Dolphins should be top coaching choice


The Miami Dolphins will enter the off-season looking for a head coach and for once, Miami should be a coveted destination.

Whether Dan Campbell remains the team’s head coach into 2016 will depend on how well the team finishes the 2015 season and what plans he has for assistant coaches. Stephen Ross will be giddy as a schoolgirl if the Dolphins win three of their last four to finish at .500. Win out and Ross will likely jump up and down after beating New England and declare Campbell the full-time head coach.

While winning out doesn’t seem possible and winning three of four doesn’t seem plausible either we can assume that Miami will start looking for a head coach as soon as the season ends. In years past, Miami hasn’t exactly been the destination coaches were running towards. Miami touted their history under Don Shula, they promoted the lack of state taxes, and even warm weather. What they couldn’t promote was talent.

That is not the case this season. Miami has talent. Core talent. What they lack is direction. That is where a coach comes in. A real head coach. A coach with the conviction and the desire to win at all costs.

We can look back, quickly I promise, at the last five head coaches Miami has brought in to run the team. Following Dave Wannstedt’s exit, Miami hired Nick Saban. Saban took over a team that was in salary cap hell and limited with talent. Sure he had a few stellar defensive stars like Yeremiah Bell, Jason Taylor, and Zach Thomas but offensively the team was a mess. He made it worse trying to find a starting quarterback in Daunte Culepper.

Saban couldn’t turn the team around and he couldn’t find the talent from his knowledge of the college ranks. After Saban left the Dolphins were still a shell lacking talent. Cam Cameron did nothing to change that. Saddled with poor talent and no quarterback, Cameron was a one and done coach. That led to Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano.

Parcells recognized the talentless team but instead of infusing the team with talent, he traded Jason Taylor and added players to play roles not playmakers. Throughout the Sparano years Miami relied on gimmicky plays and hoped that Chad Henne could turn into an NFL quarterback. It didn’t work and eventually led the team to Joe Philbin. The team was so void of talent that money couldn’t lure Jim Harbaugh from Stanford.

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This is important here because when Philbin was hired, the Dolphins had not quarterback, no top-level running back, a mess at wide-receiver, and a defense that was full of players who all fit different schemes than the one Miami had been running. In other words, they were a mess.

Miami was unable to lure Jeff Fisher to town. In fact, after Fisher left for St. Louis, Miami struggled to find a solid coaching candidate and turned to Philbin whose time in Green Bay was highlighted more by what the Packers did under different coaching. Philbin, the GB OC never called plays for the Packers. It was almost the best Miami could do. In fact, it likely was.

Now here we are heading into 2016. This off-season coaching candidates will have a lot of choices. Tennessee may be looking for a new HC although Mike Mularkey is turning the team around. Indianapolis will likely fire Chuck Pagano at season’s end and the Colts are expected to be the biggest challenger for a top head coach. While the Colts have Andrew Luck, Miami has a few things going in their favor. It’s a first in a very long time.

For all the doubters and naysayers, Ryan Tannehill has been a consistent and accurate quarterback. He has a lot of potential and is improving his game in several areas, including the deep ball. Tannehill still has a lot of room to improve but a good offensive coach will have a strong quarterback to work with.

Unlike in previous years the Dolphins have a very good core of young receivers. DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Jarvis Landry. Possibly even Rishard Matthews. They have a talented and young running back in Lamar Miller and an up and comer in Jay Ajayi. Even at tight-end Miami has finally found a weapon in Dion Sims. Again the right coach can find a way to use him. Something the previous coaches have been unable to do.

What Miami lacks on offense is a line. Yet Miami has a young right tackle in Ja’Wuan James and a bookend tackle in Branden Albert who is playing well. They also have a pro-bowl center in Mike Pouncey. They lack solid road grading guards. That’s fixable and the line is coachable.

Miami’s offense is talented enough for a coaching candidate to look at the team and say, “I have the pieces to make this unit great” on defense there is a little more work to do but it’s not difficult if the right pieces are added.

Miami has one of the best defensive lineman in Ndamukong Suh. They have a talented core of defensive ends and a defensive line that needs quality direction. At safety they have one of the  top two or three players in the league in Reshad Jones. They will also have the choice of what to do with Cameron Wake and Brent Grimes.

Miami’s biggest problem on defense is corner and linebacker. Linebacker is going to be a tough fix because the Dolphins really need to replace two of the three and if the next regime moves to a 3-4 scheme, they will need to find three linebackers. At corner they need to replace Jamar Taylor and find a future if not immediate replacement for Grimes.

The talent on the Dolphins is the best core of players since Jimmy Johnson handed the team to Dave Wannstedt. Bar none. Talent alone can be an enticing factor to a coach looking to take the job but it’s not the only one.

Stephen Ross is so hungry for a winning team that the right head coach will be given control over personnel. That is an enticing factor. During the 2012 head coaching search, Ross didn’t want to give up on Jeff Ireland and it was a mistake that cost him the coach he wanted. Two seasons ago Ross didn’t want a new GM to have control over the head coach and thus he couldn’t find a solid candidate and was left with Dennis Hickey.

While Hickey hasn’t been a bad GM, it’s a job that doesn’t suit him yet. At season’s end it’s likely he will either resign or get reassigned if not fired. This opens another window for the Dolphins to entice a top head coaching candidate. While Miami looks a mess internally, much of that mess is driven by the media. Mike Tannenbaum is in control for certain but he is not the GM and he won’t become the GM. What power he has over the team will be known after this season but you can bet he will be involved heavily in the coaching search.

Ross is a key here. He is willing to spend whatever it takes to get the players that can help the team win and that alone is something that prospective coaches will look at. Many owners don’t do that. Many owners won’t allow others to spend on players simply because they want them. Ross is faithful to a fault and a new head coach will get that same trust and the knowledge of knowing that he will not have an owner nitpicking about every single move he wants to make.

Ideally, the Dolphins should have made this move last season but they didn’t. Ross still needed to learn a lesson. A valuable one. He was too trusting with Jeff Ireland and too trusting with Joe Philbin and both cases bit him hard. He needs to get this one right and that means he will likely need to give a lot of control to his next head coach. And coaches look for that.

Miami may not look it, but they are not too far from being a contender in this league or in this division. They need a strong head coach with the ability to bring in top coordinators and they need

someone who can shape and build upon the talent that is already here. It’s not thin talent, it’s core talent. But it lacks a definitive direction.

That’s a challenge that should entice coaches to come to Miami.