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Article updated: 1/6/2011 11:17 PM

Harbaugh, Dolphins break off talks

By

MIAMI -- Jim Harbaugh forced the Miami Dolphins to call an audible.

Harbaugh and the Dolphins broke off talks Thursday, and the team was expected to retain Tony Sparano as coach, two people familiar with the negotiations said. Both people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were to remain confidential.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross courted Harbaugh in a meeting in the San Francisco area, two other people with knowledge of the situation said. But after the meeting, Harbaugh was still considering staying at Stanford, one person said.

Harbaugh also met Thursday with the president of the university and the provost. The school made an amended offer to the coach with enhancements from an offer presented in early December.

A late-season collapse by the Dolphins put Sparano's job in jeopardy. He has a year left on his contract and was at work at the team's complex in Davie, while Ross was on the other side of the country courting Harbaugh.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck may have helped the Cardinal's chances of keeping Harbaugh by deciding to stay to get his degree instead of cashing in on the chance to be the likely No. 1 pick in this year's NFL draft. Luck, a sophomore, announced his decision Thursday.

Harbaugh met Wednesday with the San Francisco 49ers about their coaching vacancy. He may consider other suitors as well.

The Cardinal coach returned Tuesday to the Bay Area following their 40-12 Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in the stadium 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. Harbaugh is the only candidate Miami is known to have interviewed.

Ross said before the season he expected the Dolphins to reach the Super Bowl. Instead, for the eighth time in nine years they failed to reach the playoffs, losing their final three games to finish 7-9.

The Dolphins endured a 38-7 drubbing at New England on Sunday and lost at home in December to three sub-.500 teams. Their 1-7 home record matched the worst in franchise history.

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.

New Denver Broncos chief football executive John Elway has said he hopes to interview Harbaugh for their job, and new 49ers general manager Trent Baalke is looking for the coach to replace Mike Singletary, who was fired.

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