statement saying the restructuring will better balance authority
within the organization.

"It will give coach Wannstedt and his staff the ability to
focus even more on preparing the team to play every week,"
Huizenga said. "With the evolving nature of the NFL since the
introduction of a salary cap, it has become increasingly difficult
for one individual to be responsible for both coaching and player
personnel matters."

About two-thirds of the teams in the NFL have a strong general
manager, Jones said. He said the Dolphins will consider half a
dozen candidates, and they expect to hire someone by next week.

Spielman, left temporarily in limbo by the restructuring, became
the first candidate to be interviewed when he met with Huizenga for
an hour.

The new personnel chief will face plenty of challenges. The
offensive line and receiving corps need to be upgraded. Defensive
end Adewale Ogunleye, who led the AFC in sacks, will become a
restricted free agent. And injury-prone quarterback Jay Fiedler is
due a $2 million option in April and a projected base salary of
$3.7 million for 2004 if he returns.

Wannstedt went 22-10 in his first two seasons with the Dolphins,
then 19-13 in the past two years. Still, the coach insisted the
team had improved this season, the 30th anniversary of Miami's
last Super Bowl title.

"I believe that we closed the gap a little bit," he said.
"Now we just have to keep climbing."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.