DAVIE, Fla. — Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is recruiting but not rebuilding.
Ross ended months of speculation Monday by firing coach Tony Sparano after Sunday's loss dropped the team to 4-9. But Ross said the organization doesn't need to be turned upside-down the way it was when Sparano arrived almost four year ago with Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland.
If so, the 2012 season won't be about turning over the roster, collecting young talent and forming a new nucleus in the locker room. With Ireland keeping his job as general manager and remaining in charge of all football matters, Ross said next season will be about one thing - winning with the core of players already in-house.
"Everybody recognizes that it's a great foundation here to build upon. It's not starting all over again," Ross said Monday in a hastily called news conference. "Hopefully we'll start winning immediately."
Todd Bowles, the assistant head coach who also handles the secondary, was named interim coach.
Ross said the search for a permanent replacement will begin immediately. He said he dismissed Sparano with three weeks remaining in the regular season to "allow us to have plenty of time to interview and find what I hope will be the coach that will lead us back to the glory of the past.
"I'd like to find a young Don Shula, if that's possible."
Ross also will be looking to fill another key vacancy: franchise quarterback. He said finding one for next year is "obviously essential."
Based on the current standings, the Dolphins will have the No. 7 pick in April's NFL Draft. If they want a veteran, Indianapolis' Peyton Manning might become available in the offseason.
But first the Dolphins need a coach. Ross said Bowles, who came to Miami from Dallas with Sparano, will be a candidate. Considering Bowles, an African-American, will satisfy the NFL's Rooney Rule, which requires that at least one minority candidate be interviewed.
Ross said that he and Ireland will perform the search. Ross shot down rumors that he had considered turning over the football operation to his friend and business partner, Carl Peterson, the former president of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Ross emphasized that Ireland, not Peterson or anyone else, will be the boss.
In fact, any coach who wants full control of the roster or wants to bring in his own personnel man probably won't fit well in Miami.
"I think it's important that the head coach and the general manager be able to work together," Ross said. "So (we're) not going to find somebody who's going to have a conflict to start with."
But Ross did say that he will consider both experienced head coaches and coordinators looking for their first head coaching job.
"We're open to everything," Ross said.
Ireland, who took over football operations when Parcells left in September 2010, will conduct a coaching search for the first time. When asked what he is looking for in a head coach, he answered, "Obviously, you're looking for experience a guy that's been in the trenches before."
That Sparano was fired came as no surprise. Ross and Ireland tried to replace him in January but ultimately stuck with him and even granted him a contract extension after failing to land Jim Harbaugh, who instead went to the San Francisco 49ers.
Sparano, who was 29-33 (including a playoff loss) in four seasons, was under contract through 2013 and will receive the balance of his current three-year, $6 million contract.
The Dolphins are guaranteed to finish this year with a losing record, their third straight under Sparano after going 11-5 and winning the AFC East in his first season. The Dolphins hadn't had three consecutive losing seasons since they were an expansion franchise in the 1960s.
Also working against Sparano were the thousands of empty seats each week at Sun Life Stadium. Five out of seven times this year, Ross was forced to buy thousands of his own tickets to avoid a local TV blackout.
"Certainly when you're winning, it's a lot easier to sell tickets," Ross said.
Ross said he made the final decision Monday morning, yet Sparano still conducted his regular Monday news conference at 11:30 a.m.
Kansas City fired coach Todd Haley on Monday morning, a week after Jacksonville fired coach Jack Del Rio. The timing of the Dolphins' decision suggests that they didn't want to lose candidates to the Chiefs or Jaguars, or any other team that might jettison its coach.
Ross also said the constant speculation about Sparano's job security had become too much of a distraction for the team.
Ross said Sparano was unhappy but understood the decision.
"He may even have been relieved, because he's been under a tremendous amount of pressure, and you could probably see it on his face," Ross said.
Since the players were off Monday and will be off again Tuesday, Sparano might not get a chance to address his team a final time.
Linebacker Jason Taylor, who held a charity ping-pong event Monday night, said the players "failed" Sparano this year. After starting 0-7 the team won four