So much has already been written about the Miami Dolphins coaching situation that to write more, whether positive or negative in tone, seems like piling on. Since I write about one team in one sport in this space, the number of possible topics is limited. However, the way we discuss them remains a fertile ground.
Joe Philbin was not ready to be a head coach in the NFL when he was hired. At the time I did not know that, and I was enthusiastic at the idea of hiring someone with the glow of developing an Aaron Rodgers-led offense glimmering on his resume. But the proof should have been evident when he tabbed his mentor and former NFL Head Coach Mike Sherman to lead the offense. Sherman was a safety net for Philbin, and Philbin was allowed to be indecisive because there were no decisions to make.
Once Sherman was fired, replaced by a fiery upstart in Bill Lazor, the signs of that indecisiveness started to show more prominently. The team was having pronounced issues in clock management for one thing, and they also waffled with important decisions in the middle of drives. For proof, watch the end of the Green Bay game again if you can stomach it. Philbin, forced for the first time in his career to handle all of the pressures of decision making, folded.
The lack of total control over the team management aspect showed itself in other ways too, none more glaring than the debacle surrounding Philbin not naming Ryan Tannehill as his starting quarterback in Week 4, just as the team was preparing to travel to London to play the Raiders. Some people will tell you that this sparked Tannehill; I would argue that getting to play the Raiders was more of a factor. This is the frustrating thing in a micro sense: the Dolphins were often the more talented team last season, especially when they were healthy, but that did not always translate to the field of play.
The Miami Dolphins are a young football team, and I think everyone would agree there is a fair amount of talent on the roster. How did that talent develop? NFL teams are not usually both young and talented, unless they have developed that talent themselves. This is where Philbin has paid dividends, because whether or not fans like how he deploys his assets, he has assets to deploy. And therein lies the rub, because I think that if Lazor and Tannehill take just half a step forward this year, this team makes real noise. But is that enough to change the perspective on Philbin? I don’t know, and I don’t think any of us will know until we see if Philbin can continue the glacially-paced progress he is making in becoming a seasoned NFL Head Coach.
What we do know is that coming into the meat of the offseason, there is a lot of warranted optimism around this team. Most of it is begrudgingly given, with hesitancy earned over years of inflated expectations followed by deflated results. But it is there, there is a buzz around this team, and it is palpable to those of us following our timelines on Twitter or scoping out the deep recesses of Reddit.
There are no more training wheels for Ryan Tannehill, and rightfully so. It all falls on him to continue to translate his effort into progress. The same is true for Joe Philbin, possibly even more so, as Philbin does not have any more time to waste. He has to come out this season and show command of the team, unafraid to dictate to his coordinators while at the same time knowing when deference is valuable, and not wavering in the face of adversity. Sure, it is all well and good for an academic or writer to wax philosophical about what might happen or what could have been, but when leading people, once you make a decision, you need to stick with it, otherwise they don’t know who they are following. It is time for Joe Philbin to add to the title of teacher and become the leader of this team. If he does that, it won’t matter who takes a step forward with him, the team will find success.
This story was written by Ryan Winters. Follow him on Twitter@WintersNFL.