Bill Parcells is putting his protege in charge.
The Miami Dolphins' football czar has given control of the team to general manager Jeff Ireland but will retain a role as a daily consultant. The Dolphins announced the move in a three-sentence statement Tuesday, five days before the start of the season.
The change was part of a long-range plan when the Parcells regime took over at the end of the 2007 season, the statement said.
"This was the intent of the structure put in place in the past," the Dolphins said. Ireland will assume full control over all aspects regarding the team and support staff.
Parcells joined the Dolphins in December 2007 as executive vice president of football operations, then hired Ireland two weeks later. They were also together with the Dallas Cowboys.
The 69-year-old Parcells can leave Miami at any time and collect the balance of the $12 million due him under a four-year contract that expires after the 2011 season.
He was hired by Wayne Huizenga as the Dolphins staggered to the end of a 1-15 season in 2007. In the Parcells regime's first year in 2008, Miami made a great leap forward to 11-6 and a playoff berth under first-year NFL coach Tony Sparano, who also came from the Cowboys.
Last season the Dolphins regressed to 7-9, extending to nine years their drought without a postseason victory.
During the past offseason, the team acquired Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall, hired Mike Nolan as defensive coordinator and revamped the defense. The front office has continued to be busy in recent days, acquiring six players since Saturday, and the Dolphins have 20 players with two years' experience or less.
The news that Parcells was stepping back caught linebacker Channing Crowder by surprise.
"He's just a great guy to have on your side," Crowder said. "But he brought a bunch of great people in, too. Tony is an amazing coach, and Jeff Ireland knows what he's doing."
There was no comment from the secretive organization about the change in hierarchy beyond the statement. The team was off Tuesday, and Parcells rarely does interviews.
"The clock's ticking for guys like me," he said in 2008, shortly before his first season with Miami. "You know you can't do it forever."
Ross, who completed his purchase of the franchise from Huizenga in January 2009, didn't respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Ireland rarely talks to the media but offered occasional glimpses into the how the regime worked under Parcells. For example, Parcells was very much involved in preparations for the most recent draft, Ireland said in April.
"It's constant," Ireland says. "It never stops. Bill and I have grinded through every single player two or three times."
There have been occasional hints that Parcells had created an atmosphere allowing him to step back. One clue came when Sparano spoke two weeks ago of Dan Henning, the Dolphins' third-year offensive coordinator.
"Our relationship has really grown tremendously," Sparano said. "Early on in the process he was a Bill guy. And now I would feel safe to say he's a Tony guy."
Parcells worked a full schedule during training camp, arriving early, watching practices from a golf cart and often offering players feedback. Safety Yeremiah Bell laughed when asked two weeks ago about Sparano's ability to recall obscure moments in games.
"He probably gets some of that from Bill," Bell said. "Bill is like that, too. Bill remembers every play. He'll tell you about a play on Sunday you don't even remember."
As a coach, Parcells took over losing teams with the Giants, Patriots, Jets and Cowboys and transformed them into winners. He won five division titles in 19 seasons and led the Giants to two Super Bowl championships.
He quit coaching after the 2006 season with Dallas.
Ireland spent seven years in player personnel with the Cowboys, including his final three as vice president of college and pro scouting. Dallas went 13-3 and won the NFC East in his final season there.
Before that, he was an NFL scout for 11 years.
Ireland has been around football since childhood, spending summers as a ball boy during training camp for the Chicago Bears. His grandfather, former Philadelphia Eagles player Jim Parmer, scouted for the Bears. Ireland's stepfather is E.J. Holub, a former linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs.