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Dolphins' Ross meets with coach Sparano, calls talk 'productive'

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross met Monday with Tony Sparano at the team's facility, the *Miami Herald* reported, amid speculation that the coach could be fired after missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

According to the Herald, Ross arrived at the Dolphins' facility at 1 p.m. ET and met with general manager Jeff Ireland, then Sparano. Dolphins CEO Mike Dee joined Ross in the meetings.

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"It was a productive meeting," Ross told the Herald at Sun Life Stadium, where he watched Stanford beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Earlier in the day, Sparano faced reporters' questions about his job status. When asked if he's worried about his job, the coach all but said yes.

"Listen, I don't take my job for granted one day, not one second," Sparano said, according to The Associated Press. "I have the greatest job in the world, and I enjoy this organization and the people here, and I enjoy coaching this team. I don't take it for granted at all. In fact, it's kind of the other way around for me. I've put it before a lot of personal things in my life."

Sparano acknowledged that he would meet with Ross, but he didn't reveal what he would tell the owner.

"I'm not going to get into that," Sparano said, according to the Herald. "That's going to be between me and Mr. Ross, and we'll go through that. But I'm not going to get into all or any of those things right now."

As Dolphins players packed up for the offseason, quarterback Chad Pennington spoke like an attorney making his case for the defendant -- well-prepared to present an argument on his coach's behalf.

"Everybody needs to take a look at these last three years and realize that before Tony Sparano got here, this organization was 16-32 in three years," Pennington said. "In the three years he has been here, the Dolphins are 25-23 with an AFC East championship. The right man for this organization is Tony Sparano."

Pennington's facts were accurate, but they might not be enough to affect the verdict on Sparano's future. For the second year in a row, the Dolphins faded at the finish of a disappointing 7-9 season.

No one questions Sparano's work ethic, but after Miami's surprising run to the 2008 AFC East title in his first season as an NFL head coach, there's a sense of regression. That feeling was reinforced by three consecutive losses to end the season, including Sunday's 38-7 drubbing at New England.

Two years ago, Sparano outcoached Bill Belichick, unveiling the Wildcat offense for the first time to help the visiting Dolphins humiliate the Patriots. This time, it was the Dolphins left red-faced by their trip to New England.

"The things that happened in that game are not Miami Dolphins football," linebacker Cameron Wake said.

Or maybe they are. Ross said before the season that he expected the Dolphins to reach the Super Bowl, but this is the eighth time in nine years they've fallen shy of the playoffs. It has been 18 years since they played in the AFC Championship Game and 26 years since they made the Super Bowl.

Now they have endured consecutive losing seasons with the same coach for the first time since 1968 and 1969 under George Wilson.

"As much as I hate to say it, I think we're a middle-of-the pack team right now," running back Ronnie Brown said. "We haven't separated ourselves from the good teams, and we haven't reached the upper echelon of the great teams that consistently go to the playoffs.

"We have some work to do in that area, where you consistently know what you're going to get from the Miami Dolphins."

The question now is if Sparano will be given another chance to lead the Dolphins to that elusive elite level. His players' lackluster effort Sunday did nothing to help Sparano's cause, but most of them remain in his corner.

"It would be good for him to get another shot," Brown said. "He's passionate. You see him running up and down the sideline, and that's what gets some of us excited. To know you have a guy like that behind you means a lot."

Brown's backfield mate, Ricky Williams, doesn't agree, taking Sparano to task during an appearance on WQAM-AM, according to *The Palm Beach Post*.

"Tony goes through a lot of effort to show us the things it takes to win football games," said Williams, who also criticized quarterback Chad Henne and wide receiver Brandon Marshall. "Not turning the ball over, converting third downs, scoring in the red zone. He spends a lot of times saying, 'If you do these things, you win.' And sometimes I feel, personally, that he does a little bit too much. My personal opinion is if you have the right attitude that you guys are going to win, then all that other stuff takes care of itself. ...

"I want to really start focusing on what I want to accomplish and what it is I want to achieve, but not micromanaging this or that and focusing on the little things. It's keeping my eye on the prize and putting myself in a supporting environment and going to work every day with a smile on my face."

Sparano and Ireland aren't the only ones with uncertain futures. An offensive overhaul is likely after the Dolphins finished next to last in the AFC in scoring, and whoever the coach is in 2011, he might seek to replace Brown, Henne and Williams.

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It's likely the injury-plagued Pennington has played his last game for Miami. He lasted just two snaps this season and is considering retirement after undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder for the fourth time.

Henne was benched briefly at midseason, threw 19 interceptions and lost the support of leading wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Brown and Williams failed to produce a single 100-yard rushing game, and both are unrestricted free agents this offseason.

Brown packed up his belongings in the locker room Monday, then contemplated the conclusion of his sixth season with the Dolphins.

"It's different, because there's the possibility come next season I won't be putting my stuff back in this same locker," he said. "I could be somewhere else. That's the difference. Not knowing is kind of weird."

On the first day of the offseason, his coach and many teammates shared Brown's uneasy uncertainty.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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