When the Miami Dolphins were on their seven game losing streak fans were not just calling for the head of head coach Tony Sparano. They wanted Jeff Ireland out of office as well. When speculation turns to the end of this season it’s almost common to hear “complete front office change” mentioned at least once. While the possibility of Ireland out of a job come this off-season is still on the table of discussion, it’s getting harder and harder to justify it.
No longer is the name “Ireland” a foregone conclusion to be erased from the Miami Dolphins staff directory. It now comes down to who owner Stephen Ross picks to be the Dolphins next head coach. The reality is only one or two people may seek full control and even then, it’s not out of the question that Ireland stays on board to work with them.
The truth is Stephen Ross has about five guys that he implicitly trusts and Jeff Ireland appears to be one of those people. Ross believes in Ireland and he likes the man. It goes further than that however. In order to understand the make-up of Ross’ impression of Ireland you need to look at Ireland’s history. And it starts with a familiar name. Carl Peterson.
Peterson is one of Steve Ross’ closest confidants. The two owned a USFL team together. Peterson later gave Jeff Ireland his first break in the NFL and to this day supports Ireland. Former employer Jerry Jones has also spoken very highly of the Dolphins General Manager as well. It’s an opinion not lost on Ross. But the roots of this tree also extend to a possible head coaching candidate.
At the top of the head coaching list is former Pittsburgh Steeler coach Bill Cowher. Rumored to be a top choice of Ross, Cowher has a history with, you guessed it, Carl Peterson. Peterson gave Marty Schottenheimer his first head coaching gig in the NFL and Schottenheimer in turn gave Cowher his first coordinator job. In fact, Cowher credits Schottenheimer for his success in the NFL. While it’s too early to speculate whether or not Cowher would work with Ireland, it can’t be summarily tossed aside that he wouldn’t.
At the core of any discussion has to be production first and foremost and not simply a matter of who knows who. In the case of Ireland, the sword is sharp on both sides.
It’s too difficult to surmise who was responsible for who over three of the last four drafts that Ireland has been involved with. Bill Parcells was the heavy hand in the first two seasons and his stepping down in season three really was nothing more than a way he could escape. But who did Jeff Ireland solely have a hand in? We know that Pat White and Pat Turner were both Bill Parcells’ guys and we also know that there was a rumored debate over Jake Long or Matt Ryan at number one in year one.
Instead of looking over the first two seasons and dissecting the drafts and guessing who wanted who and who didn’t, it’s easier to look at the last two drafts and understand that Jeff Ireland had heavy influence in the 2010 draft and sole accountability in the 2011 draft. To start, look at the 2010 draft that features starting DT Jared Odrick, LB Koa Misi, CB Nolan Carroll, and S Reshad Jones. LB Austin Spitler is also still a member of the team and serves primarily on special teams.
So far, Jared Odrick looks like a very beneficial member of the Dolphins defense and Koa Misi has lost a lot of reps to the return of Jason Taylor. While many fans think that Nolan Carroll should be gone, Reshad Jones is the starter in the secondary. All in all, his first draft wasn’t a bad one.
This past April, Ireland hit what looks like home runs with center Mike Pouncey and running back Daniel Thomas as well as FB/TE Charles Clay. The book is still out on WR Clyde Gates but it often takes a year or two for WR’s to acclimate to the NFL. Jimmy Wilson who was taken late in the draft is also seeing considerable playing time.
The drafts by Jeff Ireland have yielded starters and players who have the potential to be playmakers. Ireland is proving to be a good judge of collegiate talent. It’s his mark in the free agent market that has media and fans questioning his ability. Ireland was the trigger man in the Brandon Marshall trade and some question the value of the trade when compared to the salary that Marshall was given. The same argument has been made about Ireland’s decision to forgo paying players like Ahmad Bradshaw or DeAngelo Williams and instead opting for Reggie Bush.
Of course there is also the question of former Dallas Cowboys and how involved HC Tony Sparano has been involved in getting players he is familiar with. It’s not a simple equation or a question with a simple answer. When I spoke with Sparano earlier this year, I asked him how the process of finding players worked between he and Jeff Ireland. Sparano explained that if he had a need for a position, he would go to Ireland and the two would look at who was available or who may be available. Then they would look at the possible costs and how that player would fit into the teams system. Ireland would rule out some players and Sparano would rule out others until they came to a list that they both could work with. The team through Ireland would reach out to the agents and they would move forward.
Ireland’s seat is nowhere near as hot as Tony Sparano’s and if he is replaced it would be a little surprising. Most personnel men are not released from their jobs until the NFL draft as they do most of the work on college players throughout the season and thus would take that research with them. Although as we have seen first hand, that is not always the case. Ross will make his first decision in the days following the NY Jets finale and then will likely spend another week or two interviewing replacements. Jeff Ireland will likely be a part of that process. It will be then that Ross will make a decision on Ireland’s future with the team.
Chances are, Ireland will be around a while longer.