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2 posts from January 8, 2014

January 08, 2014

More history, fallout from Ireland vs. DawnJoe

If you've been following my recounting of the dysfunction within the Dolphins late last season you understand why the relationship between general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin was broken. You understand why this team may struggle to hire the most gifted and serious general manager candidate available.

Now let me give you more history. Let me give you more background on the dysfunction to help you understand its genesis.

I already shared what caused the rift between Ireland and Philbin. I blame both parties for that rift. Grown men, professional men, who have the same goal at heart should be able to sit down and have frank discussions about what troubles them about their relationship. Obviously that's in a perfect world.

The Dolphins facility is far from that world.

And part of the problem points directly to executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte. It seems that when Bill Parcells hired Aponte to be Miami's capologist in Feb. 2010 he brought in a tough and experienced corporate in-fighter. She is clearly adept at forming alliances. And when she sees a threat, she is well capable of attacking it.

Ireland was a threat to her, according to sources who called me this morning.

Ireland was her boss when she joined the team four years ago. But after Parcells left in October 2010, she lost her chief sponsor. And she wasn't comfortable with Ireland as her supervisor. So soon after Joe Philbin was hired, Aponte decided she and the new coach could bond and that alliance could strengthen each person's position within the organization.

Aponte, club sources say, also found ways to ingratiate herself to owner Stephen Ross. Nothing wrong with that. He's the boss. She would often ask to join Ross on his private jet flights back to New York from home games, often citing a need to handle club business at the league office in New York.

Aponte, a former league and New York Jets employee, apparently used the face time with Ross and the help of Jay Cross, a Related Company president and a former New York Jets president, to convince the owner of her value and how she should not be under Ireland's supervision.

Ireland, seeing this, asked Ross to fire Aponte. Ross didn't go for it and, indeed, after mulling the matter, actually promoted Aponte from Senior VP of Football Operations to her current Executive VP role. And in so doing, Ross doubled Aponte's salary. And got her out from under Ireland's umbrella. And Aponte joined parts of the coach search of 2012 that led to Philbin's hiring after Jeff Fisher turned the Dolphins down cold.

Knowing that Ireland had tried to get her fired, Aponte turned her sights on the GM. The relationship between the two, professional and even cordial in public at league meetings and alike, was a struggle for power behind the scenes.

Aponte, strengthened by her alliance with Philbin, had been winning that struggle for quite some time. She made herself very visible, attending practically every practice. She met with Philbin to advise on how to handle the media before every weekday press conference -- that meeting sometimes taking longer than the actual press conference. She attended the coach's show and made sure the questions were positive and gave Philbin an opportunity to shine. She edited the videos the team posted on its website of the Philbin postgame speech to the players.

(Unfortunately for Philbin, she didn't think to cut out the part where coach needed to read off index cards to deliver his address).

The bottom line is now Philbin and Aponte -- fresh off a victory over the last general manager -- want to make sure the next general manager is not truly empowered. The last thing they want is for Ross to hire a guy who will have the power to hire and perhaps fire Philbin and or Aponte.

They want a puppet person that will merely evaluate talent and handle the draft and keep his mouth shut and business to himself.

But as I've shared already the best candidates for a general manager job may not bite because 1. They don't want to get involved in the Dolphins office politics and/or 2. They want to have the power and autonomy to bring their own people and perhaps get rid of the current people if that's what they think is best.

So keep a close eye on what is about to happen next with this hire. If Ross hires a strong GM with authority to hire and fire Philbin and/or Aponte, then the duo has lost favor. But if Ross promotes Aponte to GM or hires someone who is merely a personnel guy but not the general manager in power as well as title then the DawnJoe has won and runs the show.

There is a third option and that's the czar approach the Dolphins have used before, as well, with that person over everyone. But that's for another day.

Stay tuned.



Would Gamble, others join snakepit hijinks?

The leading contender for the Dolphins vacant general manager position?

Tom Gamble, the vice president of player personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles.

And if the Dolphins were a stable, well-led, functional franchise, I'd say they would have a great chance to get him. Gamble is eager to be contacted and would be happy to listen to the Dolphins, according to a source.

But ...

As I write in my column in today's Miami Herald the Dolphins are not exactly a model franchise. The Dolphins had issues internally part of the 2013 season, with sniping and backstabbing going on at the highest levels of the football operations.

Jeff Ireland vs. Joe Philbin.

Dawn Aponte vs. Jeff Ireland.

Aponte and Philbin forming a bond and alliance that ultimately helped bring down Miami's general manager. And whatever you think of that -- be you glad Ireland is finally gone or sad because you don't believe professionals should engage in such snakepit hijinks -- the drama matters.

Because word of the drama is already making the NFL rounds. People in franchises like the Washington Redskins, places with issues of their own, are aware of the issues the Dolphins had this year. I know this for a fact.

And the problem with that is simple: If Stephen Ross wants to hire the best and brightest individual as his next general manager, will he be able to gloss over his team's reputation to get that guy? Will he be able to provide assurances that the next GM won't be fighting an alliance of the coach and executive VP for football administration like the last GM had to?

Another thing:

The Philbin-Aponte axis is almost certainly going to work toward getting a weak GM to the Dolphins. The last thing Philbin wants is for Ross to give the next GM the power to fire him after the 2014 season is over. So Philbin wants his pal Aponte over that GM. He wants that hire to be just a talent evaluator with the title of GM but not the full weight of power that title suggests.

And again ... if Ross agrees that is the way to go, what great GM is he going to land? 

It's the Dolphins doing Dolphins things.