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On Paul Pasqualoni (finally) and loyalty

As you can see I reported early yesterday afternoon on my twitter feed that appears on this page over <---- there, the Dolphins have already taken a significant step toward filling one of their linebacker coaching jobs by identifying former Giants defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Bill Sheridan for the job.

Sheridan is not hired yet. But he's been offered the job and there are only a few details to work out to make this official. The Dolphins should announce this hiring sometime before the 2012 season begins.

As to the subject you've all been demanding I address -- the firing of Paul Pasqualoni:

I told you looong ago that Bill Parcells believes in surrounding himself with people he's familiar with. He calls them "my guys." Parcells is loyal to his guys, is comfortable with his guys, and believes in his guys. This applies to coaches, personnel people, and players.

And it's one big happy football family until one of the "guys" fails. Then that loyalty and confidence and comfort take a back seat to production and the reality that the NFL is really a business, not a family. Winning, you see, trumps loyalty and even friendship.

Tony Sparano, obviously a branch of the Parcells coaching tree, believes in this philosophy.

The players he picks, he often says, may not be the best 53 players, but they must be the right 53. The coaches he picks are "his guys." And all is hunkey dory until one of the guys doesn't get the job done.

And that's when one of his guys is suddenly gone, a fleeting memory on a very short press release.

That's the case with players and assistants and anyone else.

Remember that Ernest Wilford was one of Miami's first free agent signees when this regime took over? The Dolphins gave him a big contract. They stood behind him even as he was slow to figure things out. They even tried to give him another chance at another spot.

But loyalty carried the relationship only so far. Eventually Wilford had to produce and when he didn't, he was out, the big signing bonus and warm wishes be damned. Same with draft pick Shawn Murphy. He was the organization's guy because he was drafted by Parcells and Jeff Ireland and coached by Sparano. But when production didn't meet expectations, the relationship, the loyalty, the bond was unceremoniously severed.

I must tell you it's not always like this in the NFL. Some NFL people don't know when loyalty ends and cloudy thinking takes over. I remember years ago coach Don Shula was comfortable with defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti. Olivadotti was a Shula guy. But when the Miami defense was shredded by the Buffalo Bills year after year, Shula stuck by his guy -- to a fault.

The loyalty cost Shula in the end.

Former owner Wayne Huizenga was loyal to his guys to a fault. When Jimmy Johnson quit (the first time), Huizenga offered to let Johnson coach only home games, that's how much he stuck by Johnson. Big mistake.

When Dave Wannstedt's inexorable decline was in full swing, Huizenga could not bring himself to firing the failing coach. First he didn't extend his contract, then he extended the deal but demoted Wannstedt from personnel decisions, and then, finally, he told Wannstedt he would be fired at the end of the 2004 season.

There are many sad examples of NFL teams sticking too long with their guys. And what this means, when it becomes clear a mistake has been made and there is delay in correcting it because of loyalty, is the organization is expanding and multiplying its mistake.

Anyone can make a mistake in hiring a coach or picking a player. But it is valuable to be able to disconnect dispassionately from that player or assistant or personnel man if he's not producing. It is valuable not to compound the mistake of picking poorly with the mistake of sticking with the poor choice.

These Dolphins these days don't do that.

They make mistakes as everyone does. They might pick poorly -- yeah, Pat White comes to mind right off. But they don't sit around and nurture the mistake. They don't compound their problem by keeping the mistake around. They don't allow the mistake to haunt indefinitely.

And that finally brings me to Pasqualoni. He was, by any measure, one of Parcells' guys. He was part of the Dallas migration of 2008, the Cowboyfication of the Dolphins if you will, when Sparano, Ireland and a handful of assistants were plucked from that organization by Parcells, who had coached there.

But we saw this week that being part of "my guys" isn't a blood signature on a lifetime contract. It is an entrance through an open door. But the door swings both ways and one has to perform to keep from getting swept out.

Pasqualoni didn't perform because, well, his defense did not.

The Miami defense, by any measurable standard, regressed in 2009.

Miami defenders allowed five more points per game than in 2008. They allowed an average of 20 more yards per game. They had fewer interceptions and fewer fumbles forced. There was no significant measurable -- most significantly points allowed -- that showed improvement.

Obviously Pasqualoni wasn't uniquely responsible for this issue. It was the personnel depatment that gave him a terrible free safety. It was the personnel department that gave him a 35-year-old nose tackle that predicatably got injured. It was the personnel department that hasn't improved the linebacker corps.

But Pasqualoni didn't get anything extra out of his players. None performed above potential. You never stood back and said of Pasqualoni's work, "Gee, I wonder how he's doing so much with so little." He, in fact, did little with so little.

And then there was this troubling fact:

The Miami defense spent much of the year either not being able to finish or not knowing when the heck to start. Early in the year and through November, Miami's defense was a leaky dike in the fourth quarter. That's why the team broke the franchise record for most points allowed in the fourth quarter.

Well, about the time that got resolved, as the unit started finishing game better, it promptly couldn't start any games on time.

The Houston Texans scored 27 first-half points on Miami.

The Tennessee Titans scored 17 first-half points on Miami.

The Pittsburgh Steelers scored 14 points in the first quarter and 17 points by halftime on Miami.

Not surprisingly, the Dolphins lost all three games because they couldn't climb out of the hole they constantly dug themselves.

And, not surprisingly, that hole became a grave for Pasqualoni's Dolphins career.