As I write this word in Miami is that former Patriot Jabbar Gaffney is working out for the Dolphins. I’m sure his signing, if he signs will be the exclamation point on HBO’s Hard Knocks Tuesday…unless of course they make some big time trade. One thing is for certain, the Dolphins as many have explained before have an identity crisis. What we need to find out is if this team goes into the season losing, will it bind them together to fight or will it sever the locker room?
Joe Philbin is a first year head coach and how he treats his players in year one, sets a tone for the rest of his time here. If he earns their respect, the team will fight for him. If he doesn’t, when the losing starts they willl care less about anything but themselves.
Embarrassment is a big reason many players bond together and fight harder when the lack of opportunity to win a championship is so far out of reach. Sure there may be sugar plums dancing in their heads about a February trip to the Super Bowl but given their performance on the field thus far, I would have to believe that the embarrassment factor will play a larger role than aspirations of a Super Sunday not viewed at home.
For the Dolphins, unfortunately, there have been two examples to go off of in the last 5 years. In 2007 Cam Cameron came in with a skip and a smile on his face. His quiet calm demeanor did nothing to let the fans know he was in charge. Early in that season, the Dolphins were losing games by field goals, the players fought to win for their new HC but as the losses piled up, the coaching mistakes continued, the voices of the team began to sound off. Cameron lost the locker room far before the years end. He never did himself any favors to win over the fans either. Often coming across aloof. Cameron was a coach who, looking back, seemed more like an interim HC with too much say in things.
By the time the end of the year rolled around and the Dolphins were done celebrating their lone win, Cam Cameron couldn’t keep his job even if Bill Parcells wasn’t brought in. The team didn’t respect him. Once that was gone, it was over. Players don’t want to be babied and that was how Cameron came across far too often.
The other example is last year when the “lame duck” head coach Tony Sparano had to salvage something out of nothing. Two consecutive seasons of seven wins, a lockout, leaders showing up to a shortened training camp out of shape, a new offensive coordinator, and new faces. Yet no new franchise QB. Sparano was doomed from the start. The simplest of truth is given the surroundings leading up to last season and the fact that Sparano never truly matured as a head coach meant a bad season.
Of course the entry into the season was one of hope and drive. Reggie Bush was added and most felt that Chad Henne would easily embrace the Brian Daboll offensive system. Instead we lost Henne in week 3 and the team was never on the right page. Leaders on defense were out of shape and couldn’t cover, hamstring injuries forced starters out of the lineup for weeks because they didn’t work out on their own during the off-season, and of course their head coach was on such a hot seat that he could lose his job anytime after week 3.
Sparano however, unlike Cameron, didn’t lose his players after an 0-8 start. In fact, it was quite the opposite. His team rallied. Sparano was not a great teacher or mentor to his players but he never belittled them in front of the camera, he never threw them under the bus, and he took the blame himself for their failures. The players knew that their own mistakes would be kept in house. As the losses mounted and it became clearer and clearer that Sparano was gone, the team rallied.
Finishing with 6 wins out of 9 games, the Dolphins players bound together to become a team. If for no other reason than they respected the man who had been shown the door and the interim head coach Todd Bowles.
This year, it’s very possible that Joe Philbin could face the same type of problems. How he approaches this season and the players will be the difference of being viewed as a joke like Cameron or a potential long term leader. Let’s face it players talk. If Joe Philbin’s approach to the players is positive, the players will say, “hey, this is a good dude to play for. We got something brewing down here”. Or they will just laugh and say “tell me how I can get out of here”.
In Joe Philbin’s entire coaching career he has been respected by his players on every level but this is the first as an HC. If the season does indeed fall apart as so many expect, Philbin’s in house actions will either unite this team together or allow it to dissolve into nothing.