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2 posts from January 21, 2014

January 21, 2014

Dolphins coaches home while rest of AFC East in Mobile

The Dolphins had a former head coach in Mobile, Ala. during the Senior Bowl practices on Tuesday. Nick Saban attended the practices as he often does and did when he was the Dolphins coach.

The Dolphins did not, however, have a current coach in Mobile for practices or the interviews with players that happen afterward. Head coach Joe Philbin stayed in South Florida as did all his coaches.

Philbin was the only AFC East coach not attending.

New England's Bill Belichick, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and Buffalo coach Doug Marrone were all at the Senior Bowl. Marrone took his entire staff. Ryan gave his assistants the option of attending or taking a vacation week. And Belichick did not have his assistants attend.

Those are the facts.

So is this troubling?

Is it worrisome that the other AFC East teams -- the Patriots and Jets which finished ahead of the Dolphins and the Bills which swept the Dolphins -- have coaches on the ground at these practices and for the meetings and the Dolphins are the only one that does not?

Is it worrisome the Dolphins are the only NFL team that has neither their head coach nor general manager in Mobile -- an outgrowth of the fact the Dolphins have yet to hire their next general manager?

Well, let me be honest: I'm not in a position to know for sure.

I know the optics of it are bad. It looks terrible for the Dolphins. But that's public relations. That's perception.

Whether indeed it actually is bad is another story. I don't know if the three other AFC East head coaches are picking up nuggets on players that Philbin is missing by not being there. We're not talking just information from practice tape, by the way. Everyone can get the practice tapes and review those if they missed the practice.

I'm talking about nuggets from the face-to-face conversations and interviews with the players.

Maybe those offer nothing. And maybe they offer something tangible and worthwhile. We simply do not know.

It is known Philbin has prioritized his time this week and the Senior Bowl is not the priority. I asked the Dolphins why the head coach didn't attend while all his rivals did.

Philbin's answer through a club spokesman is he did not attend the Senior Bowl because he decided his priority this week was meeting with Bill Lazor and getting  the new offensive coordinator acclimated and up to speed with what the Dolphins are going to run offensively in 2014.

(I'm not sure if that means Lazor is telling Philbin what offense he wants to run or Philbin is telling Lazor what offense he wants).

Philbin also said the secondary reason he did not attend the Senior Bowl was because he was finalizing the hiring of new linebacker coach Mark Duffner.

And obviously Philbin has a strong conviction about his approach because Duffner was in Mobile along with all the other Jacksonville Jaguars coaches Monday morning, but once his hiring was solidified Monday afternoon, Duffner returned to Jacksonville Tuesday and will join the rest of the Miami staff in South Florida Wednesday.

"Anytime you can take advantage of all the opportunities you have to evaluate a player, and certainly if you can see them in person that's a help -- you can see and observe their ability to follow directions in drills and practice -- that's all good," Duffner said. "But with the way technology is now with the video all that is filmed. With proper study of the practice, of the individual sessions, the drills and so forth, you get a great evaluation. It's hard not to."

Look, these are hard times to be a Dolphins fan. The Dolphins stunk at the end of the season. They were shown to be dysfunctional internally. The head coach didn't want to fire an assistant that absolutely had to go and was pressured to do so by the owner. Some assistants that probably needed to go as well -- ahem, 58 sacks allowed -- are still on staff. And the GM search is proceeding at a snail's pace as Miami is the only NFL team without a GM.

Amid all that, is Philbin being in South Florida while Rex Ryan, Bill Belichick and Doug Marrone are in Mobile going to determine the course of 2014?

I'd say there are bigger worries.

Talent men on playoff teams might be up next

The news that the Dolphins have more interviews on deck for their general manager vacancy was interesting considering they've already interviewed seven candidates, but it shouldn't surprise people that know owner Stephen Ross.

When the team needed to fill the CEO and President job that Tom Garfinkel eventually landed, the process included interviews for 15 candidates.

Fifteen.

Obviously, there are a lot more CEO types in the world than there are NFL personnel men worthy of a general manager job. So if the Dolphins are planning more interviews it stands to reason they need to expand the field from which they harvest candidates.

And although I am only speculating here (at least I tell you when I am) I would think if the Dolphins have more candidates in mind and they are doing this search systematically, then the candidates that are next must come from teams that participated in Championship Weekend,  or the two conference championships.

So we're talking talent men from the Seahawks, 49ers, Patriots and Broncos.

(You as a fan better hope).

If the Dolphins can find worthy GM candidates in Tampa Bay (Dennis Hickey), Cleveland (Ray Farmer) and other struggling teams, surely the teams at the top of the NFL might have someone.

Let me share those names and some background on the men.

Nick Caserio, New England Patriots: What better way to hurt an opponent than to take their people, right? And as neither Tom Brady (QB upgrade) nor Bill Belichick (head coach upgrade) are available to the Dolphins, maybe looking at their top personnel department person is one way to do it. Caserio is only 38 and has a background in both coaching and personnel. He sat under Scott Pioli until the KC Chiefs snatched Pioli. He obviously sits under Belichick, who has final say over the Pats personnel decisions. Maybe he learned something under those guys.

Joel Patten, San Francisco 49ers: He just completed his first season as the director of player personnel. He was formerly the director of college scouting and he played in both the NFL (eight years) and USFL (three years). He sits under GM Trent Balke. The 49ers, as you know, have one of the most talented and complete rosters in the NFL. And while Balke, a Bill Parcells disciple, gets a majority of the credit, perhaps the Dolphins figure Patten is worthy of talking to.

Eric Mangini, San Francisco 49ers: I know, I know, I've floated the name and a source dismissed it. But since this is just speculation, and Ross loves Mangini, and executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte loves Mangini, and the Dolphins cannot be counted on to see that Mangini is not really a GM type but a coach type, then I'm throwing his name in here. I've witnessed too many years of the Dolphins doing Dolphins things to completely dismiss this. (By the way, if you hear the Dolphins are indeed interviewing Mangini, you know the apocalypse has come. The abomination of desolation is here. Don't pack a bag. Run for the hills immediately).  

Scott McCloughan, Seattle: Well, not happening. He should be interviewed because, after all, he was the San Francisco GM before Balke. So he has experience. He already helped build a talented roster. And he's doing the same in Seattle under John Schneider. But McCloughan didn't like the Dolphins set-up so he asked the 'Hawks to decline his interview request. And they did. He is one of at least four candidates that have decided the Dolphins situation is not for them. And that's that, barring a stunning change of mind.

Tom Heckert Jr., Denver Broncos: He cut his teeth in the Dolphins organization under Don Shula and Jimmy Johnson. He was the director of Pro Personnel when he left the franchise in 2000. He went to Philadelphia and helped Andy Reid build a winner there and although he was the GM in title starting in 2006, the final say went to Reid. Heckert left to become the GM in Cleveland and picked some good players such as Joe Haden, Josh Gordon, T.J. Ward and others. But he also had a hand in picking Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson in the first round. Heckert is nonetheless a very good talent man. He did have a DUI arrest in Denver in 2013 for which he served a club suspension.

Matt Russell, Denver Broncos: He's the team's Director of Player Personnel. And while Heckert reportedly blew a .162 on the breathalyzer test, Russell puffed out a .242, or about three times the legal limit when he too was arrested for DUI last year. (Separate instances). Obviously, the Broncos have a good roster and Russell was part of that. Not only has he been the player personnel man since 2012, but was the Director of college scouting for three years prior to that.

All these men have playoff pedigrees this year. All are part of successful teams now.

Why not talk to them?