Tony Sparano has been told he will return for a fourth season as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, a league source told NFL Network insider Michael Lombardi on Thursday night.
Speculation has swirled that Sparano's job was in serious jeopardy following a second consecutive 7-9 season, coupled with the Dolphins' courtship of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher; current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, who coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders; and most recently Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.
NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora reported that Dolphins owner Steve Ross and other officials were en route to Florida on Thursday night after their pursuit of Harbaugh in California. The team likely will announce its decision to retain Sparano on Friday.
A late-season collapse by the Dolphins put Sparano's job in peril. He has one year left on his contract and was at work at the team's complex in Davie, Fla., while Ross was on the other side of the country courting Harbaugh.
Sparano tried to make the best of the bizarre situation. While still uncertain of his fate, he took an afternoon walk outside the team offices Thursday and encountered a cluster of media staking out the facility.
"You guys need to find a better hobby," Sparano said.
The odd sequence of events threatened to undermine the authority of a coach whose status already was shaky because of a late-season meltdown. The Dolphins lost their final three games this season, including a 38-7 drubbing at New England in their finale last Sunday.
Sparano led Miami to the AFC East title in 2008, his first year as an NFL coach. He has a three-year record of 25-23 with the Dolphins, who haven't won a playoff game since 2000 and haven't reached the Super Bowl since 1984.
It's unclear whether Henning will look for new employment or retire. He served as offensive coordinator in Miami for three seasons.
La Canfora reported earlier Thursday that a source close to the Harbaugh situation estimated the coach's job decision ultimately could come down to the two Bay Area entities -- Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers.
There's still the possibility that attempting to pry Harbaugh away from Stanford will prove to be a fruitless exercise. The coach remains a very real candidate to stay at the school, according to a source, after meeting with the president of the university and the provost.
According to The Associated Press, Stanford made an amended offer to Harbaugh with enhancements from an offer presented in early December.
Including all bonuses and clauses, Harbaugh could earn more at Stanford than with the 49ers, who met with the coach Wednesday and have offered around $4.5 million to $5 million. Also, Harbaugh's quarterback, Andrew Luck, announced Thursday that he will not apply for entry into the 2011 NFL Draft.
Harbaugh returned Tuesday to the Bay Area following Stanford's 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in the stadium that Ross owns. Ross, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee and general manager Jeff Ireland were on the Stanford sideline before the game.
Ross flew to the Bay Area late Wednesday and departed California for Florida 24 hours later without a new coach.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.