With Mike Dee leaving the Dolphins as their CEO, two questions linger before a nationwide search for his successor begins:
1. Are there any in-house candidates?
2. Are the Dolphins going to continue their wacky way of operating?
Here are the answers ...
If there is an in-house candidate her name is Dawn Aponte. That's it. No one else.
(I do not count Carl Peterson, former President of the KC Chiefs, as in-house despite the fact he is a close Ross friend and has indeed been working for Ross in other ventures. I count him as an outside candidate, albeit not necessarily a leading one.)
Aponte came to the Dolphins when her mentor Bill Parcells hired her in 2010. She came as the Senior Vice President of Football Operations, which was a long way of saying she was the cap specialist. She came well armed with experience, having served in a similar role with the Cleveland Browns and having worked for the NFL's Management Council prior to that.
Despite that vast experience, one of the first times Aponte was in the spotlight was when the Dolphins cut Joey Porter ... twice. The first time was a salary cap misstep that caused the Dolphins to take Porter back, endure his trashing of an organization he knew was cutting him, and then try the do-over when cap regulations actually allowed it.
Since then, Aponte has been something of a star internally. She has steadily increased her footprint on the football side and after participating in the hiring process in 2012, is one of coach Joe Philbin's closest confidants within the organization.
Aponte was promoted last year to Executive Vice President of Football Administration and her presence has become much more noticeable despite a clear desire on her part to remain in the background. She attends every Philbin press conference. She often has lunch with the coach after practice. She attends most practices or has her assistant attend -- I suppose so that he can report to her what happened.
She wants to be a club president and I don't doubt she'll get there some day. I just don't know if she's ready today.
She is, as I said, uncomfortable in the limelight. She prefers the background. And a club president or CEO cannot be in the background. A CEO needs to be in the community. A CEO has to forge media relationships. Aponte needs to improve or change that to be more viable for the job.
If the Dolphins, or any team, hires her as the club president or CEO, it would also need a CFO to run the nitty-gritty business affairs. Aponte, talented and worthy, is seemingly a better overseeer than a marketing person. And despite her credentials in finance, I don't know if counting pennies for the bottom line would be the best use of her talents.
So is she a candidate? Probably. Is she going to get the job? That question remains.
The next issue the Dolphins have regarding the hiring of this person is that the organization is way too divided into different factions.
Yes, most teams are split into business and football ops. But the Dolphins are seriously, tragically split. Unlike the Don Shula days when both sides of the organization lined up under the coach and marched to the same beat, the Dolphins often do not march in unison because, well, the right hand often doesn't know what the left hand is doing or doesn't care.
Bill Parcells liked a clear line of demarcation where it seemed no one could cross and that line hasn't been well erased since his departure.
And so you had football ops declining to help the business side with simple things such as players filming 30-second clips to be played at the stadium on game days.
You had football ops shaking their heads when they found out (through the media) that Jets T-shirts were being sold in the team store.
You had Tony Sparano and his owner not really talking because the coach saw the owner as part of teh business side and not really a football man.
The interesting thing is that once Parcells was gone, owner Stephen Ross took over as de-facto president of the team. He was to be the unifying figure for the franchise.
Except that by that time, the business operations had been moved from the Davie training facility to Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. So football staff was at Davie and business staff was at Sun Life. And, unfortunately, Ross is in New York.
An absentee owner.
While successful owners such as Jerry Jones, the Rooneys, Robert Kraft, Jim Irsay, Arthur Blank, the Maras and Tischs, and many others are around their teams day-to-day and thus aware of practically everything that's happening on a daily basis, Ross is busy running his real estate development business.
What does that mean?
He doesn't see things for himself. He relies on the reports of others to tell him what's going on with his $1 billion investment.
That doesn't mean being present as an owner is more likely to bring a winner on the field. But I believe an owner who is fully invested and fully immersed in the day-to-day workings of his team is better equipped to make more sound decisions because his understanding of the various situations is greater.
Despite this, the Dolphins aren't likely to change course, at least that's what a club source said Wednesday. The set-up will remain the same. Football ops and the business side will remain separate and apart with Jeff Ireland and Aponte and Joe Philbin over on that side -- with none really ultimately answerable to the other. And the new CEO will be over on the other side -- with him or her not really answerable to the football ops people.
All will be answerable to Ross, of course. But Ross will remain in New York except on game days and other visits.