When this season is over there may be no less than seven, and as many as 12 head coach vacancies to fill in the NFL.
Think about this: Every team in the state of Florida might be searching for a new head coach.
And while different teams will use different criteria to fill their vacancies -- the Dolphins want a big-name star while Jacksonville is going to go young and cheaper -- there simply aren't enough good head coach candidates to go around to fill as many as a dozen openings.
That means, on some level and at some point, there will be competition for the top talent.
That also means the scale that usually tips in the organization's favor as it judges candidates might tip more evenly toward candidates who thus get the luxury of judging competing organizations. In other words, sometimes the scarcity of great candidates allows them to put the organizaton on trial as they choose rather than being chosen.
This offseason might offer that kind of climate.
And that means the Dolphins coach-searching organization could be judged against other coach-seeking organizations. So how strong is the case for the Dolphins organization? How attractive is the Miami job? How prepared is Miami to compete for the coach it wants against similar organizations that might be hunting the same coaches?
To weigh this first we have to understand which teams might be seeking coaches. I have a list that is compartmentalized into two divisions -- the almost certainly will have a vacancy division, and the possibly will also have a vacancy division.
The almost certainly will have a vacancy division: Miami, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Indianapolis, San Diego.
The might also have a vacancy division: Dallas, Washington, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Chicago.
Let me say the Dolphins better hope none of the teams in the latter division have a vacancy because all those jobs, except for Minnesota, are better jobs than the one in Miami. Dallas has a more talented roster than Miami and at least you know the structure and whom you're dealing with as a coach. Washington plays in front of a sold-out stadium, the owner is something of a meddler but less than he used to be, and he's still willing to spend tons of money. Philadelphia has a great owner, good personnel people and better talent than Miami. Chicago has hands-off ownership that is willing to spend without over-spending and the talent is better than in Miami.
Those clubs -- all of them -- would be in the market for the kind of coach the Dolphins are searching for if they fire their coaches. They'd be buying their next coach at Tiffany's as surely as the Dolphins are.
Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, and St. Louis would more likely be shopping at K-Mart. San Diego and Indianapolis would probably find themselves somewhere in between.
So let's eliminate the teams in the last paragraph because, let's face it, the Jacksonville Jaguars aren't going to pay the $7-$10 milion per season it would take to get a Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Jeff Fisher or Brian Billick.
Let's concentrate on Dallas, Washington, Philadelphia and Chicago. My take is the Dolphins cannot offer a better job than any of those franchises. Like it or not, all of those franchises are more stable than Miami -- yes, even Washington, which tells you something about Miami's stability.
None of those franchises have the obvious and dysfunctional divide between the football side and business side that the Dolphins currently suffer.
None of those franchises have inexperienced owners and the Dolphins do.
Three out of four of those franchises have stable quarterback situations. None have elite quarterbacks, but Jay Cutler, Tony Romo and Michael Vick are plenty attractive to a big-name coach that wants to compete as quickly as possible. The Dolphins obviously have had the NFL's most unstable quarterback situation the past decade. (The weight of that truth really hit me when I typed that last sentence).
Simply, if I'm an elite coach and the Philly job and the Miami job get offered to me, I go to Philly before Miami. I also go to Dallas, Chicago and even Washington. Washington owner Dan Snyder, by the way, is not considered a great owner. But his major failing -- meddling -- is also something of a blessing. He wants to spend money. He wants to push the envelope on attacking the draft.
He's not a bad owner in that he's interviewing coaches behind his current coach's back. And again, the Redskins enjoy a much better home-field experience than the Dolphins. They sell out. They do not celebrate the other team's quarterback with a special day for his university. And, most importantly, there would be the opportunity for the new coach to pick and choose his own personnel people to work with when he enters the organization.
The Dolphins lose on all those counts to a team with as bad a public perception as the Redskins. Amazing, isn't it?
The Miami job does have advantages and is better than other jobs that are currently out there or might be on several front. Miami is better than Jacksonville. Miami is better than Tampa Bay in that Stephen Ross is willing to spend money while the Glazers are not so inclined. The Miami job is better and more stable than say, Minnesota, because there is no current threat to move the Dolphins.
But when it comes to a comparison with San Diego, Indianapolis, Kansas City and even St. Louis, I'm not absolutely certain one can say the Miami job is way better.
San Diego and St. Louis have quarterbacks. Miami does not. Miami has a better roster than St. Louis but not better than San Diego. Indianapolis has a great general manager in Bill Polian who has constructed Super Bowl teams in Buffalo, Carolina and Indy. Miami does not. Indy also has the first pick in the draft. Miami does not. The Dolphins, however, have a better salary cap situation.
Kansas City also has a quarterback, although Matt Cassel is not elite. Again, Miami does not. The Chiefs coach must tie himself to GM Scott Pioli. I like Scott. He's a bright man. And, like him or not, he helped build the Super Bowl teams in New England. So again, the Chiefs offer a GM whose done Super Bowl-caliber work while Miami does not.
I am not saying the Dolphins cannot compete with the other franchises that have openings or are likely to have openings. I am saying this:
The Dolphins fancy themselves as having an elite job opening. And they truly do offer an opportunity for a top-flight coaching talent that Jacksonville and Tampa Bay and some other teams cannot compete with. The fact Ross is willing to pay handsomely for his coach is testament to that.
But the truth also is the Dolphins job also comes with some warts: There is not franchise quarterback on the roster. The general manager is unproven. The owner is still learning on the job. There is not any significant home field advantage in that the stadium isn't full of passionate fans every home game -- indeed opposing fans often number in large quantities. And there is a divide between football operations and the business side of the franchise.
Yes, the lure of huge money can mask those issues for a big-name coach. But if another club is also offering gobs of cash, those are issues coaches weigh before they make a final decision.