DAVIE, Fla. Dave Wannstedt resigned Tuesday as coach of the Miami Dolphins, forced from the job by lousy luck, relentless speculation about his future and eight losses in nine games.
Defensive coordinator Jim Bates was promoted to interim coach, and management immediately began a search for a coach in 2005.
A wave of injuries and the retirement of running back Ricky Williams contributed to this year's transformation of the long-proud franchise into a laughingstock with the NFL's worst record. Wannstedt accepted the blame and said he resigned because his job status had become a distraction.
''I have too much respect for the players and owner of this organization to allow myself to be the focal point for the remainder of the season,'' he said at a news conference. ''I told the players today the team must come first. This is what's best for our team.''
The coaching change came during the Dolphins' bye week, and two days after perhaps their most wrenching defeat yet. They twice blew a lead against the Arizona Cardinals, who scored in the final seconds Sunday to win 24-23 and break a 17-game road losing streak.
On Monday, Wannstedt requested a meeting with owner Wayne Huizenga and said he had decided to step down. Huizenga wanted Wannstedt to coach the rest of the season but reluctantly accepted the resignation, team president Eddie Jones said.
Attendance has been in steep decline, but while Wannstedt's departure gave fans cause for celebration, the mood was gloomy at the team complex. As linebacker Zach Thomas and cornerback Sam Madison spoke about Wannstedt, their voices broke, and general manager Rick Spielman fought back tears.
Defensive end Jason Taylor reacted sharply to a question about Wannstedt quitting.
''Let's get this straight: Dave didn't quit,'' Taylor said. ''Ricky Williams quit. Dave stepped aside. There's a big difference. Anybody who watched Dave on Sunday saw how much it hurt him. That's not a man who quit. That's a beaten man, a man who has been through a lot the last two or three years.''
Williams took that criticism in stride.
''The way I look at it is I consider a lot of the guys in Miami friends. If everyone is using me as a scapegoat, I'm happy for that. Really. If it makes all the players feel better, then I'm all for that,'' he told The Palm Beach Post in a phone interview Tuesday.
Wannstedt had been on the hot seat for some time, despite a 43-33 record in 4 1/2 seasons with Miami. His lone playoff victory came four years ago, and he barely avoided being fired after the Dolphins went 10-6 but still failed to make the playoffs in 2003.
Huizenga, who missed the news conference because he was out of town, has been through three coaches since becoming the Dolphins' sole owner in 1994. Now they're one defeat from their first losing season since 1988 and the butt of jokes, with one wag renaming the team's home Semi-Pro Player Stadium.
Wannstedt didn't mention Williams by name but said there were a lot of reasons for the decline.
''Many of those things I had no control over,'' he said. ''But those things are not important today. Nobody wants to hear about excuses. Someone has to accept the ultimate responsibility. I'm the head coach, and that falls on me.''
While he's under contract through 2006 and will be paid in full, Jones said speculation regarding the next coach began weeks ago.
''We're not happy with where we are,'' Jones said. ''But I can tell you this: We're going to fix it. Mr. H. has always given us the ultimate resources. Money has never been an issue with anything we do.''
Mentioned as possible coaching candidates have been former Florida Gators coach Steve Spurrier, LSU's Nick Saban, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Brad Childress and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
Spurrier would be a popular choice with fans in Florida.
The Dolphins also must hire a new president because Jones plans to retire in March. Spielman, widely criticized for his personnel decisions, will lead the coaching search and return next season ''unless something happens that I don't foresee,'' Jones said.
Bates, whose last head-coaching job was 19 years ago in the USFL, has been with Dolphins since Wannstedt hired him as defensive coordinator in 2000. His first game as interim coach will be Nov. 21 at Seattle.
''I hate it personally ... the way it has happened,'' Bates said. ''But I'm going to jump all over the opportunity. I will coach with a great deal of passion, and when we come out of the chute, we're going to play.''
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