- WR Hartline cut after 6 seasons WR Gibson was also released
- Mike Tannenbaum hired... ...as Dolphins' executive VP of football operations
- Philbin retained Coach Philbin was given a contract extension
- Fins season ends on low note Jets down the Fins to end their season 8-8
Dolphins Finally Seem To Have A Positive Direction
For many of the last couple of decades the Miami Dolphins seemed to be flying by the seat of their pants. Moves were made to fill immediate needs. Choices were made in haste that proved to be incorrect. It didn’t appear to matter who the coach or General Manager was the results were the same.
Whether it was deciding on Ted Ginn, Brandon Marshall, or Dante Culpepper. Or passing on Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco Miami seemed to get it wrong more times then not. As a fan it’s been a frustrating journey.
This team had a rich tradition of making wise choices dating back to 1970 when Joe Robbie lured coach Don Shula away from the Baltimore Colts, and while Shula only won two championships, he brought the Dolphins to the title game 5 times. 3 times in the 70’s, winning two, and twice in the 80’s. Shula also was wise enough to take a chance on a quarterback no team seemed to want in Dan Marino. But, Shula did not win because of Marino. Don’t fool yourself. He won because he demanded it. Had a plan to achieve it, and didn’t waver during times of adversity.
In 1995 Shula finished with a 9-7 record. A winning record, but a terrible disappointment in the eyes of many. I wonder to myself if people still view it the same. To put his last four seasons in perspective record wise, they were ’92 11-5, ’93 9-7, ’94 10-6, and ’95 9-7. 39 wins 25 losses. For a .640% winning percentage. Which incidentally was not too far off from his career mark of .678%. His team made the playoffs in 3 of those 4 seasons going 2-3 overall.
The reason I bring this up is because people, and a large number of people were convinced the game had somehow passed Shula by. Jimmy Johnson was the flavor of choice by many of those same people. A man whose heart was not up to the task, yet he openly lobbied for the job behind closed doors.
Johnson wanted to hurt Shula, for Jimmy it was personal. This stemmed from a decision Johnson made to replace David Shula as offensive coordinator of the Cowboys in 1990. Don Shula berated Johnson for not providing David a fair chance to succeed, and Johnson never forgot it.
That’s history, let’s move forward to the last 5 seasons. After initial success, due to some good fortune and lucky timing the Dolphins had Chad Pennington fall into their lap, and that led to a surprising 11-5 season in 2008. It was the year of the Wild-Cat. I don’t want to say it was a fluke, but in hindsight I think we all can agree things fell into place with Pennington, and the Wild-Cat caught people by surprise.
I liked Sparano, but looking back there was an obvious rift between himself, and his friend Jeff Ireland. Both came along shortly after Bill Parcells was hired, and were supposedly being groomed to get the Dolphins on the path to success. Sparano was a first time head coach, and it became obvious the powers that be were not going to give him the time to complete the team in his vision. I can only guess as to the reasons. First, it was boring, outdated football. Secondly, the fans were not buying into it. And, most importantly the team was not improving. Players were not being developed, and several mistakes were made in the draft.
In 2009 the team finished 7-9, 2010 7-9, 2011 6-10, and in 2012 7-9. Completing the worst 4 season stretch since Miami’s ’66-’69 seasons. A whole generation of fans have not seen this team even get to an AFC Championship game, let alone win one.
It’s gotten to the point long standing fans are completely cynical about every move the team makes. Even the new logo is met with angst, and embarrassment.
Let me make it clear I’ve not been an Ireland supporter. But, with that said, I like to think I am objective. Ireland came here as an underling to Parcells. How much say he had in the early years of his tenure is debatable, but one thing is certain. He needed to be solely responsible for player selection, and implementing a plan to erase the failure of the last few decades.
How it will play out is anyone’s guess. Will Philbin be the coach to make us forget 83 year old Don Shula? Will Ryan Tannehill make Marino’s accomplishments a distant memory? This remains to be seen.
But, what you are beginning to see is a team with a direction. A purpose. A goal. It was pretty apparent last year was truly the beginning of a rebuilding project. Gone were Sparano’s power ball, and 3-4 defense. In came the faster paced West Coast offense, and Kevin Coyle’s 4-3 defense. Slowly, but just as assuredly you are seeing Sparano’s players replaced by more athletic, faster players. Gone are the big bodies maulers, and in are the athletic faster, albeit smaller players.
Change takes time, especially when remolding an entire roster. But, what is great to see is a strong direction for the future. Miami is the second youngest team in the NFL. And, with 11 draft choices next month are primed to get even younger. With youth comes mistakes, but with good coaching youth can be a strong asset as well. How it plays out will be determined soon.
Jeff Ireland stated earlier this week that he has the belief it is best to draft the expensive positions, and those are QB, DE, OT, WR, and CB. We’ll see if he follows through on that mindset next month. He also stated, “I’ve got a lot of ideas and I have a strong idea of what I am going after. Certainly, as I’ve said before I believe in drafting core positions.”
It’s plainly obvious to anyone paying attention that Philbin and Ireland have a superior working relationship then Jeff had with Sparano. Philbin, and his staff are free to give input, and help mold personnel decisions. Something Sparano was not afforded nearly as much.
Together, they are working to implement a plan. That plan was set in motion last season as Dawn Aponte, Jeff Ireland, and Joe Philbin worked together to create a formula that they believe will set this franchise up for years to come. They are now working on a 3 year financial model that will help prevent the team from suffering enormous cap problems. They’re stocking the roster with youth, and working to develop players they believe in.
You can be sure the rebuild is not yet complete, but April’s draft will be vital to early success. It will be fascinating to see how our new free agents fit into the mix. Will Wallace reach a level he failed to hit in Pittsburgh? Will the new linebackers create more impact plays, yet be as effective against the run? Will the draft provide needs, or truly the best players available as Ireland would prefer?
All these questions, and many more remain unanswered, but at least, we finally seem to have direction. And most importantly a front office that appears in sync with reality.
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