Stephen Ross traveled by helicopter Thursday. It’s fitting, because he’s apparently in a holding pattern.
Ross, according to sources close to the situation, didn’t fire anyone Thursday. Instead, he spent the day in what insiders described as a “fact-finding mission,” a sign that he’s being deliberate in deciding how to proceed after a fifth straight season out of the postseason.
His decision is expected in the coming days.
A problem Ross faces: Joe Philbin doesn’t want to fire Mike Sherman — and can’t be forced to.
Sherman, the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator who just finished his second season, is not only Philbin’s friend and mentor, he’s also a huge coaching resource, far more than what is seen on the surface. One league source intimately familiar with the situation went so far as to say Sherman is “running the team.”
In his contract, Philbin is granted final say in all coaching decisions, so the only way Ross can truly force Sherman out is to fire his head coach.
Besides, Philbin might not believe that he can find anyone better to join up for what essentially will be a make-or-break season, assuming as most do that he’s back for a third season.
Then there’s this interesting dynamic: Philbin, in defending Sherman, offensive line coach Jim Turner and others, might come into direct conflict with general manager Jeff Ireland, whose job security is also in question.
Philbin strongly praised his offensive assistants Monday, calling Sherman an “excellent coach.” So why did the Dolphins allow 58 sacks and score fewer than 20 points per game? The only logical answer: Ireland didn’t provide enough talent.
Ross began grappling with these issues in earnest Thursday, landing in his private helicopter late in the morning.
The team had lunch delivered shortly after noon. Turner, also a key figure in the team’s bullying investigation, arrived at the complex in the 1 p.m. hour. Two hours later, he left, but declined to speak with assembled media.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle waved to reporters as he drove away.
Dolphins players came and went throughout the day. Cameron Wake spent more than an hour at the complex; Chris Clemons left mid-afternoon with a wrap on his wrist.
Meanwhile, any doubt about who Ross trusts for advice was erased in the twilight hour Thursday.
After spending seven hours interviewing Dolphins coaches and front-office types about the team’s latest late-season collapse, Ross chatted alone with business associate and advisor Matt Higgins.
Ross then boarded his helicopter and flew out into the South Florida night, with the hard decisions apparently still to be made.
Despite all the uncertainty, the Dolphins still went about the normal business of running their football team.
Former Montreal Alouettes offensive lineman Michael Ola announced on Twitter he has signed free-agent contract with the Dolphins. Ola, 25, played his college ball at Hampton.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins signed Jason Weaver, Kyle Miller, Ryan Spadola, Cameron Marshall, Emmanuel Ogbuehi, Isaako Aaitui to futures deals this week
Miami Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero contributed to this report.