The Miami Dolphins haven’t been this bad in decades. No, not on the field. On the field the Dolphins really are only a few pieces and very good coach away from being something special. Over the last ten years the Dolphins have been far worse on the field. It’s off the field that has become so disconcerting. Someone on Ross’ staff simply can’t stop from making a mockery out of him. He needs to find out who.
It’s amazing to me how much owner Stephen Ross is loathed across south Florida. He is by far an easy target for the national media. All of this stems from two issues. One, his flirtation with Jim Harbaugh while Tony Sparano was the head coach and two, his desire to put celebrity faces to the franchise. Aside from that, he really hasn’t done anything differently than his predecessor Wayne Huizenga.
Consider Mr. H. for a moment and let’s compare the two. Mr. H. took over the franchise and then shortly after ran Don Shula out off the sideline and put Jimmy Johnson in his place. When Jimmy tried to quit in year two, Wayne threw more money at him and convinced him to stay. A year later, Jimmy is heading out the door and Wayne puts his trust in Dave Wannstedt after the urging of Johnson.
Yes, Wayne got his guy and the Dolphins paid the price on the field. In the early years of Wayne’s ownership he lost Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson, and Dan Marino. In 1993 when Wayne bought the remaining shares of the Dolphins from the Joe Robbie family, he rewarded them by pulling Robbie’s name off the stadium and selling the rights to Pro-Player.
In contrast, Stephen Ross convinced Bill Parcells to stay on after the ownership transfer by guaranteeing him his contract and added a slew of celebrities. Had the Dolphins been able to turn around the team’s fortunes, the celebrity atmosphere would have seemed like a genius move to most.
Following 5 long years of Dave Wannstedt, Wayne finally was able to move on when DW resigned. Sensing a growing frustration within the fan base, Mr. H. plodded to LSU and courted the highest profile college coach in Nick Saban. Saban on several occasions told him no but Wayne wouldn’t take no for an answer and continually dropped more cash on the table finally convincing Saban to give it a shot. Saban of course quit two years later and returned to college ball.
Conversely, Ross’ flirtation with Jim Harbaugh was really no different except that Harbaugh wanted to coach in the NFL. However, Ross’ failure to lure Harbaugh to Miami, in reality, had less to do with Tony Sparano still being on the staff as much as it was Harbaugh not wanting to leave the west coast. For Ross it was simple, he made the biggest blunder of his short ownership by courting one coach while his HC was still on staff. Had he fired Sparano first, regardless of whether Harbaugh came to Miami or not, Ross would not be vilified as he is today.
After Wayne spent a year watching his team lose over and over again under Cam Cameron he realized that in order to correct the sinking ship he needed a big name to do it. After learning that Bill Parcells was close to a deal with the Atlanta Falcons to run their franchises football operations, Wayne swooped in and gave him an offer that he couldn’t refuse. One year in to the Parcells era, Wayne sold off the team to avoid a higher tax under President Obama’s election.
Under Wayne Huizenga the Dolphins never won a Super Bowl and never appeared in one. Year in and year out the team slid further and further from relevance until they were no longer the top team in the AFC East. Or the second. Despite the hyped chases of Wayne H., the loss of Don Shula, the re-naming of Joe Robbie Stadium, Dave Wannsted, Dan Marino’s ushering out, Dan Marino being hired as an executive and then abruptly quitting, Jimmy Johnson, Cam Cameron, Jimmy Buffet, the new fight song, Bill Parcells, and Nick Saban, Wayne Huizenga remains a beloved owner of the Miami Dolphins. Yet at no turn did he ever fully succeed with the Miami Dolphins.
Stephen Ross has flirted with Jim Harbaugh, retained Bill Parcells to make all the football decisions, has trusted Jeff Ireland, hired Joe Philbin, got spurned by Jeff Fisher, and now Peyton Manning. Yet he is loathed more than any player likely ever has been. Perhaps it’s his facial expressions that lead people to believe he is just some goofy owner who thinks being rich will get him anything. Maybe it is comments supporting his starting QB, Chad Henne as a possible future Hall of Famer? Comments like we are going to win it, and so on and so on and so on. More likely it’s a little bit of all of it.
One of Stephen Ross’ biggest issues may not be with himself but instead with the retention of Jeff Ireland who has done nothing to win over fans. Ireland has turned the team into a locked down prison in terms of information, yet someone on the inside keeps alerting the media to it’s follies. For example the fact that Ireland and Ross had to beg Marino to set up a meeting with Peyton Manning. Ireland himself hasn’t exactly been squeaky clean either. Asking a college draftee if his mother was a prostitute will get you no fans. It will however get you a banner flying over the stadium asking for your removal.
Combined, the two have become a joke to the rest of the NFL and it’s fan base. Most of it is unfounded but the duo have done little where it counts to sway the opinion. On the field. Winning will take care of any perception that is out there and change bad impressions to good. But the Dolphins are not winning. In fact, they are losing, even in the off-season. That is what Ross and Ireland need to change.
So while the media continues to laugh and bash the dynamic duo, someone on the inside keeps telling the media every detail of what they manage to screw up or what they manage to simply not get. In the meantime, the one thing they need to do is fill the stadium with fans and so far they are not giving fans any reason to believe that they share the common drive for success that fans demand. Chasing after Manning is a step but somewhere in the process you need to maintain a little dignity and say, “you don’t want to be here, fine,” then move on.
Right now, there is little reason to believe that the Miami Dolphins are going to be better than they were last year outside of the fact that they will have a full off-season to learn the Joe Philbin offense and the Kevin Coyle defense but fans are already exiting the stadium and they are not turning around. The Dolphins need a splash or this sinking ship will be spread off the coast of south Florida like the Titanic.
Finally, one issue that simply doesn’t work in their favor is the silence. It’s understandable to keep a lock and key in place so as not to telegraph your intentions for the draft or free agency but where it will be leaked, again from the inside, that Ross is apparently “not going to be outbid”. While those statements publicly never were uttered from Ross’ mouth, someone internally believes they were. Repeated as a source and out for all the world to see. Ross comes across looking ignorant. Wayne H. on the other hand, never had the team locked down quite that much. While he never said, “I’m going to land so and so” he simply went out and did it. Each decision was met with a failed end result but again, he is heralded for his bravado in trying and landing.
The same surely is not the same for Ross.