As the Dolphins prepare to announce their new head coach tomorrow, we, the fans, wait with anticipation and hope for what’s to come. The past two decades have been rough as a Dolphins fan to say the least. It’s been even rougher as a Dolphins fan who grew up in New England.
Resentment is an understatement. Hate is a better word. The fact that we have to wait until Monday to announce our new coach is maddening, simply because Brian Flores is coaching the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Again. There is nothing worse than watching Patriots fans bask in the glory of their nine Super Bowl appearances. But there could be a silver lining to the Patriots success when it comes to the future of the Miami Dolphins. I already feel dirty writing this….
But in between reading harassing texts and memes being sent to me from my Patriot-loving family bragging about Tom Brady and the Patriots’ fortunes, I think about what’s to come. What can a coach from the Patriots organization bring? My hope is stability and a winning culture. God knows I’ve seen it first-hand for the past 20 or so years. But what is the secret? What is the Patriot way? And how can it become the Dolphin way?
When asked about the longstanding success of the Patriots, Brian Flores said, “It’s about putting the team first.” Miami’s projected offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea, also currently with the Patriots, added, “I don’t think it’s complicated. It’s something that’s easier said than done. You have to have the right commitment.”
Both men talk of commitment and team. And this is where the Dolphins and Patriots begin to differ. And it starts with the owner. Stephen Ross has owned the Miami Dolphins since 2008. In that time, we have seen numerous head coaches, general managers, and star players. While Ross had no problem spending his money for the good of the team, he has failed in the aspect of commitment. He has been quick to make a change. He has searched for a new coach while having a coach under contract. He’s continually looked for the next big thing, the quick fix, and it hasn’t worked. It’s not how to build a team or a culture.
During Ross’ entire tenure, and for almost a decade prior, there has been one constant in New England. His name is Bill Belichick. He is a coach that knows how to get the most out of his players. He preaches the team first, next man up philosophy. He also brings in smart players. This allows for the Patriots to game plan better than anyone else. They are able to play differently each week. They play to their strengths and to the weaknesses of their opponents.
In Miami, on the other hand, the Dolphins seem to play their style of football regardless of their opponent or the situation. This has been evident so many times over the years. Whether it’s Wannstedt throwing the ball three straight times and punting with the lead in a close game after controlling the game on the ground all day. Or Sparano running the Wildcat for weeks after opponents figured it out. Or more recently, Adam Gase refusing to run a QB sneak on 3rd and inches or him calling a WR screen on 3rd and 20. These are all examples of bad coaching and the reason we are perennially a bad team.
On the topic of “team first” that Brian Flores preaches, we have also fallen short. Every year Miami brings in the big-time free agent. Every year it doesn’t work out. How many times can we sign a Mike Wallace or a Ndamukong Suh only to end up in cap hell and miss the playoffs?
But there is hope. Stephen Ross said all the right things when firing Adam Gase. He acknowledged the mistakes he has made. He talked about a complete rebuild. Reports say that Brian Flores was always the choice. And that makes sense. He comes from a program that his built the blueprint on success. He seems to command a room and has the respect of his players. He has reportedly put together a strong staff. Though many Patriots assistants have failed in the past, the idea of a rebuild in Miami gives Flores a clean slate to find his intelligent, team first players where as others have had to work within the constraint of their new team’s roster.
If Ross can let Chris Grier do his job as GM and Brian Flores can emulate what he has done in New England, we have the potential to build our own culture. We won’t have Bill Belichick or the system quarterback Tom Brady (that’s the bitterness talking). We won’t have the favor of the referees (more bitterness), but we will have the foundation of change. And if the stars align and the football gods smile upon us, then maybe, just maybe, we can have similar success. And ten years from now there will be a Jets fan writing a similar article about the Dolphin way.
And while I wait with anticipation and hope for this to happen, I am glad I moved out of the polar vortex that is New England, away from the unbearable Patriot fans (my family), to warm and sunny Florida.
I need a shower now…
This article was written by Tim Felder. Follow him on Twitter: @t_fins
It was September 1st, 1996. With 12:51 remaining in the 4th quarter, Patriots wide receiver Shawn Jefferson takes an end around and is met by Dolphins rookie linebacker Zach Thomas. He is hit hard. Real hard. So hard he doesn’t get up. So hard he spends the night at Jackson Memorial Hospital. As for the man that hit him, this was one of the first of his 1,076 tackles. This was the day he became my favorite football player. This was also his first memorable moment of a Hall of Fame-worthy career. The question is, why isn’t he in it yet?
Zach Thomas was born and raised in Pampa, Texas. He had football in his blood. He was a high school football state champion and two-time All-American at Texas Tech. He had accolades deserving of the NFL. The problem was he was only 5’11”.
NFL scouts felt he was too small to play middle linebacker in the NFL. Jimmy Johnson decided to take a chance on Zach Thomas and drafted him in the 5th round. But even after being drafted, he faced adversity. Veteran Jack Del Rio was signed and expected to be the starter. But Thomas impressed the team from the moment he put his pads on. Not only was he named the starter on opening day, but the team cut Del Rio shortly after.
Over the next 12 seasons, Zach Thomas would not relinquish that starter role. Instead, he would go on to have 10 straight seasons with 100 tackles or more. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro. He and his brother-in-law Jason Taylor would pair to lead one of the best defenses in all of football for years. But all these accomplishments haven’t helped Thomas reach Canton. Jason Taylor was voted in to the Hall on his first try and enshrined last year. Thomas still waits.
Of the 29 linebackers already enshrined, only one has more tackles. The main comparison made to Thomas is Brian Urlacher. Urlacher was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, and deservedly so. He led the Bears’ defense to Super Bowl XLI. He won a Defensive Player of the Year award. But a closer look at the numbers help make the case for Zach Thomas to be joining him there. Thomas actually has more tackles, assists, forced fumbles, Pro Bowls, and All-Pro awards. Short of overall team success, and maybe being overshadowed by Taylor who plays a flashier position, Zach Thomas’ resume speaks for itself.
So why have the 46 voters not called Thomas’ name? The man had few weaknesses on the field. But he was undersized and played for the Miami Dolphins. Not only have the Dolphins not been to a Super Bowl since 1984, but Miami-Fort Lauderdale is only the 16th largest media market in the U.S. Chicago, where Urlacher played his whole career, is 3rd. This could definitely play a part.
Another issue that many athletes have is they hold on too long. After injuries derailed his last season with Miami, Thomas attempted to continue to play and signed for one season with the Dallas Cowboys and then the next season with the Kansas City Chiefs. The last attempt was futile, as he was concussed and cut during training camp.
To the average fan, Zach Thomas had a lot to overcome. Being undersized and playing for an average team didn’t help sell jerseys. Fans are enamored with sacks, TDs, and interceptions. Not tackles. Fans enjoy players with movie star looks and endorsement deals. Zach Thomas had none of these things. What he did have was talent. And while that might not be a big draw to the average fan, it’s shameful that he is also overlooked by the Hall voters. This year was the closest Zach Thomas came to getting the call. Could 2019 finally be the year?
This article was written by Tim Felder. Follow him on Twitter: @t_fins
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