Dolphins GM goes to Dallas, expected to return to Miami with Sparano

Dallas Cowboys assistant head coach Tony Sparano, the presumptive front-runner to fill the Miami Dolphins' coaching vacancy, was scheduled to fly Tuesday night to Miami on one of owner Wayne Huizenga's private jets, and could be named the club's new head coach by Wednesday.

Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, who most recently worked in the Dallas personnel department as vice president of college and pro scouting, is familiar with Sparano and his coaching style. Ireland left for Dallas on Tuesday afternoon. He is expected to return with Sparano, who interviewed with Ireland for the Miami job on Jan. 5.

Tabbed as the favorite to take over the Dolphins almost immediately after vice president Bill Parcells dismissed Cam Cameron after only one season on the job, Sparano is one of four candidates to have interviewed with Dolphins officials. The club also met with defensive coordinators Leslie Frazier of the Minnesota Vikings and Jim Schwartz of the Tennessee Titans, and former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan.

Sparano, 46, also interviewed for the head coach openings in Atlanta and Baltimore.

Although he has worked in the league only nine seasons, Sparano is widely respected for his offensive acumen and his demeanor with the players. Before joining the Dallas staff in 2003, Sparano was on the staffs of Cleveland (1999-2000), Washington (2001), and Jacksonville (2002).

Before landing his first NFL position, Sparano worked 15 years in the college ranks and was head coach at New Haven from 1994 to 1998.

He worked primarily with the Cowboys' offensive line this season. But when Parcells was the coach, Sparano had much broader responsibilities. Although he didn't hold the title of coordinator, Sparano called the team's plays in 2006. Parcells is known to hold Sparano in high regard.

As the Dolphins appeared poised to fill their head coaching vacancy, they took another step to shore up the franchise's personnel department, hiring Dallas assistant director of pro scouting Brian Gaine.
Gaine, whose contract with the Cowboys had expired, was named assistant director of player personnel. Gaine has worked as a personnel official in the league for nine seasons, the past three in Dallas, and landed his first NFL scouting job with the New York Jets in 1999, when Parcells was head coach there.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.