The Miami Dolphins will enter the off-season looking once again to make wholesale changes. One national media writer said he had knowledge that Stephen Ross was “considering” blowing up the entire front office and starting over. I don’t buy that.
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Miami has some good executives in their system and they also have some questionable ones if for not other reason than they haven’t had time to screw up completely. Many will point to Ross as the biggest failure for the Dolphins but I don’t believe that. In fact, I tend to like Ross even if he comes across as a child on X-Mas morning. I suppose if I had his money and bought the Dolphins, I might be a little over exuberant as well.
While coaching has been a major issue for at least a decade the front office hasn’t exactly been a pillar of popularity. Randy Mueller, Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, Dennis Hickey. And those are just the GM’s. When those responsible for calling your draft and signing free agents are not very good you can bet the team won’t be very good. When the head coaches are bad and they are paired with weak GM’s, the entire team will implode into something short of mediocrity. Welcome to Miami.
As I stated Stephen Ross is not my target. He has made three defining decisions as it relates to this current mess. That’s not bad for a guy who is relatively a new owner. Those three mistakes? Not firing Tony Sparano following the 2010 season. Not firing Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin after the 2013 season and not firing Joe Philbin after last season. All three instances were rectified one season too late.
So who does Miami have in their front offices and how do they rank? Here’s a look, a quick look, at my rankings of the front office staff from worst to best.
Hickey didn’t do too bad in his first draft with the Dolphins. The selection of Jarvis Landry has been an absolute steal. His first round pick, Ja’Wuan James hasn’t flamed out yet and is showing signs of positive movement but the kudos in this draft end there. Terrence Fede taken in round 7 might be a future contributor at a level above what he is playing now but that’s not now. Billy Turner was taken in the 3rd round and the verdict is still out although it’s leaning away from him being positive. Matt Hazel could still work out as well. In last years draft Hickey wasn’t able to hit like his previous year if you can call two out of eight players a hit.
De’Vante Parker is showing signs and Jordan Phillips has his moments but let’s be a little clearer here. The 2015 draft was not Hickey’s. This was all Mike Tannenbaum. It’s become clear that Hickey has almost no relevance in Miami. He is a very nice guy but his job description seems to be one of name only. It’s very likely that he will be fired or resign at seasons end. If he resigns then we all know that the power he had two seasons ago has been taken from him.
It’s possible that Hickey remains as the GM but doesn’t call the shots and sticks mostly to scouting. An area he is good at. Regardless, when you look at the Dolphins structure, he is firmly at the bottom.
Aponte is one of the best if not the best cap specialist in the NFL. Her ability to manipulate deals has won her a lot of praise and job offers from the league offices. Yet she remains in Miami. A trusted advisor to Stephen Ross. Aponte’s problem is she has a little too much power given her position. She was instrumental in driving a wedge between Ireland and Philbin three seasons ago and then quickly turned from Philbin when he couldn’t follow along. Aponte however, unlike Hickey, is very valuable to the team. She has all the ears listening to her suggestions and her thumbprint is all over every contract.
Aponte is a power player within the organization and she has been doing it quietly as of late. Eventually she will move on to something else or somewhere else and how that will impact the team is unknown. Most of that depends on what she is doing behind the scenes that we don’t know about.
I was going to put Ross first but I can’t. The simple fact is that while I like him as an owner I can’t with a straight face not place fault on his shoulders. The front office has been a mess for years and that is because Ross brought too many power hungry individuals into a system with no clear direction. The fact no one sees eye to eye, or at least didn’t has been a huge problem. Ross succeeds in the fact that he lets the people he hires do their jobs but he fails because he isn’t nearly involved as he should be. The rift that developed between Ireland, Aponte, and Philbin clearly wouldn’t have happened if Ross were more involved.
Then there is the coaching searches that didn’t go the teams way, then the GM search that was a disaster. Ross can’t be faulted for the play on the field and he has spent the money to make this team better but he can be faulted for hiring the people who ultimately make the decision on those players or the people coaching them. Ross needs to do one of two things. Step back and let Mike Tannenbaum run the team, or commit completely to being involved on a daily basis.
It’s too early to tell if this hire was a good one or a bad one. If it’s good we will know soon enough what he can do this off-season. If it’s bad we won’t know until a year or two too late. Tannenbaum has the NFL experience and the connections in the league. He has an ego but nothing compared to the Bill Parcells ego and you could argue that Tannenbaum has more experience than Parcells as an executive.
Looking at last years draft we can see Tannenbaum had a lot of input but when you look at free agency you have to ask who exactly he was listening to. Rumor has it that it was Ross who wanted Ndamukong Suh and Tannenbaum made it happen. Tannenbaum is smart but he wasn’t good enough to keep his job in New York with the Jets where a power struggle internally eventually led to his departure.
Ross trusts Tannenbaum, probably more than any other person. But is he trusting the right person? This off-season is likely to be Tannenbaum’s spotlight. He will control the head coaching search, the GM search if there is one, likely free agency, and potentially the draft depending on who becomes the head coach. In other words, this very well could be his team by March.
Most will not know this name. He is the teams CEO and if there is one thing that Ross has done right, it’s hire Garfinkel. Garfinkel has his hands in both sides of the team. The stadium and the team itself. While most of the team responsibility falls on the shoulders of Tannenbaum or Hickey Garfinkel still stands above them all if in name only. On the business side of things Garfinkel is still getting trying to get acclimated to football instead of baseball. He was formerly with the San Diego Padres. Yet he has a very good knowledge of sports business and has really taken over the stadium situation.
Garfinkel, unlike other men in his position also keeps a firm grip on the pulse of the fans. He genuinely is interested in knowing what complaints they have and he actually looks into those complaints to see if there are fixes for them. The Dolphins haven’t made a lot of great hires in recent years but Garfinkel is one of the best by far. If Ross could find another like him to run his football operations the Dolphins would improve very quickly.