Dec 30, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin watches from the sideline as they take on the New England Patriots during the second half at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots defeated the Miami Dolphins 28-0. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The Miami Dolphins are sitting in their office. The Miami Dolphins players are roaming the countryside…figuratively speaking of course. The gist of it is this. The Miami Dolphins do not have any football to play for a few months. One reason why Joe Philbin told Dolphins Digest editor Andy Cohen that Ryan Tannehill should take a break.
While Tannehill and the other players may very well take a needed break from the rigorous NFL season, the Dolphins management team will not be vacationing anytime soon. Holed up in their offices, traversing the states, the Miami Dolphins are preparing themselves for a heavy off-season workload.
Quick history will show that in years past, the Dolphins were on a coaching search. Head coach, assistant coach, no matter. A coaching search is time consuming and it takes away hours from scouting and planning. It takes away extra opportunities for a look here or there. Case in point, last year, Joe Philbin didn’t attend the Senior Bowl so he could get things acclimated within his family. This year? No changes and more of those opportunities.
How the Dolphins (Joe Philbin, his coaching staff, and Jeff Ireland) will approach this off-season is as much of a mystery as any other. There are local news guys who will tell you they have a source that says this or a source that says that but ultimately, they know as much as you do right now and that is absolutely nothing. Will the team take a Green Bay style approach and browse through free agency and continue the building process through the draft? Or will they buck that style for a year and spend some cash on players who can impact the team immediately?
That is the biggest question heading into this off-season. It will either be exciting or a big letdown. Not really sure that there is anything left in between. Most of the talk now centers on the teams on soon-to-be free agents. Names like Hartline, Long, Bush, and Smith. Will the team sign ’em or let ’em walk? It’s been talked about, discussed, debated, but until the Super Bowl concludes and that two week window of exclusive negotiation opens up, we won’t know who’s leaving let alone who may be coming.
Another question revolves around the Jeff Ireland/Joe Philbin relationship. It’s safe to say that the communication between coach and GM was rather strained when the couple was Sparano and Ireland. The relationship during that period was one that worked like this according to Tony Sparano. “If I have a need I tell Jeff. He looks over the free agents and the players who may be available in trade. He then looks at the projected cost and how that fits into the teams’ financial state. He gets a few names and then comes back and tells me who we are working out. Then we make a decision.” Paraphrased of course as this is what was told directly to me during a Web Weekend event interview.
I asked the same question of Joe Philbin and the process was more about communication between the two. As evidenced on HBO’s Hard Knocks, “what do you think?” is not summarily a question of courtesy, but a genuine process between coach and GM. There is little doubt that Jeff Ireland knows his future rides on the success or failures of his head coach. It’s not out of the question that reverse is also true.
When asked earlier today by Andy Cohen, Philbin said, “Jeff is very open. There is a big collaboration. You have to have that to be successful. I’m very much looking forward to working with Jeff during this process.” A remark that echoes the same Joe Philbin comment made before the Titans game on November 11th.
So where does Joe Philbin begin? When I had the opportunity to ask him a question back in November I asked him what the biggest difference was between being an OC and a HC and he straight out said the “little things”. He pointed to the buffet behind us and said, “I have to pick out the food, the decorum, and make sure everyone is getting there. The physicals, doctors appointments, all that stuff”. Today, to Cohen he replied to a similar question about his “Welcome to the NFL moment”. “Maybe the biggest surprise for me was having to pick out the color of the carpet when we renovated the training facility. I guess you could say that was a welcome to the NFL moment.
When pressed about the issue of the off-season and addition of firepower on offense, Philbin didn’t use the typical coaches jargon that normally is a circle of words. Instead, he made it clear. More points are needed to win ball games.
"In simplistic terms we know we have to score more points so you have to get into scoring position. It’s harder to have 14-play drives. While they are great and you love to have them, there are a myriad of things that can go wrong in a 14-play drive. The easiest way to get into scoring position is to get takeaways on defense or big plays on offense. We have to create more big plays, whether it is by the run or the pass. We’re heading into the offseason knowing that."
The Dolphins scouts have been working for this moment all season. While the coaches and players work the NFL season, the scouts are working the college season. The off-season is there time to shine. Their time to see the fruits of their labor ripen. Jeff Ireland told a group of WebMasters back in November that normally, “this time of year” in reference to November, he is traveling around the country scouting players for the NFL Draft. Clearly the process of the off-season begins long before the end of seasons final game.
How the Miami Dolphins, specifically Joe Philbin and Jeff Ireland, work their off-season time is entirely up to them and entirely up the rest of us to guess and debate about. The reality is that what they do, together, as their own team, will have a lasting affect on this team for years to come. The make-up of the 2013 Miami Dolphins has yet to be written but the first pages have already been inked.