Depending on how you’re reading into the quotes coming out of the Dolphins locker-room, its week three and the players are already tossing Tony Sparano under the bus. That’s the take from our friends at FinsNation right now. The common sentiment from the players seems to be that the practices are lacking, a lot of mistakes are made and it carries into the game, all while they’re thumbing and nodding in the direction of Sparano’s office.
Here’s what it ultimately comes down to, respect. Regardless how you’re reading into the aforementioned comments, you can sense as this team loses more it continues to lose respect for its coach. As easy as it is to blame Sparano for that, this discord came from the top.
Miami should have never let Sparano enter the season as this team’s coach. That’s not an indictment on Sparano, he actually entered 2011 a game above .500 for his coaching career. It’s just when you publicly go after another coach to lead your football team, you have completely undermined the incumbent coach. It’s now public knowledge that you made an earnest attempt to replace him. He’s a lame duck.
The reasons you don’t go into the season with a lame duck coach are numerous and oftentimes seemingly very common sensical. That’s why it’s surprising that Miami finds itself in this predicament. In fact, in some ways the fact that this is even an issue raises questions about the competence of the guys running the team, particularly Mr. Ireland and Mr. Ross.
To begin with, a lame duck coach is an easy excuse for everyone the second things turn south. How hard is it to scapegoat a guy who you knew was potentially going to get fired no matter how the season went?
Players respect the top coaches in the league because of their clout in most cases, but also because they know that the coach will be there longer than they will. Bill Belichick is going to be in New England longer than Albert Haynesworth, so it behooves Haynesworth to get in line and give max effort. Any player on the Dolphins with a multi-year deal and a decent cap number is probably going to outlive Tony Sparano in Miami. Do you think that kind of thing breeds respect?
In some cases that can put a coach in a position where he knows if he comes down too hard on players it can alienate him from the team, and they know if they lose he’s gone. Do you see the dilemma that can create. I’m not alleging that’s the case here, but it certainly would lend itself to some lax practices where not all mistakes are fully corrected.
The comments from players early on were that things felt looser now that Bill Parcells is gone. That’s not a good thing. That was the end of the disciplined football in Miami. I have very few kind things to say about Parcells, but one of them would be that when he was around the team made far fewer mistakes. They were much more process oriented, and even though I thought the philosophy behind the play-calling and construction of the team were archaic, the team didn’t make a ton of mental errors.
In 2008, Miami was one of the least penalized teams and turned the ball over an NFL low 14 times. Look at that roster, there’s not a ton of talent there. Miami is arguably a lot more talented on both sides of the ball now than they were in 2008, but they are an undisciplined football team.
At least when Parcells was in Miami the players had no choice but to respect Sparano, even if that was only an extension of their respect for Parcells. Now it’s as if Ireland and Ross have ensured the opposite.
It’s still early in the season. Miami started 0-2 in 2008 and then ended up winning the AFC East. And you’re going to say that’s impossible this year and I would agree, but it seemed that way three years ago too. Make no mistake about it though, if Miami goes up to Cleveland next weekend and loses you’re going to start to see things legitimately get bad in the locker-room.
This offseason Stephen Ross and Jeff Ireland basically ensured that the moment the Dolphins season tanked to a certain level, it would blow up catastrophically. It may not be next week either, Miami may have to sink a little lower. And I don’t want anyone to think I’m rooting for this outcome. But if there is a point this season when the team buys into the idea that they’re sunk, things are going to explode. It may be Cam Cameron all over again.
And as much as I want to blame Tony Sparano for all this. It came from the top.