A couple weeks ago, European aircraft manufacturer Airbus sent shockwaves through the airline manufacturing industry when its Chief Financial Officer publicly commented that production on its flagship, superjumbo A380, may have to be shut down. In short, the company was struggling to make improvements that would make the aircraft more attractive to customers and competitive to its industry rivals. While other company executives and many of the aircraft’s largest purchasers disagreed with the CFO’s comments, the news immediately resulted in the company’s stock to plummet. In reality, the news was not new. Investors and industry professionals had, for months, suggested there were severe problems with how the aircraft – a project Airbus has invested decades and countless billions of dollars (ok, euros to be exact) to develop – was not optimally designed to compete in the future of global air travel. But, despite the prior sentiment of concern, it was not until the CFO delivered his comments that the stakeholder world truly took note and sent the company’s stock southward.
What in the world does this have to do with the Miami Dolphins? Well, to me, the state of the franchise for the past 15 years eerily mirrors Airbus’ current predicament. For well more than a decade, Miami’s stakeholders – the loyal fans – have stood by the franchise despite the apparent fragility that has struggles to hold it together. Despite the Groundhog Day-like seasons that have been served non-stop to us, we have remained faithful. We have continued to invest in our team via ticket and merchandise sales, clamoring to player-fan-interactivity events for a chance to meet players, and establishing annual game events – a la the Met Life Takeover – where more than a thousand fans amass in enemy territory to cheer our team on. Yes, we have remained faithful but it has not been without stakeholders’ concerns that the product we invest in is stable and worthy of continued investment.
In an era where winning is the only acceptable result, the Dolphins have consistently underwhelmed, perpetually residing in a state of mediocrity. Head coach, Joe Philbin, nearing the end of his third full season at the team’s helm, has merely maintained this trend and is prepared to finish 2014 at either 8-8 or 9-7. Since Don Shula left his post atop the Dolphin’s coaching ranks, only two coaches have managed to average greater than .500 in the W/L column: Jimmy Johnson and Dave Wannstedt. Should Miami manage to win in week 17, the total W/L since Shula’s departure will be an exact even .500 through 304 regular season games (and, to no surprise, Philbin will be exactly 24-24: .500).
When seen in comparison to standard, non-pro sport organizations, total wins and losses can be compared to profitability. In essence, the Dolphins have barely broken even every season – save for one anomaly year in 2008 – since 1996. If this were one of those non-pro sport organizations, failure to profit – and subsequently provide dividends and return on investment – would result in investors refusing to dump their money into the business; they would take their money to other companies that would provide better return and, as a result, greater satisfaction.
But, that is where the comparison ends. This is a professional sports organization and, we – the investors and stakeholders – are forever, personally vested in our franchise. Save for some unfortunate souls who can sleep at night while traipsing along bandwagons as different teams win championships, we stick by our team regardless of how futile their efforts – and results – may be. No matter how many times we vent and say “I’m done with this franchise until true changes take place,” like clockwork, come August, we are all profusely salivating at the chance to see our beloved Dolphins take to the training field and meaningless preseason games. Despite the fact that our organization continues to fail in paying dividends, we stick by the team and continue to say, “Next year will be different.”
Leading into the season’s final three games, the growing stakeholder unrest had reached fully-audible levels. In hopes of finally derailing the train of mediocrity, many fans – and Miami media – had turned up the heat on Philbin’s already hot seat and were calling for his ouster. Despite this outcry, there remained great speculation as to what fate awaited Philbin and if it fully depended upon his team’s performance in the final, lame duck games of the year.
Well, similar to Airbus, we now have heard from the organization’s leader. Following the team’s home victory against the Vikings, team owner publicly stood behind Philbin – and first year General Manager Dennis Hickey – and stated he would, in fact, be returning in 2015. To my surprise, the public reaction – well, that which I limit myself to via social media forums – has been more positive than I had expected. While some continue to stand their ground and affirm their positions of being “done” with the team, the majority seem resigned to this fate, attempting to see this fourth year of coaching stability as a chance to build upon a talent base that is young and has proven the ability to win. Like it or not, the stakeholders were served up the news they had been clamoring for and, like always, we have to eat what we are served. Which leaves us wondering, what will we actually be served in the coming year? Will we finally be paid some dividends for our faithful investments in the organization?
While I describe the final two games as being lame duck, they can still serve a purpose for the team and in a manner that will satisfy the fans. Sunday’s Minnesota game brought out what we have all been hoping to see from our third year quarterback. Tannehill, often assailed for failing to put the team on his back and deliver a commanding performance did just that. Further, the remaining games can give OC Lazor and DC Coyle – a huge question mark to return to this post in 2015 – the chance to test out some of the team’s young prospects and find out what needs the team must prioritize in the upcoming free agency and the draft. And, maybe most importantly, they can serve the purpose of showing us stakeholders how much the players truly care about the coaches they suit up for each week. Week 16 gave the fans a fair look at this and, if it can be trusted, the team’s play and post-game speech by defensive leader Cameron Wake fairly show that the team still has pride to play for and a coach they are willing to do anything to prove deserves at least one more year at the helm.
No one knows what 2015 will bring to our team. Yes, we see the small pieces that, if properly added to in the offseason, can become a profitable organization. Yes, we see a coaching staff that can – note I said can, not does – use its personnel in ways that emphasize their strengths and contributions to the team. While I admit I was 50/50 on keeping Philbin on board, now that Ross has spoken, I am fully behind the Dolphins and their commitment to 2015. While some claim Dennis Hickey made some questionable moves with his 2014 free agency acquisitions – nearly all of whom are now injured – I contest that his wins outweigh the losses and believe he can back that up with another strong draft that will fill the team’s holes. And the team that has for years shown a lack of ability to rally around their coach is showing a fire that, in Decembers past has seemed to take a backseat to simply planning for pending offseason vacations. This is progress that can carry into next the season.
Despite the immediate knee-jerk reaction by Airbus’ investors and other stakeholders, the ultimate result of the CFO’s comments was a minor dip in stock value that was slowed by Airbus’ largest customers and other organization brass publicly stating how solid the firm was and how it would persevere through this speed bump in the path to profitability. While initially disappointed, the long-term stakeholders and investors know Airbus will survive and find a way to thrive and they are staying for the long-run. Like Airbus, the Miami Dolphins are a solid organization and a sample of bad performance will not derail the team. Yes, the annual tradition of mediocrity is weighing heavily on the team but, again, the truly objective stakeholder is capable of seeing the big picture and understanding the organization has seen worse and 2014 has not been even close to those levels. Ross has surrounded himself with high levels of football knowledge that he handsomely pays to assist him in making the right football decisions. While we cannot fully state that we trust that advice and the resulting decision Ross makes, we have no choice but to remain hopeful that these decisions will pay dividends. We have heard from our organizations leader and now we have to stick with the team, because this is professional football, and that is what we faithful fans do.
This article was written by Steven Hallett. Follow him on Twitter: @SHallett848