Dave Wannstedt, whose tenure as coach of the Miami Dolphins was marked by a winning record but an abrupt recent decline, resigned Tuesday. His departure added another layer of unrest to a season that has included the sudden preseason retirement of the star running back Ricky Williams, a rash of devastating injuries, a quarterback controversy and the worst start in franchise history.
Several players, including Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor and cornerback Sam Madison, cried at a news conference when discussing the departure of the well-liked Wannstedt. Taylor grew testy when someone suggested that Wannstedt had quit; Taylor countered that he had resigned. Asked to explain the difference, Taylor responded: "Ricky Williams quit. Dave stepped aside. There's a big difference."
Wannstedt, who finished with a 43-33 record, was replaced by his defensive coordinator, Jim Bates, who will be the interim coach for the remainder of the season. The Dolphins (1-8) have a bye this week and will play Nov. 21 at Seattle.
An early list of possible candidates includes Philadelphia offensive coordinator Brad Childress, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, USC's Pete Carroll, California's Jeff Tedford and three Bill Belichick protegees: New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and Louisiana State coach Nick Saban. Team president Eddie Jones quashed speculation that the Dolphins might pursue Steve Spurrier, who seemed to chafe under the salary cap and free agent restrictions while coach of the Redskins.
"We have no intention of talking to Coach Spurrier," Jones said. "Now, will that change? I'm not sure. But at this point, we don't have any intention of talking to him."
Spurrier told The Sun-Sentinel of Ft. Lauderdale that he had no interest in the job.
"I heard that they weren't going to pursue me," Spurrier said. "Well, that's smart because I wasn't going to pursue them either. I guess you could say we aren't pursuing each other."
A shakeup of the Dolphins' front office is possible. Jones, who will coordinate the search for a new coach, will retire in March. The future of general manager Rick Spielman, who will do the bulk of the coaching research before handing it over to Jones, remains unclear. Spielman was promoted to the job and given the personnel power that was stripped from Wannstedt last off-season.
But some of Spielman's moves, including trading a second-round draft pick for quarterback A.J. Feeley, have been met with criticism. Jones said Spielman is the general manager "unless something happens that I don't foresee." Jones' replacement as team president could have the option of hiring his own general manager.
Jones said he and owner Wayne Huizenga tried to talk Wannstedt out of resigning during a meeting late Monday. But at a news conference, Wannstedt told reporters that he resigned because he did not want his job situation to become the focal point of the rest of the Dolphins' season.
"Someone has to accept the responsibility," Wannstedt said. "I am the head coach and that falls on me. There's nothing more I wanted to get done than turn this situation around. I felt that the negative attention that would surround me personally and professionally for the remainder of the season would only serve as a detriment. I believe this is what's best for our football team."