Sophomore slump could be in store for Gase’s second season

Nov 27, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase looks on during the first half against San Francisco 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase looks on during the first half against San Francisco 49ers at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dolphins exceeded expectations in Adam Gase’s first season as head coach by making the playoffs for the first time in eight years. Fans should be excited about the direction of the franchise, but that doesn’t mean Miami will be a lock for the postseason next year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers showed that they were the superior team over the Miami Dolphins in their 30-12 victory on Sunday. While many of us had hoped the Dolphins could pull off the upset, the majority of us knew that a playoff run was far-fetched. It was just nice to see Miami in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

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By making the playoffs, the Dolphins exceeded expectations in Adam Gase‘s first year as head coach. I, personally, had the Dolphins finishing the season at 7-9 in preseason projections. The fact that Gase was able to overcome the obstacles, that included a dreadful 1-4 start to reach the postseason is truly remarkable.

Some were skeptical when Gase was hired, arguing that a more well-known coach with experience would be a better fit for the disenchanted franchise. Now, Dolphins fans are in unison that Gase is their guy and the more deserving for Coach of the Year. And for good reason. He turned this team around from a 1-4 start to a playoff berth, all while dealing with injuries across the board. There’s no question that Adam Gase has this team headed for brighter days. However, don’t be surprised if things appear cloudy in 2017.

Now this is not meant to be a pessimistic view of the Dolphins going forward after a pair of blowout losses to end the season. My opinion is quite the opposite in fact. The intent is to remain cautiously optimistic about the team’s future. The Dolphins may have reached the playoffs in Gase’s first year, but anyone within the organization will tell you that this is a three-year rebuilding process. Dolphins fans may not want to hear that right now, but it’s important to point out how this result has panned out for Miami in the past.

In 2005, in Nick Saban‘s first season as the Dolphins head coach, Miami finished the year 9-7, just missing the playoffs. After starting the year off 3-7, Miami finished the season on a six-game winning streak. Even though they fell short of a playoff berth, Dolphins fans believed they were destined for bigger and better things going into 2006. Big things did not happen, however, as Miami finished the following year in last place of the AFC East with a 6-10 record. To make matters incredibly worse, Saban bolted to Alabama after repeatedly claiming he wasn’t going anywhere.

After Miami’s abyssmal 1-15 season in 2007, the team bounced back in a huge way in 2008. The Dolphins won the AFC East with an 11-5 record, and clinched their first playoff berth in eight years (sound familiar?) under then first-year head coach Tony Sparano. Despite winning the division, the Baltimore Ravens came into Miami and showed the Dolphins that they weren’t quite ready yet to be a playoff contender en route to a 27-9 dismantling of the Dolphins. The reaction from Dolphins fans back then is similar to how it is today: at least they made it.

Momentum was again steering this team for bigger things, but the Dolphins regressed in 2009 and that would begin another 8-year layoff from postseason play. Just as we did in 2008, Dolphins fans have every reason to be happy today for simply making the playoffs. There has been little to celebrate over this organization for the entire century so it makes sense to be happy for a playoff berth. Excitement for the future of the organization is certainly in the air, but we cannot get frustrated should things not go as planned in year two of the Gase era.

A drop-off in 2017, and missing the playoffs is a realistic possibility for Miami. The Dolphins still have a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Filling all those holes through the NFL Draft and free-agency is highly unlikely. There’s also the very likely possibility that they will lose their DC Vance Joseph to a head-coaching vacancy. It could happen as early as this week as Joseph already has an interview with the Broncos scheduled for Tuesday.

Similar to the 2008 season, Miami managed to catch some teams off-guard with their improved play and take advantage of a weaker schedule. That won’t fly next year though with Miami and the AFC East set to take on the tough AFC West and the much-improved NFC South. They will also play Tennessee and Baltimore, two teams that defeated them in convincing fashion this year. Essentially, the Dolphins will lose a home game as well when they “host” New Orleans in London.

Adam Gase certainly has this team headed in the right direction. It’s amazing to see what he was able to accomplish in just his first season, especially with what they had to go through. The Dolphins had a plethora of injuries to their roster throughout the season. They gave up more yards on defense than the team that finished 1-15 in 2007. He basically “started over” after five weeks into the season. Through all that, his leadership helped Miami turn a potential dreadful season into the playoffs.

It’s important to note Gase’s accomplishments with Miami this season, particularly in case things don’t go as well next year. History shows us that we very well could see a sophomore slump in Gase’s second season. Should that happen, Dolphins fans cannot be so quick to pull the plug on the Gase era.

We tend to have a short memory when it comes to accomplishments in sports. Despite the Dolphins overcoming odds this season, if they happen to go 8-8 or worse next year there will be fans that freak out and demand a change immediately. Consistently changing regimes, however, only makes matters worse. Gase is the Dolphins guy, and he’s earned his place in South Florida.

Dolphins fans should be optimistic about the team’s future. Just tread with caution as it’s still a process. Miami is nowhere near where they want to be, and that’s a good thing. They’re not simply satisfied with making the playoffs. The end goal is the Super Bowl! It’s just sometimes you have to take a step back in order to push forward.