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3 posts from January 2, 2014

January 02, 2014

Judgment day 1 over: Stephen Ross departs

Well, seven hours after he arrived at Dolphins camp in his helicopter on what was expected to be an axe-wielding mission, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross fired up his flying machine and left.

The helicopter was apparently the only thing Ross fired (up).

No one was let go -- people at Dolphins camp exhale -- as today was apparently more a fact finding day. Ross and advisor Matt Higgins are said to have met with both general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Joe Philbin.

I am assuming each man explained to the owner why he believes the Dolphins finished the season 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

This isn't about reliving the season, folks. Ross saw the games. I assume he wanted to get the why and not so much the what out of Ireland and Philbin. And I assume he asked for their contingency plans for getting the team in the playoffs in 2014.

Both Ireland and Philbin obviously survived a potential judgment day. But this is not yet settled.

Stephen Ross at Dolphins camp today

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross arrived at the training facility Thursday morning via his helicopter and it is expected whatever decisions he mulled and pondered about the hiring and firing of assistants and personnel people the last few days will be made today.

As you read here, the Dolphins coaching staff is on the line and while Ross wants change, coach Joe Philbin is resisting that change.

The fate of GM Jeff Ireland is also at stake today. I reported a month ago that Ireland had been told he was safe. Much has changed since then. But I'm told the club owner has been struggling with this issue because he likes Ireland and doesn't want to go back on his word.

We'll see.

 

The complex dynamic of Philbin firing assistants

Over the past two weeks it has become clear to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross his team must address issues on offense and that means at least one but probably several offensive coaches are in jeapardy of being dismissed. The only obstacle that may be currently protecting the assistants from such a fate is head coach Joe Philbin.

And that may place Philbin, whom Ross hasn't wanted to fire, in an uncertain situation.

The Dolphins owner has seen from the Miami offense what fans saw, particularly at the end of the season.

Everyone saw an offense incapable of helping the Dolphins' playoff push. Everyone saw an offense that scored once in 24 possessions over two games while being shut out at Buffalo and scoring only one touchdown against the New York Jets.

And those ugly season ending performances were merely brush strokes on a bigger picture of season-long unsatisfactory offense. Consider:

The Dolphins averaged only 19.8 points per game this year, which was No. 26 in the NFL and made the Dolphins one of only seven teams not averaging at least 20 points per game.

The Dolphins were 20th in the NFL in passing and 26th in rushing.

The offensive line yielded a franchise record and NFL worst 58 sacks.

The offseason's much heralded $100.5 million investment ($43.25 million in guaranteed money) in receivers Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson -- players who have enjoyed past NFL success -- acounted for only 12 TDs.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Wallace never clicked as a battery and the second-year quarterback missed at least a dozen deep throws that should have been touchdowns to Wallace because the football was either overthrown or underthrown. Coaches were never able to resolve this issue and, in truth, Wallace was not always prominently featured in the game plan and was at times frustrated about that during the season.

Despite the infusion of talent and resources, the Dolphins offensive performance in 2013 wasn't significantly better than it was the previous season under the same coaching staff. Miami had averaged only 18 points per game in 2012.

And the production in both 2012 and 2013 was a step back from 2011 under a different coaching staff. Indeed, the Dolphins were 20th in the NFL averaging 20.6 points per game in 2011 and that was considered poor and helped lead to a change in coaches.

So basically, the new offensive staff the past two years has gotten less production than the previous offensive staff.

The lack of production for the Dolphins rests with players, of course, but also with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, offensive line coach Jim Turner and others. That's the reason Ross is pushing for staff changes.

But Philbin can stand in the way of change because while Ross is the owner, Philbin's contract grants him the authority on hiring and firing assistants.

And on Monday during his season-ending press conference, Philbin defended his assistants, starting with Sherman, despite the obvious case against them.

“I have a lot of confidence in our staff, our offensive staff with Mike Sherman," the coach said. "He’s an excellent football coach, and that’s what I think."

And the offense?

“Well again, the game is not played on a stat sheet," he said. "My feeling is Week 17 we had a game had we won, which we didn’t win, we would have been in the playoffs. That’s where I’m getting the barometer that we are not that far away. We are close. I acknowledge the fact that on that paper there is a lot of room for improvement, a lot of room for improvement."

Philbin became very uncomfortable and even combative about the idea of possibly firing assistants beginning with Sherman. He was asked if he was capable of such of move if that was required of him ...

“I’m beginning the evaluation of the 2013 season, and we haven’t made any decisions on who’s coming back and who isn’t," Philbin said. "We’ll have all of those discussions at the appropriate time."

Obviously Philbin offered a response to some question but not the one he was asked. So he was asked a second time if he is capable of firing Sherman, who has been a mentor, friend and confidant during his career?

"That's my answer," Philbin said, again dodging the question.

All this suggests Phibin wants to attempt filling the "room for improvement" by improving players and their execution and not by changing assistants.

So we are at a crossroads.

When Ross asks Philbin to make changes to that offensive staff -- which will absolutely happen --  does the head coach resist to a point that he himself is in danger of being fired? Or does Philbin cave and let the owner have his way?

Or does the owner, who likes Philbin and doesn't want to fire him, cave?

Moreover, in suggesting that the issue is with players and not necessarily coaches, would Philbin be effectively telling Ross that general manager Jeff Ireland did not give him enough talent on offense, thereby hurting Ireland's already tenuous job status?

The dynamic is complex. Answers are expected by Friday and possibly before.