It would be nice to say it’s impossible to pinpoint the reasons why the Miami Dolphins are still swimming in the murky waters of obscurity. Unfortunately it is not. Everyone knows why this team has floundered for so many years and can’t make the impact statement fans keep hoping for. It’s a myriad of reasons from bad cap management to bad personnel decisions to bad coaching. The one continuing problem however is strength. The Miami Dolphins have none.
The strength of a football team doesn’t always lie on the field. The Denver Broncos while defeated physically in the Super Bowl made it to the big game by being far more finesse. Attacking offensively but still finesse and not smash mouth football. The teams strength was clearly visible in their leadership both on the team and in the front office. Drifting South to Miami we see a serious lack of leadership both on the field and in the office.
Football starts with the coach. We like to point our fingers at the GM as being the responsible party. We like to criticize the draft pick for failing to achieve his draft status but ultimately the head coach must teach. A good head coach puts the strengths of his team on display and when those strengths change he adjusts. Ron Rivera won NFL Coach of the Year but I would be more inclined to give it to Bill Belichick in New England.
Belichick’s Patriots entered the season with a slamming controversy with the Aaron Hernandez murder charges. He didn’t wait to allow it to become a distraction. He released him immediately and then instructed his players to not discuss their opinions on it. Belichick entered the season with no number one WR, lost Wes Welker to free agency and two starters on their defensive line. He adapted. The Patriots became a power running team and when the WR’s were at a better level and healthy, they threw it again. The Patriots came within one game of the Super Bowl.
In Miami Joe Philbin is a third year head coach. He doesn’t know everything yet. Regardless he has allowed a controversial bullying scandal to rock his team. Granted he held the team together well enough to push late towards a playoff spot but ultimately, his not knowing of the internal issues of his team reflects on his ability or knowledge of how to lead his team. For Philbin, he is far too trusting of his assistants and far too reliant on them to keep him abreast of what happens in the locker room. He failed in this manner.
The head coach isn’t alone however and the lack of strength above him gives him no clear direction. There is no example for him to follow. Jeff Ireland and Dawn Aponte’s failures to work together and imposing infighting for power had as much affect on the team as the Martin case. The fact that Philbin and Ireland couldn’t see eye to eye became yet another issue for the coach as he took the side of Aponte further dividing the team in half.
The failure of the entire management staff to work together ultimately failed the team. Leadership however doesn’t start or begin with the GM or the CEO. It starts with the owner.
For Miami, decisions are being made to further the team by someone who is relying on others for their knowledge of the game. Stephen Ross isn’t a football guy and that makes him a weak owner. His inability to close on candidates on all levels is not summarily coincidence. Instead, Ross’ failures could be directly related to those he actually is listening to. The ones he put in a position of having power.
There is no place in the NFL interview process for a cap specialist to be directly involved in the hiring of a new GM. It makes no sense but instead becomes self serving. There is a time for those two in the process but not the entire process. Stephen Ross has fumbled his way through the ownership. At one time it was forgiven as a new owner feeling his way through but now it’s time to see real strength from the teams owner.
The decision to hire Dennis Hickey could turn out to be a very good move for the team but skepticism is still rampant in the fan base and in the media. The real question is not whether Hickey can make peace between the parties. It’s not about selecting the right players. It’s about developing a strong leadership role that dictates to others the way the team and it’s business should be run. Hickey must become the face of the teams management structure and the controlling power player.
The Miami Dolphins face a hard road in 2014 as they face a tough schedule that includes five playoff teams including Denver and Kansas City. The Dolphins have a few months to build that leadership. Hickey must show Dawn Aponte and Joe Philbin that while he works with them, it’s ultimately his responsibility to build this franchise and somewhere along the line, Stephen Ross must empower his franchise to Hickey and lay that foundation clearly to the rest of the organization.
The Dolphins can not afford to simply let things lie as they are or sides will begin to form once again when things begin to fall apart and then fingers will get pointed. When Denver lost, no one pointed fingers. When New England lost no one pointed a finger. Teams who have poor foundations of strength point fingers and that is exactly what happened at the end of the 2013 season. If it’s not fixed it will happen again. This will the real test for the Dolphins new GM.
It’s what the Dolphins lack first and foremost. Strength.