Jeff Ireland’s six-year run as the Miami Dolphins’ general manager ended Tuesday, concluding a tenure that featured no playoff appearances in the past five seasons, numerous personnel decisions that backfired and heavy criticism from frustrated fans.
The Dolphins announced they were “parting ways” with Ireland, who had final say on personnel decisions the past four years.
A club source said Ireland was going to lose much, if not all, of his decision-making power. Owner Stephen Ross intended to hire an executive with personnel authority over Ireland, a situation that was not acceptable to Ireland.
Ross immediately will begin a search for a new general manager. He is looking for a skilled personnel evaluator with a sharp eye for talent and a track record of making good decisions.
Ross intends to keep coach Joe Philbin, but Philbin is not expected to assume considerably more responsibility in personnel evaluation.
Former Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, Pittsburgh Steelers director of football administration Omar Khan and Eagles and former 49ers director of player personnel Tom Gamble are among possible candidates. Former Jets coach Eric Mangini, with whom Ross has consulted in the past, also has interest in becoming a personnel executive.
Ross likes Miami assistant general manager Brian Gaine, who was not fired, but the Dolphins are expected to look outside the building for a new top personnel executive.
Ross also values Dawn Aponte, the Dolphins’ salary-cap specialist and executive vice president of football administration, but she is not expected to be given authority on the player personnel side.
The Dolphins went 7-9, 6-10, 7-9 and 8-8 in Ireland’s four seasons in which he had final say on personnel, after finishing 11-5 and 7-9 in the two seasons when Bill Parcells and Ireland jointly ran the team’s front office.
“I want to personally thank Jeff for his hard work and dedication in building the team over the past six years,” Ross said. “After a series of discussions, we both felt that it was in our mutual best interest to part ways. Jeff was a loyal and dedicated member of the Dolphins and we wish him and his family nothing but the best.”
Ireland, in a statement, said: “I’ve spent the last six years with the best organization in football. Steve and I came to an agreement that the best thing moving forward for all parties would be to part ways. I’d like to thank Steve for all his support and kindness. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing people during this time and I’d like to thank them all from the bottom of my heart.”
Ross told Ireland several weeks ago that his job was safe, but Ross was upset by the team failing to make the playoffs.
There also was growing tension between Ireland and Philbin, according to a source. The front office believed the coaching staff could have gotten more out of the players. The coaching staff believed there were deficiencies in the personnel.
Ireland doled out more than $200 million in contracts during free agency last offseason, including a five-year, $61 million deal for receiver Mike Wallace.
He made final decisions on the Dolphins’ past three drafts, with mixed results. Mike Pouncey, selected 15th in 2011, has become a quality center, and Ryan Tannehill, selected eighth in 2012, shows promise, though he hasn’t been as productive as Russell Wilson and Nick Foles, who were selected 75th and 88th that year.
Ireland found good value in the third round with defensive end Olivier Vernon, in the sixth round with tight end Charles Clay and in the seventh round with safety Jimmy Wilson and receiver Rishard Matthews.
But his draft selections last April, including third overall pick Dion Jordan, combined to play the fewest snaps of any draft class in the league.
And several of his picks in 2011 and 2012 have not fulfilled expectations, including second-round selections Daniel Thomas and Jonathan Martin, third-rounder Michael Egnew and fourth-rounder Clyde Gates.
Ireland’s free agent signings also delivered mixed results. High-priced pick-ups Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler weren’t as effective this season as Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett, the linebackers they replaced.
Of eight free agents signed during the 2012 offseason, only Richard Marshall made the team, and he was released a year later.
Ireland’s most noteworthy trade was dealing receiver Brandon Marshall to Chicago for third-round picks in 2012 and 2013. The Dolphins traded those picks to move down in the draft, selecting Egnew and tight end Dion Sims with the lower selections.
Ireland survived a firestorm in April 2010, when it was reported that he asked then-draft prospect Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute.
The Dolphins kept Ireland and fired Tony Sparano after the 2011 season, after Ireland convinced Ross that coaching, and not personnel selection, was the Dolphins’ problem.
Two years later, that argument did not carry the same weight with Ross.