I don’t envy the position that Stephen Ross will find himself in at the conclusion of this season. He will terminate his head coach and possibly his general manager and replace them with a new direction. Ross is rumored to want a name. Someone who will sell tickets right off the bat. Someone who comes with a pedigree of winning and discipline and solid player development skills if not motivational skills as well.
And his list of candidates is thin to say the least.
Names like Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, and Urban Meyer represent the top of that list and it’s as if Ross has already pegged one of them, at least in the eyes of the media and fanbase, to be the successor to Tony Sparano and the Bill Parcells failure in Miami. And with each name comes the old cliche’ “Been there…done that”.
It’s easy to sit back and say get Gruden. Get Cowher. Get Meyer. We don’t see what they see and we don’t pay the salary and compensation that Ross will. But there is advice to be shared and Ross would be wise to conduct his job search in a timely methodical fashion. Leaving no “acorns” un-turned.
The first step in this process is simply the easiest. Find out who really wants to coach and who has a drive to win. Of the three, I would point to Gruden and Meyer before considering Cowher. Forget the “I don’t plan to coach next year rhetoric” emanating from the CBS studios and Bill Cowhers’ “Shulaesque” jawbone. If the money is right, he will come off the seat and stand on the sideline. Forget about the Urban Meyer statements that he doesn’ know if he wants to coach in the NFL. If the situation is right, he will. And finally, forget the Jon Gruden contract with ESPN, it’s leverage. If there was no out clause in it we would have already been told…repeatedly. The fact is all three coaches and others are available for the right price and the right situations. Ross needs to make sure it’s the right fit for his Miami Dolphins first and foremost and what’s right for them shouldn’t even be a consideration.
Bill Cowher gets all the accolades. He is the top name on any coaching list but he has no motivation to return. He has a cushioned stress free job with CBS and doesn’t need the money nor does he have the Bill Parcellian ego to wring a few more years into his resume. He has been there, he has won it, and he won’t turn around the Dolphins quick enough to make a monumental splash into the post-season. He brings an attitude that would definitely be seen on the field. His charisma is strong and his players worked hard to win for him. He is a coach that is able to get the most of the least and in some ways is a descendant of the old style coaching that bore names like Shula, Landry, and Knoll. But is his passion for a long tenure really there?
Cowher may have the name but he also will likely only coach another five years. Is that enough to turn around a team? In reality, it’s not even long enough to get a good read on his assistants who will replace him. Jimmy Johnson anyone? While I believe, personally, that Cowher is a far better coach than Johnson was, the truth is, if things don’t go well from the start what is his motivation to continue? Put in those long hours? Be away from watching his grown up adult kids? Money? It’s not enough and sooner or later, Cowher will realize that money doesn’t buy his happiness and the stress free life he has had for the last five years will be gone.
Mr. Ross, ask yourself this question. If Bill Cowher wanted to return to coaching, then why hasn’t he returned to coaching? The offers have been there. And then you should pass on Bill Cowher.
Jon Gruden may still have the passion. Why? For the simply reason that his Super Bowl victory with Tampa Bay is still considered by some to be a product of Tony Dungy and not Jon Gruden. His ability to turn underachievers into Super Bowl winners is not lost in Miami. The Dolphins have talent, but they don’t have leadership or direction. Gruden, a no-nonsense coach could channel that. Some players like him and other do not but it’s not a popularity contest and Gruden can mold a young QB as well as anyone, if not better.
Gruden’s name was tossed around last year and rumors flew that his asking price was in the 7 million a year range. There was no proof but there didn’t need to be. Ross flirted and made himself look like a fool in the off-season. He is trying to get past that image and Gruden may be a guy who can step in with no reservations about Ross. He did after all work for Al Davis. The question again becomes quite simple. What are his long term aspirations? Will Gruden stick it out to see things through or will he bail? Unlike Cowher, Gruden doesn’t have a Hall of Fame resume to protect but he may want to build one and truth be told, if he turned around the Dolphins and made them Super Bowl competitors, he could have a lock on a future nomination. But that’s a long way off and the question as to whether he has the chops to build this team to that level remains.
Forget about the “no coach has won a Super Bowl with one team and then won it with another” stuff. Gruden may have won with Tampa but does he receive all the credit for that? Maybe not enough for his taste.
So Mr. Ross, take a look at Jon Gruden and find out what his motivation would be to come back to the NFL out of the ESPN booth and then decide if this is a guy that can change this franchise from a cellar team to a stellar one.
Urban Meyer has the name recognition. So did Nick Saban. Wayne Huizenga simply wouldn’t take no for an answer and money did his negotiating. Ross needs to be very careful that he simply doesn’t throw coin around every time someone says no. Treat them like a woman, no means no, and move on. Leave your offer on the table and walk away, if she wants you, she will come to your room. I know, it’s a bad analogy but it fits.
Meyer is one of those that you can’t read. Does he have the motivation to jump to the NFL and start a new resume or will he use Ross to secure himself a new college gig where having control is the ultimate reimbursement? The bigger issue with Meyer isn’t his ability to coach at any level, it’s his ability to stick it out for his next go around. Meyer left Florida after the 2009 season in what was first a resignation then a leave absence for health reasons. Again following his return last year, Meyer resigned for the same reasons. Is this the guy that will coach the Dolphins into the future for the next 10 years? Not likely and truth be told that’s what they need.
So if I am Mr. Ross I would lean on asking a few questions like “do you want to coach in the NFL” and then take a long look into his health, college is stressful but the NFL is a totally different gator. I would pass here if I was Ross. Meyer could be a good coach for the team but there are too many questions regarding him that may put Ross in a position to be looking for a new HC in a short few years.
The list doesn’t simply dry up after those three. Brian Billick, Marty Schottenheimer, and Jeff Fisher, are all unemployed from coaching. While Billick has won his championship, Schotty and Fisher have not. Schottenheimer is old but lets remember he hasn’t lost his desire to coach as he wound up in the defunct UFL this past cancelled season. Fisher was the longest tenured coach of any in the NFL prior to his release after last season, but despite his long lineage he only made it to the Super Bowl once and lost. The fire is still there and the drive is as well, but does he really have time on his side for another ten year coaching stint?
Where Ross will likely need to turn is the highly respected up and coming assistant coaches around the NFL. There is a lot of talent out there and many are long overdue for their shot. But with an assistant comes patience and Dolphins fans are not likely to give any more of their time to waiting for this team to turn around. A hot assistant won’t get fans back in the seats any faster than Andrew Luck playing for Cam Cameron will. The reality is this process can’t be done in a week and it can’t be done in two weeks. Stephen Ross must be methodical in his approach and look at the why’s? as much as the $ signs. Finding his next head coach will be finding the face of the franchise. It will take the team into yet another direction. Mold it on the field and off it. Set a new precedent and a new attitude. It will also define a much maligned owner for the first time.
Cowher? Gruden? Meyer? Maybe. Billick? Schottenheimer? Fisher? Who knows. A nameless face with a solid resume? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Fans are starting to jump on the “let’s talk about the draft” train but in reality, that kind of talk won’t matter until we know that kind of man that will be calling the shots. Hell it could still be Jeff Ireland. The point is that Ross needs to start making his list and checking it twice and three times and four times and so on. Then he needs to terminate his relationship with Tony Sparano and move forward with a plan in place.
Ross treated last years Jim Harbaugh flirtation as if he were replacing a business executive. Get the bird and hand before you get the other out of the bush. In the NFL, you better have nothing in that bush when you go out to get the bird to fill it. He knows that now. What he does next will define his name and his franchise. It will also serve to motivate the fans to return.