Dolphins owner Stephen Ross held a news conference to announce Sparano's firing and repeatedly thanked the coach for his work in "building a foundation" for the team. However, Ross cited a need to find a coach who could establish the Dolphins as perennial contenders.
"In the interest of the football team, this is the time we need to make a change," Ross said. "It will allow us to have plenty of time to interview and find what I hope will be the coach who will lead us back to the glory of the past. We will make a full effort at looking at everybody who can do the job, and we will do that until we find the right person.â
Ross said speculation about Sparano's future with the team became a distraction. The coach's job security came into question early in the year, as the Dolphins fell into an 0-7 hole. They won four of their next five games, but the regrouping wasn't enough to save Sparano's job.
Sparano learned of his fate shortly after Ross and Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland made the decision Monday morning.
"Tony has put his heart and soul into this team," Ross said. "Obviously, he wasn't very happy about it. I think he understood and may have even been relieved because he has been under a tremendous amount of pressure. You could probably see it on his face."
Ireland will remain as GM and assist in the coaching search, Ross said. Ross also noted he would like to find a "young Don Shula."
"We're looking for the best head coach," Ross said. "It's important that the head coach and the general manager be able to work together, so you're not going to find someone who has a conflict to start with. You want to have the time to talk to people so you create that chemistry that's required to create a winning environment."
Shortly before he was fired, Sparano held his regular Monday news conference. When asked if he wanted to comment on reports he would be fired after the season, he said no.
In Sparano's first season as an NFL head coach, he led the Dolphins to a surprising 11-5 record, the 2008 AFC East title and their only playoff game since 2001. He departs with a record of 29-32.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.