I've been through it all as a fan of the Miami Dolphins.
From the unbridled and innocent joy as a kid watching the magical seasons of the early ‘70s.
To the soul-crushing disappointment when Larry Csonka, Paul Warfield, and Jim Kiick left for the Toronto Northmen of the WFL.
To the apathy that followed as the Pittsburgh Steelers became the dynasty of the ‘70s, a title that to this day I know the Dolphins would hold if only… if only…
To the glory of the ‘80s, watching coach Don Shula mold his team from a run-dominant squad into a passing machine.
To the abject sadness of watching two lopsided losses in Super Bowls XVII and XIX. And the loneliness of never making it back to that game since.
To the satisfaction of watching Dan Marino throw the ball like no one had ever seen, giving the Dolphins a chance no matter who the opponent.
Then the clock ticked on, the century came to an end, and the legends retired.
And the Miami Dolphins have floundered ever since.
Being a fan of the Miami Dolphins in the 21st century is no easy task. An entire generation of fans has grown up having never seen Marino play, let alone having experienced the gloriousness of the Perfect Season. The team that had just two losing seasons in all those Don Shula years has since only seen three winning seasons in the past fourteen years.
What once was the root of stability in Miami, a great quarterback led by a great coach, has become a turnstile of uncertainty. Nine head coaches since the turn of the century, more starting quarterbacks than anyone cares to count (it’s 20, by the way), and a constant turnover of the roster as one regime after another tries and fails to mold a winner in South Florida. Is it any wonder so much of the fanbase is jaded and gives an eye-rolling “that’s so Dolphins” reaction each time a season or game takes a turn for the worse?
This isn’t unique to Miami, mind you. Other fan bases are the same. I see stuff from the Bears and Broncos all the time, and they have the same “live and die with my team” fans as well.
The thing I see missing for Miami, going back to the sad day that Marino retired, is that as fans, we no longer have anything to hang our hat on. And haven’t for a long time.
Back in the day, we had Csonka, Kiick, Mercury Morris, and a no name defense that kicked you where it counts. You just KNEW that every week the team had a chance, regardless of opponent. Later, with Marino, you also just KNEW the Dolphins would compete. They might lose 45-42, and you'd say, "Damn, we lost. But man, that was a good game!" And you knew we'd be right back into it next week.
But for two decades now, we've sifted through QBs, we've sifted through coaches, and every changeover results in more turnover, so there is constantly a myriad of holes in the roster where we need help. And there's nothing for fans to hang their hat on. You know, things like, "Well, our coach is great, he’ll figure this out and we’ll kick butt next week," or, "Dang, our offense is struggling, but man, our D is tough (a la the Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor years)."
Know what they call those things?
Something that you can always say is a positive about the team, something that you know is the bread and butter, the heart and soul, the… well, call it what you will, but it’s what makes you love that team.
Can you name something that the current edition of the Miami Dolphins does that makes you confident?
Besides the colors are pretty?
This is a team without a face.
A face without a reflection.
And that brings us to the root of this story. It’s this writer’s opinion that the problem with the team, right here, right now, is that head coach Adam Gase needs to look in the mirror and realize that in his third year after landing the job based on a reputation as an offensive guru, a developer of quarterbacks, and an innovative game planner and playcaller, none of those things are shining through.
I could go on for pages of all the many issues that are making fans squirm in their seat at the game and utter profanities at their TV screens all around the country. But that’s for another column. Let’s just sum it up with this: In Gase’s third year, with a team molded in his fashion, with an offense that he has built to his specifications, with all the tools in place that he needed to be successful, the results scream the complete opposite of what he was hired to do.
Now I’m well aware that Gase knows way more about football than I ever will, but even he has to see how bad some of his situational calls are. Even he has to see how wholly unprepared the team looks at times. Even he has to recognize that sometimes it's not because a player didn’t execute their assignment (a favorite refrain in press conferences), but because the call simply didn’t put the players in the best spot to succeed.
When I watch the Dolphins play, it seems that every time a play is called that doesn’t work, the cameras swing to Gase on the sidelines, and there he is, hat pulled low over his brow, body slumping into his playsheet, scanning for the next play. Rarely if ever do I see Gase scanning the field, checking the defense, or most of all, barking the next play quickly to his quarterback.
His head is buried in that play sheet all day. And I feel that by giving his full focus, his undivided attention to that one isolated part of the game, he's hurting the team.
As much as it will surely pain him, Gase absolutely needs to give up playcalling and actually be a head coach. He needs to focus on the entire team, on all phases of the game as they unfold on the field, from defense to offense to special teams to clock management.
He needs to let his offensive coordinator handle the biggest part of the offense. He can always lean in and make his voice heard when needed; that’s what head coaches do, after all. If he doesn’t trust his coaches to do these things, then he needs new coaches.
But if Gase continues down the road he’s going, if he insists that playcalling and play design are what got him here, and he’s going to hang on to that with a death grip, then he will fail. I can’t be the only one who sees this. It seems so clear.
If Gase can’t look in the mirror and see what the results reflect, it's going to be his downfall.
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter: @EJFootball
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