MIAMI — Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is a University of Michigan alumnus; the school means a lot to him, as does its football program, which won the Big Ten championship this season.
He’s not ready to shake that program up.
Hours after firing head coach Brian Flores on Monday after three seasons with the franchise, Ross shot down rumors of his interest in filling the vacancy with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who said he would entertain NFL offers this offseason.
Ross said the team is approaching its upcoming coaching search with an “open mind” and has not zeroed in on any candidates upon Flores’ dismissal.
“I have no coach in mind at this point. We’re going to do a thorough review and interview process,” Ross said with a slight laugh. “And Jim Harbaugh, I love Jim Harbaugh. He had the opportunity once before to come to the Miami Dolphins. But he’s at the University of Michigan. … That is my school I graduated from, and I’m very involved in it.
“And I’m not going to be the person to take Jim Harbaugh from the University of Michigan. I hope he stays there. He’s a great coach.”
Ross praised the “excellent roster of young players” whom general manager Chris Grier assembled but criticized the level of communication the Dolphins exhibited at an organizational level. Ross’ confidence in Grier is why he will return for his seventh season as the team’s general manager.
But his decision to fire Flores had as much to do with the culture off the field as it did with the team’s performance on it. Miami struggled to display any form of continuity during Flores’ three seasons, employing four offensive coordinators, two defensive coordinators and four offensive line coaches, among other personnel changes.
“I’ve been looking at this over three years now and watching the organization grow,” Ross said. “And I think an organization can only function if it’s collaborative, and it works well together. And I don’t think that we were really working well as an organization that it would take to really win consistently at the NFL level.”
Miami was expected to compete for an AFC East title in 2021 after finishing 10-6 and missing the playoffs in 2020. The team won its opening game before losing seven straight, putting itself in a hole no other team in NFL history has come back from to make the playoffs. However, Miami responded to its seven-game losing streak with a seven-game winning streak — becoming the first team in league history to have both in the same season.
However, the high of that winning streak came to a sudden stop when the Dolphins were blown out by the Tennessee Titans in Week 17, knocking them out of playoff contention for the fifth straight season.
The Dolphins were also the most mentioned team interested in trading for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson throughout the offseason and the first half of the regular season — rumors that Grier dismissed after the trade deadline. They drafted quarterback Tua Tagovailoa fifth overall in 2020, and despite Tagovailoa’s efficient, albeit unspectacular, play, Ross said the quarterback position had “no role” in the decision to fire Flores, and that he has “no plans” to pursue Watson this offseason.
“I have a lot of confidence in Tua and I think you know, the next head coach will work with him or whoever else,” Ross said. “But I have a lot of confidence in him. I watched him grow. He’s a fine young man, and he is our quarterback.”
Ross said ultimately that the quarterback decision will be made by the next head coach, “but I have a lot of confidence in Tua.”
Sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Flores, the fourth coach in Dolphins history to record two winning seasons in his first three years with the team, is expected to be a prime head-coaching candidate in this upcoming hiring cycle. Ross said he is sure the Dolphins will see Flores again as an NFL head coach.
Flores went 24-25 in his tenure with the Dolphins and 4-2 against his former boss, Bill Belichick — the best mark of any coach against Belichick while he has been at the helm in New England.
In a statement provided to ESPN, Flores thanked the Dolphins for the opportunity to be the team’s head coach and said “it was an honor to represent the franchise and lead this group of men.”
“I am grateful most of all for the players, coaches and support staff who gave everything they had on a daily basis to help us win games. They deserve the credit for any success on the field, and it was the honor of a lifetime for me to go to work with them every day. I have always believed that leadership is really about service, and I did my best to serve the players, the staff and the organization every day. I believe in this team and will always value the relationships my family and I made here,” he said.