Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross has traveled to the West Coast in an urgent effort to convince Stanford's Jim Harbaugh to become his next coach, according to two sources.
Ross was accompanied by general manager Jeff Ireland and former NFL executive Carl Peterson to make the pitch to Harbaugh to replace Tony Sparano as the team's coach, the sources said.
Ross is willing to make Harbaugh the highest-paid coach in the NFL, which would place his salary in the $7 million-to-$8 million range, the sources said, after receiving a signal from the Stanford coach that he now was willing to listen seriously to the team's presentation.
The meeting between Dolphins and Harbaugh took place Thursday morning, a source said.
Although Sparano has not been informed he is out as the Dolphins' coach, a team source said there was an "air of inevitability" around the team's facility.
A handful of Dolphins coaches were packing boxes Thursday morning with their personal effects in anticipation they will not return, sources said. But the same sources said that Sparano and a select few assistants had not yet packed any boxes.
Miami has not reported to the NFL offices that they have interviewed any minority candidates, which means at this time the Dolphins are not in compliance and they are not allowed to offer a contract to Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh at this time, according to league sources.
"I have been aware of their dialogue with Harbaugh but I know they have not interviewed any minority candidates and as [Steelers owner] Dan Rooney told me this week on all these teams, we're going to hold their feet to the fire," said John Wooten of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which works closely with the NFL on the interview process involving coaches and front office executives.
Harbaugh met earlier Wednesday for five hours with 49ers team president Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke, a source said.
The 49ers want Harbaugh as their coach but they are prepared to move ahead with other candidates on their list, which includes Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, sources said.
Also, the Denver Broncos are trying to arrange an interview in the coming days with Harbaugh, and they could be another team that gets a chance to interview the Stanford head coach before he makes a decision, according to two league sources.
A Dolphins spokesman said he had no knowledge of any meeting between the team and Harbaugh. Ross was not available for comment and Ireland did not return a specific message. Harbaugh's voicemail box was full and he did not return a text message.
Peterson has been a conduit for Ross stemming from their close personal relationship. It was Peterson who reached out to former Steelers coach Bill Cowher through an intermediary to gauge Cowher's interest in the job.
A source confirmed a report that Cowher was interested, but only if he could have total control of the football operation and pick his own general manager. Ross intends to retain Ireland as the general manager, even if Sparano is fired, sources said.
Peterson was the Chiefs' general manager when Cowher was defensive coordinator under Marty Schottenheimer in Kansas City.
Initially, sources said, Harbaugh was cool to Peterson's approach on behalf of the Dolphins and Ross. But the Stanford coach's interest grew warmer in the 48 hours after his Cardinal soundly defeated Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl, with Ross among the spectators at Dolphins Stadium, sources said.
Wooten said he also was told that Harbaugh was not very receptive to the Dolphins' initial approach.
Furthermore, Ross had dialogue with University of Michigan officials to ensure that he would not be competing for Harbaugh's services with his alma mater, sources said.
Ross, who is one of Michigan's largest benefactors, was assured by a Michigan official that Harbaugh was not reciprocating interest in the college's now-vacant head coaching position.
Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst.