When the Miami Dolphins opted to name Dan Campbell the teams interim head coach, it wasn’t widely believed that he was the right person to turn the team around. Facts are facts and the one big fact is that Campbell, one of nine NFL coaches who are former players, got his first coaching gig at any level in 2011 as an intern. He has served only as the teams tight-end coach the last three seasons. Now he is an NFL head coach.
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Campbell is an incredible motivator and the players are buying into what he is selling. On Friday afternoon, a group of “web-heads” spoke with Rishard Matthews and punter Matt Darr. Both players beamed when asked about what Campbell is bringing to the football team. Matthews said it best and perhaps most simply when he said, “we are having fun. Coach Campbell is making it fun”.
No one was ready to throw Joe Philbin under the bus. Why? The simplest answer is respect. Joe Philbin earned a lot of respect around the Dolphins organization but he couldn’t motivate the players to play the way he needed them to. At times, as we learned over the weekend, it was Dan Campbell who was brought down to the front of the team meeting room to address the players. The players want to play for Campbell, they want to win for him.
During Sunday’s game there were chants of “Camp-bell” resonating from the stands and it was so loud that the players and the coaches on the sideline could hear it. It was so energetic that at one point, Branden Albert turned towards the stands and lifted his arms, begging for the fans to chant it louder. To say the players want Campbell to be the permanent head coach is an understatement. They love him and they want to bleed along side him. Or as the case is, cause the other team to bleed.
The Dan Campbell era is not only having an effect on the players. The energy at the Dolphins facility is growing as well. Mike Tannenbaum beamed when I asked him about his coaching search. “Mike, you now have 12 games to evaluate coaches internally and externally. What is the process you are going through? Is there a short list? How does this work?”.
Tannenbaum smiled, cracked a quick joke about me live streaming the Q&A session and then confidently said that the team is all in and all behind Dan Campbell. There was no mention of the process or what the team is looking ahead to. It was clear that for the now, Dan Campbell is the guy they are hoping is the only guy they will need.
From members of security to other staff we ran into in the halls, the feeling was always the same. They believe they can win. They want to do their jobs the best they can to make sure they win. Prior to the game that same feeling resignated with volunteers outside the stadium. “Cultural change?” one Dolphins stadium staff member said, “everything has changed. Everyone believes and the executives that come in and out are changing. They have smiles on their faces, they are working harder on the details, everyone is excited and high-fives seem to be flying around between everyone”. Yet as she mentioned, they all realize there is still work to be done.
Over the past two seasons we have spoken with CEO Tom Garfinkel and he has always been very cordial and friendly but this year, he seemed much more relaxed and when he spoke about the team he came across excited about what is going on.
The Dolphins are excited but more importantly the players are excited and that is something that hasn’t been inside the Dolphins facility for awhile. Sure there has been optimism but it seems to always be more muted. Not anymore. It may not translate to the playoffs, and it may not translate to a winning season but the culture in Miami has definitely started to change.