Marino returns to Miami

Posted: Tuesday, January 13, 2004

DAVIE, Fla. Tall and tan, the most prolific passer in NFL history stood before a cluster of microphones, looking very much like he did during his final season four years ago.

Still, when he began to discuss his new job as the Miami Dolphins' senior vice president of football operations, it was hard to believe.

Dan Marino?

Wearing a pinstripe suit rather than jersey No. 13, Marino rejoined the Dolphins on Monday to resume his quest for a Super Bowl ring. The hope is that he can achieve as an inexperienced executive what he was unable to accomplish in 17 seasons at quarterback.

''It has been a dream of mine to get back into football,'' Marino said. ''I love everything about this place. To me I'm back home again.''

Since retiring, Marino said, he often talked with Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga about returning to the organization. But his interest was a well-kept secret during the past 10 days while Huizenga and team president Eddie Jones interviewed seven candidates for the new position of general manager.

One of them, Rick Spielman, was promoted to that job Monday. Spielman was the Dolphins' personnel boss under coach Dave Wannstedt since 2000.

A second new position was created for Marino.

''We just felt we needed another football person in our operation,'' Jones said. ''We were fortunate enough to come up with Dan Marino.''

His return to the Dolphins was a stunner in part because the deal came together so quickly.

''I didn't know how to react,'' Miami defensive tackle Larry Chester said. ''I was like, 'Dan Marino? He's a player. Wow!' ... Having him here is a major plus. Dan Marino is Miami. With him pulling the reins, I see nothing but good things. I just wish he was coming back to play.''

Marino will report directly to Jones. Spielman and Wannstedt will report to Marino. Spielman will have final say regarding player personnel, including draft decisions.

Still, the ultimate boss remains Huizenga. When asked about the chain of command, Marino, Spielman and Jones each looked over their shoulders at the Dolphins' owner while answering.

''It's a team game on the field, and a team game in the office as well,'' Huizenga said. ''We need two good teams to win. The name of the game for us is to win. Nothing else really matters.''

The Dolphins still hope to hire retired Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf as a part-time consultant.

The organizational reshuffling comes after Huizenga stripped Wannstedt of control over personnel decisions two weeks ago. The Dolphins went 10-6 in 2003 to miss the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1988-89.

Marino has been working as a network TV analyst. Huizenga bristled when asked about the perception that the former quarterback might be a figurehead.

''Here's a guy who's on CBS and HBO and making four jillion dollars a year to work there,'' Huizenga said. ''He's not going to quit a job like that to come here for somebody to say it's just a figurehead job. This is serious business here.''

Marino played for the Dolphins from 1983 to 1999 and took them to the 1985 Super Bowl, where they lost to San Francisco. He holds league records with 61,361 yards passing and 420 touchdown passes.

''It's great for the franchise for him to return the most popular player we ever had,'' former teammate Jimmy Cefalo said. ''Dan knows how to fire up a huddle, and I think he'll fire up the franchise. The fat will be cut away.''

''Dan will do a great job,'' former coach Don Shula agreed. ''He has proven that he is a true leader.''

The hiring will test Marino's relationship with Wannstedt, which has been strained in the past. Marino retired reluctantly two months after Wannstedt became Miami's coach in January 2000.

''There are no hard feelings at all,'' Marino said. ''I know people said I was pushed out, but that's not true.''

The hiring of Marino is the latest surprising twist in the Dolphins' offseason. Huizenga resolved the embattled Wannstedt's status two weeks ago by giving him a two-year contract extension but also a demotion, relieving him of responsibility for player moves.

The Dolphins have won just one playoff game in the four years since Marino retired, in part because of lackluster results in the draft.

Marino's mission will be to help change that. He also faces a decision about the future of his successor at quarterback, Jay Fiedler, who has been unpopular with fans while directing a sputtering offense.

Fiedler is due a $2 million option in April and a projected base salary of $3.7 million for 2004 if he returns.

Marino declined to discuss Miami's personnel Monday, and he acknowledged there will be a learning curve as he settles into his new career. But he said he had no reservations about taking the job.

''Am I ready for this?'' he said. ''I feel I am.''

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