For the last five years on this site I have looked at why the Miami Dolphins are in the mess they are in. This season it’s obvious that fixing this team is the task of Jeff Ireland. We have found reason to blame Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, Nick Saban, and Cam Cameron. We have blamed the fans, the players, the owners, and everyone in between.
My wife like yelling to my son and I that there doesn’t always have to be blame. That may go over well enough to decide who was responsible for spilling the red kool-aid on the rug, me for kicking it over or my son for leaving it on the floor but that doesn’t work for determining why the Dolphins are in the situation they are in. The reality is someone is to blame. Someone is responsible.
The question is who?
It’s safe to say that troubles that Miami has today are no longer a permanent reflection of the domino’s that spilled over from Dave Wannstedt. To rehash history, Wannstedt fails to get a QB, fails to draft anyone worthy of making a lasting impact on team, can’t find a free agent to save his life, and basically left the team in a salary cap hell. The Wannstedt domino fell long ago.
Nick Saban faired little better. His two drafts netted one Pro-Bowl runningback thanks to a Wild Cat offense and a non-game changing LB who made more plays with his mouth than with his athleticism. It could of course be argued that Saban at least got the team somewhat out of salary cap purgatory when he gutted the roster. That of course didn’t leave the one-year wonder Cam Cameron with anything to work with.
Cameron of course did himself no favors when he failed to add anyone to the roster through the draft. Although it could be argued that Brandon Fields and Paul Solia are better than anyone Nick Saban or Dave Wannstedt left. For the 1-15 season that Cameron made fans endure, at least his exit from the south Florida sun wasn’t a financial burden on the team salary structure.
It’s been eight seasons since Wannstedt’s domino fell, six since Saban, and five since Cameron left Miami with the whole Ted Ginn family. Things have moved on. While the product on the field is still not better record wise than the regimes before this one, there is a domino that still wrecks havoc on this team. Yes, it’s Bill Parcells.
It’s not popular to write anything or say anything positive about Jeff Ireland. You get ridiculed by the readers, poked fun at by other fan sites, and even your friends will laugh at you behind your back. Why? Because it’s not popular to support the GM of a franchise that hasn’t come close to turning the corner for also-rans in five years.
Fans of any sports team want to win and the only measure of success comes from the win/loss column…unless of course you’re Dave Wannstedt who feels having a winning record and not making the playoffs is still a success. For the Dolphins, the down-trodden AFC East team who the media love to chide, the fall from perfection and perennial AFC East domination has taken years to develop. Jeff Ireland has maybe two years left to fix it.
As I alluded to earlier, this mess, in my opinion, is currently the responsibility of Ireland to fix, but Bill Parcells to shoulder. For the first time in Miami Dolphins history, the team has a GM standing front and center. For all intent and purpose, it’s his second year in that position. The first three seasons Ireland lived under the thumb and “final say” of the man who hired him. The “Czar” of all things football in Miami. Parcells controlled free agency. Parcells controlled the draft.
I know the argument. Ireland was still the GM. That’s true but unless that GM has absolute control over personnel, how is he responsible for the outcome of the product on the field? Consider that Ireland was not involved in the head coaching search that brought in Tony Sparano. He was not involved in the hiring of Sparano’s assistant coaches. (Parcells hired Sparano’s upper staff including Dan Henning). Ireland seemed to be merrily along for the ride.
Prior to the domino’s falling, Don Shula, Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, and Nick Saban, all held total and absolute control over team personnel and drafts. In 2004, Rick Speilman took over that power from DW. Of course that was the year that Wannstedt quit. This is important because no one criticized the teams “GM” during those years. They criticized the coaches and rightfully so as they held both titles to some degree. The one year Miami had an outright GM front and center was Randy Mueller but his one season was so marred by the horrific coaching of Cam Cameron that no one could come close to seeing the poor job Mueller had done in the office.
After the change over to Bill Parcells, it was still Parcells who sat front and center at the table of responsibility. No one blamed Jeff Ireland for the Pat White pick. Or the Patrick Turner pick. Chad Henne, Phillip Merling, John Nalbone, or anyone else. Nor did they throw the accolades in his direction for Jake Long, Vontae’ Davis, or Sean Smith. In other words, Ireland didn’t become the evil king until after Bill Parcells left. Yet popular opinion about Ireland stems from the personnel moves originally attributed to Bill Parcells.
Most everyone in the land of Miami Dolphins fandom will say that the Bill Parcells test was a failure. Logically, most of those same fans will blame Jeff Ireland simply because he is the last man standing of that regime. Has he made mistakes? Of course. Asking Dez Bryant if his mom, impregnated by a known pimp, was a prostitute didn’t win him any popularity points. Nor did obeying the request of his boss and team owner Stephen Ross to fly to California to meet with another coaching prospect while the one he was married to sat at home to watch the kids.
The reality is very simple. We all blamed the failures of the team on Bill Parcells while he was here. He failed to address the QB situation, failed to overhaul a team that desperately needed an extreme identity make-over, and frankly the team was just as chaotic and lost when he left as when he arrived. Last year, Jeff Ireland began the task of molding this team into an actual team. He no longer had Bill Parcells looking over his shoulder or making his decisions for him. He no longer had to go to the “Tuna” to get a player he wanted. It was and still is now, his show.
In his first off-season alone, Ireland had to deal with the Harbaugh ramifications as well as an NFL lockout that forced personnel guys to change their tactics. They were not afforded a free agency period prior to the draft allowing them to use the draft to supplement what they didn’t get in FA. Ireland drafted players who could play in key positions with short off-season workouts. Free agency was met with a scramble of getting players in a shortened window on the eve of training camps. To add to the chaos, those newly added free agents couldn’t join their new teams in any capacity for almost two weeks after camps opened.
This past off-season, the one we are currently in, is the first normal off-season for Jeff Ireland since having total control handed over to him. Many will point out his failure to land Peyton Manning or even getting a legit interview. They will point out that Ireland failed to land even one impact player to his roster and still others will point to Ireland as the reason Jeff Fisher chose the Rams over Miami. Yet if you really look at what Ireland did in free agency this year, it meshes with a philosophical change that Miami is not accustomed to.
The Joe Philbin era began and the Miami Dolphins started behaving more like the front office of the Green Bay Packers. Looking to the draft to find the meat of the team. To find it’s future. Instead of overspending in free agency, the Dolphins opted to build on what they have, and let’s face it, the Dolphins are not a bad football team, they simply haven’t been put in a position to succeed.
The Dolphins have one of the top ranked defenses in the NFL, this despite a changeover to a new scheme. They have implemented or implementing a new wider offensive scheme that takes the need for a “number 1″ diva receiver (Brandon Marshall) and fills that hole with players who form a cohesive team unit. In other words, you never hear Greg Jennings complaining about his reception count.
The Dolphins are in an interesting situation and Jeff Ireland is finding himself in new territory as well. He has a coach that he had a major hand in hiring. He is out of the shadows of Bill Parcells but still will openly shoulder his prior bosses mistakes. His name is flown behind the tail of a plane demanding his ouster all the while a handful of fans picket across the street from his office. He doesn’t cave to the pressure and waste money on names in free agency or make trades that won’t help the team win, instead, he stays his course and drafts what may be the best Dolphins draft class in a decade.
The Miami Dolphins will not win any championships this year. They likely won’t make the playoffs. First year HC Joe Philbin will rely on his OC Mike Sherman for advice and Jeff Ireland will hang his future on what the two can do on the field. In a league where most GM’s will draft and sign free agents to win now and save their jobs, Jeff Ireland presses forward with building a football team to win long term despite the fact his job could very well be on the line. Drafting Ryan Tannehill this year is not a win now draft pick, it’s a system support pick for his coaching staff. It’s a long term solution for a team needing a short term fix. Jeff Ireland believes he has been successful at both with Tannehill and the addition of David Garrard. He has his now in Matt Moore, his bridge in David Garrard, and his future in Ryan Tannehill.
What he doesn’t have yet is the support of the fan base. That to may very well change as well. You may not like Jeff Ireland, you may not support Jeff Ireland, but it’s an injustice to blame the last four seasons on a man who controlled exactly one of them entirely. Jeff Ireland may still yet be the next domino of responsibility for this teams downfall and to some degree he should shoulder some of the blame for it’s current state. Not all of it.
I know longer blame Dave Wannstedt, Nick Saban, or Cam Cameron, but this team clearly bore the Bill Parcells blueprint until this past off-season when Ireland jettisoned several key members of the Bill Parcells drafts. Notably Chad Henne, Phillip Merling, and Kendal Langford. There is no doubt moving forward that this is no longer Bill Parcells’ team. No longer anyone’s responsibility outside of Jeff Ireland. It’s his team, his coaches, and his decisions.
The Dolphins are not in a great position but they are far better on the field than they were when Bill Parcells took over the team and canned Cameron and Mueller. I would also argue that this team today, is better than the team that Bill Parcells left two seasons ago when he quit on the team a week before opening day. To me, that’s because of Jeff Ireland, not in spite of.