Dolphins humiliate Sparano, then keep him

The Miami Dolphins will retain Tony Sparano and have abandoned their courtship of Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.

How's that for awkward?

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, close friend and former Kansas City Chiefs executive Carl Peterson and general manager Jeff Ireland flew to the Bay Area to meet with Harbaugh. They reportedly were prepared to offer an annual salary between $7 million and $8 million. The Dolphins previously also approached Bill Cowher about taking over as head coach, but were rebuffed.

Back at the Dolphins' headquarters in Davie, Fla., Sparano reported for work Thursday and tried to pretend as though his future would not be determined by a college coach's willingness to hijack his job.

I doubt Sparano leaned on the windowsill and eagerly waited for Ross to return home.

Perhaps Sparano spent the day playing solitaire on his desktop or standing at the Xerox machine, making copies of all the Dolphins' files. Committing himself to helping the Dolphins get better couldn't have been easy, not while his bosses were on the other side of the continent, wooing his replacement.

And that will be a huge problem moving forward.

How can Sparano have any faith in his front office when they will chase any hot number who will bat an eyelash?

Sparano's relationships with Ross and Ireland have been damaged and must be repaired. It won't be easy, no matter how much of a happy face they all try to put on.

They embarrassed Sparano, a coach who guided them to the AFC East title one season after they went 1-15. He was just as responsible for changing that miserable culture as Bill Parcells was.

What has transpired over the past 72 hours has made the Dolphins a laughingstock.

Eric Stangel, lead writer for "The Late Show with David Letterman," tweeted Thursday night: "How is it that the Jersey Shore cast has shown better people skills than Miami Dolphins management?"

Sparano has been undressed in front of the NFL community, and the humiliation will continue because he has little choice but to return to work Friday and go about his business. I wonder if the Dolphins will hold a news conference that would force Sparano to express his gratitude.

What kind of clout can Ross expect Sparano to have in the locker room now? The Dolphins have shown a more emphatic commitment to some players than they have to Sparano here.

The front office has created a working environment where it will be more difficult for players to respect the coach because ownership didn't believe in him.

Whether or not Sparano might feel compelled to quit, he cannot. He would forfeit his paycheck and might be labeled a quitter.

Being an NFL coach has been Sparano's dream, and there are only 32 of these precious jobs. If he were to tell the Dolphins to pound salt -- as satisfying as that might be -- there are no guarantees he would get another shot to be a head coach.

The thing about Sparano is that many Dolphins love playing for him -- even if their disgusting 38-7 loss to the New England Patriots in the season finale didn't show it. He's a fiery leader. He's a man's man. He cares.

Maybe the players will rally around him.

At this point, that's about all the support Sparano can draw from. He and the rest of the world know the other important people in that facility wanted to dump him.