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3 posts from January 23, 2014

January 23, 2014

Humiliation: Browns say Farmer not interviewing second time

So let me get this straight ... The assistant general manager for the Cleveland Browns is informed he is a finalist for the general manager job with the Miami Dolphins and after getting through an initial interview that reportedly went well, he declines to take the second interview because he has doubts about the Dolphins' football structure?

Can this really be?

Is the Dolphins' reputation around the NFL so soiled that even people working for the Browns -- the Browns! -- don't want more money, more power, and a chance to run the Dolphins front office?

Somebody wake me, because this is a nightmare.

Let's retrace some footsteps because if this is, in fact, what's going on, we've already stepped in something foul.

Farmer interviewed for the Dolphins job January 11 and I reported the interview was very good. Obviously, it turns out, the interview did go well because a couple of days ago the Dolphins decided Farmer would be one of their finalists interviewing this weekend for a chance to become the successor to Jeff Ireland.

But a not-funny thing happened on the way to that prized finalist interview. Farmer began to have second thoughts. As I reported Thursday, Farmer started to waiver about whether or not he wanted to interview again with the Dolphins because he was feeling uncertain or uncomfortable with the Dolphins football structure.

Farmer talked to the Dolphins for at least five hours in that first interview. He came to that interview with the blessing of former boss Carl Peterson, who hired Farmer during his time with the Chiefs and is now the top advisor to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross on this GM search. And after answering a bunch of questions and presumably asking some of his own, Farmer was still not sure he either understood or liked the Miami structure?

That's not all.

Was Farmer's concern so profound that even when the Fritz Pollard Alliance strongly recommended he take the follow-up interview so he could get his clarification, Farmer still declined?

Well, that's apparently exactly what happened as on Thursday afternoon, Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner told a group of huddled reporters that Farmer was staying with the Browns rather than interview again with the Dolphins, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Quentin Tarrantino at the height of a drug-induced inspiration could not make this stuff up.

So I have questions that frankly make me wonder about both Farmer and the Dolphins.

1. To Farmer, if you were still uncertain or uncomfortable with the Dolphins structure at the end of that initial interview, why didn't you say so then? Did this discomfort or uncertainty suddenly dawn on you or did you find out new things about the Dolphins in the days following the interview?

2. To Farmer, you worked under Peterson for years. Obviously Peterson thinks very highly you. So if you were uncertain or uncomfortable about the Dolphins structure, couldn't you just call Peterson and ask for clarity? Why the big public unveiling of this issue that makes neither the Dolphins nor you look good?

3. To the Dolphins, is the phrase, "Do you have any questions for us? Are you completely comfortable with where we are right now?" foreign? After all, that kind of covers everything. If Farmer felt any degree of discomfort near the end of his interview, that phrase would have definitely opened the door to the airing of that discomfort.

4. To the Dolphins, how could you not know Farmer had issues with your structure?

5. To the Dolphins, did you interview a candidate and then anoint him a finalist without any clue he doesn't think highly of what you are proposing as the job structure?

6. To the Dolphins, aren't you starting to get a clue that something is seriously wrong with, well, you? Look, when one candidate declines to interview, that's understandable. When two candidates decide your interview offer is not for them, that's kind of worrisome but not terribly. But four candidates declined to take even initial interviews with you and a fifth man, who was open minded enough to take the initial interview, decided that familiarity with you was a reason to stay away in the future.

It's not them, my dear Dolphins franchise, it's you!

It's not the media with an agenda. It's not tough luck. It's not the competition conspiring against you. It is you!

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, Dolphins sources insist it is not them. (On a couple of counts, such as the initial and incorrect Jason Licht story about him being offered the job and this evening's CYA suggestion by one national reporter that Lake Dawson didn't become a finalist until after Farmer had second thoughts, it is indeed the media).

The message I get from the Dolphins is that every candidate is made aware he will be reporting directly to owner Stephen Ross. Every candidate is aware he will not be under either coach Joe Philbin or executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte. Every candidate is aware he also will definitely not be over Philbin and probably not Aponte as well. Both Aponte and Philbin will answer to Ross.

Aponte, I am told, has no secret sinister plans to take over as undercover GM.

So where is the misunderstanding?

Are the Dolphins not relaying that message clearly? Is there a communication disconnect? Is the team, through sources, saying one thing to me and then another to candidates? I don't know for sure. I'm not in the interviews.

(Maybe the Dolphins should embed me this weekend for their own well being -- like the military embeds war correspondents. It protects them.). 

All I know is this is not the first humiliation the Dolphins suffer lately. It's starting to get really, really old when the Dave Wannstedt disaster is the good old days.

GM finalist Ray Farmer may not interview ... or may

Ray Farmer is a Dolphins general manager finalist but unlike most folks eager to take their second interviews for the job, Farmer is at this writing uncertain.

Farmer told me over the phone he is not certain whether he is going to take the interview or not. He told me a decision on the matter would be coming soon.

Meanwhile, John Wooten who runs the Fritz Pollard Alliance -- an organization dedicated to advance the cause of diversity within the NFL's coaching and executive ranks -- spoke to Farmer even as Farmer had me on hold. And Wooten tells me he is recommending to Farmer to absolutely interview with the Dolphins.

So what's the big problem?

Simple ...

"He has reservations about the structure of the Dolphins," Wooten said. "He's not certain who would be running things, whether it would be him or someone else. I told him the only way you can find out is to take the second interview and get the answer."

Wooten believes Farmer is strongy considering his recommendation.

This is highly problematic for the Dolphins because, obviously in Farmer's mind, they conducted an interview with a candidate so qualified as to be a finalist in their search for a new general manager ... and during that interview that took multiple hours, they did not clearly explain to Farmer what the job is exactly.

And if they explained it, Farmer still came away uncertain.

As Vince Lombardi once famously asked, "What the hell is going on out there?"

By the way, CBSSports.com and NFL Network already reported Farmer is not taking the interview. He was not so decisive with me on the phone.

I told him those are the reports out there and he declined comment. I told him it sounds like he's staying in Cleveland and he said, "I'm not saying that at all."

The Dolphins are interviewing finalists this weekend, as I reported Wednesday. Lake Dawson is also a Dolphins finalist, as I reported Thursday morning.

A second look at finalist possibilities

So who are the finalists?

Ever since my report saying the Dolphins will this weekend be interviewing the finalists for the vacant general manager job, the one thought on everyone's mind has been ... who are these guys?

Well, there seems to be much speculation and some confusion about that so allow me to dive in with my own speculation and confusion.

Late last night I was told by one NFL source two candidates who are definitely out are Pittsburgh's Omar Khan and Tennessee's Lake Dawson. Others reported the same thing. I don't care about them. That was wrong. I'm correcting me.

Khan is indeed out. Dawson, however, is in, multiple sources are telling me this morning. Dawson was always in. He is indeed a finalist for the job.

This ties closely with the fact Dawson had a good interview in Miami.

There are others and here is where the speculation begins:

I'm guessing Dolphins in-house candidate Brian Gaine will be a finalist. I have not been told this beyond doubt. But I do know the Dolphins recognize the respect Gaine has around the league. I know how he fits in being able to work with ownership, coach Joe Philbin and executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte.

One thing I must tell you about Gaine's candidacy that doesn't apply to any other is he's a known quantity. He has been in the Dolphins war room on draft day with owner Stephen Ross and Philbin so they know what he's like on that day. That's a view the Dolphins don't have on any other candidate.

The Dolphins also have his reports on players -- assuming he wrote some -- they can refer to. So I assume the Dolphins know with certainty how much Gaine hit and missed on players. They know whether he was truly a driving force in the chase for Cameron Wake, as has been reported, or not really.

(I was told that like everyone else in the building, Gaine was very much for getting Wake but expressed doubts about paying him the kind of guarantees the Dolphins paid him as someone jumping from the CFL).  

At any rate, my guess is Gaine will be a finalist.

I know others had great interviews with the Dolphins and I believe those resonated.

One of those is Cleveland's Ray Farmer. He was among the first candidates interviewed and I reported then he impressed in that interview.

Two things on Farmer:

He has a powerful ally in the room in that Carl Peterson, the former Kansas City Chiefs general manager and president and current Ross advisor, loves Farmer. Peterson hired Farmer in Kansas City. Peterson is intimately familiar with Farmer's abilities and potential and has passed those along to Ross.

One complaint I hear about Farmer is he's working for the Cleveland Browns. And if there is one franchise that is on the lips of NFL critics more than the Dolphins it's the Browns. So, readers continually ask me, why hire someone from the Browns?

Well, Farmer went to the Browns in 2013. He's been there one season.

I don't think you can blame the years of struggles the Browns have suffered on someone who has been in the organization one season.