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4 posts from January 26, 2014

January 26, 2014

Dolphins fire back on idea of structure problems

When Stephen Ross outlined the characteristics he wanted in his next general manager, high on the list was he wanted someone who would collaborate with coach Joe Philbin in helping the franchise move toward better days.

The reason the Dolphins general manager today is Dennis Hickey and neither Nick Caserio nor Lake Dawson is because Hickey met that criteria. And both Caserio and Dawson weren't prepared to keep Philbin as Miami's coach thus did not meet the criteria.

A team source is telling me Caserio, who was highly impressive in his interviews on Friday and Saturday, wanted to become the Dolphins general manager and then start by cleaning house throughout the organization. He wanted to hire a new head coach.

Dawson was willing to keep Philbin for a time -- probably the 2014 season -- but eventually wanted the ability to keep or dismiss Philbin after the season was over.

That was the problem both men had with the Dolphins structure.

And it was a problem because both men were told by owner Stephen Ross he is completely committed to Philbin as the Dolphins head coach this year and beyond. 

The Dolphins are pushing back hard on the idea Miami's GM will have to share power on the roster with Philbin. An NFL source told me earlier today Dawson didn't like the idea that Philbin would have some say -- not full say, but some say -- on the 53-man roster.

The issue, the Dolphins say, came up in practically every single interview including finalist interviews. Each candidate was asked what he would do if he and Philbin disagree on a decision over a player or the 53-man roster.

Some candidates said they would go with the player they want anyway. Some candidates said they would try to convince Philbin to join their opinion but would not take the player if no consensus could be reached. Another candidate said he would move on to another player because he figured Philbin would ultimately not play someone he didn't initially like.

But none of those answers were wrong because, the team repeated to me strongly, the general manager has the final say over the draft, free agency, and the 53-man roster.

Dennis Hickey will have final say over the draft, free agency and the 53-man roster.

The general manager can overrule Philbin on those matters.

The general manager reports only to Ross.

"It's up to Dennis," a club source insisted.

The one thing not up to Hickey will be having a say over Philbin's future. On that, only Ross has that say. And clearly right now he's committed to the head coach.

Source: Hickey was not long for the Bucs

The Dolphins will undoubtedly tell you they got their man when they formally introduce Dennis Hickey as their new general manager.

But that will illustrate the adage of one man's trash being another man's treasure because a source close to new Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht tells me Licht was going to fire Hickey from his job as the Tampa Bay director of player personnel.

Hickey was with the Bucs 18 seasons, the last three as the director of player personnel. But he was not a candidate when Tampa Bay conducted a general manager search earlier this month and while he might have been retained through the May draft by the Bucs had he not gotten the Miami job, Hickey was headed out the door.

This, by the way, is not to cast aspersions on Hickey. The NFL is about networking and comfort level. It is common for a new GM or coach to clean house of the former things and bring in his own people once he's hired.

Licht apparently planned to do this.

Now the question is how much Hickey will do that in Miami now that he's running the personnel department?  

Dolphins hire Dennis Hickey as GM

The Dolphins have hired Tampa Bay director of player personnel Dennis Hickey as their new GM, according to a league source.

Hickey accepted the job this morning after multiple people turned down the offer, according to a source who decliend to say which people. It is known Nick Caserio turned down the job on Saturday.

[Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Lake Dawson also turned down the job. The Tennessean is reporting Dawson released a statement saying he turned it down because "the details of the offer didn't align with my vision. I turned it down because the offer wasn't an ideal fit for my family and me."]

Hickey succeeds Jeff Ireland, who mutually agreed with the team to leave after serving as GM since 2008. Interestingly, Hickey gets this shot despite not interviewing with Tampa Bay, the team he's worked for 18 years, when that team looked for a GM this offseason.

Hickey worked 18 seasons with the Buccaneers, three as the director of player personnel, Dennis Hickey has helped lead the Buccaneers to four division titles and one Super Bowl championship during his 16-year tenure.

Hickey, who spent six seasons as director of college scouting prior to his promotion in 2011, is responsible for coordinating a staff of area scouts and managing the compilation of information on college players which has proven to be invaluable during the Buccaneers draft process. In addition to these duties, he also oversees the Pro Personnel Department, which evaluates all pro leagues, free agents and trade prospects.

Working side-by-side with General Manager Mark Dominik, Hickey helped oversee this year’s blockbuster offseason, including the signing of Pro Bowl S Dashon Goldson and trading for All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis, the 2009 AFC Defensive Player of the Year and widely considered the premier talent at his position. These moves come on the heels of a successful 2012 offseason, which saw the Buccaneers signing WR Vincent Jackson, who recorded career-highs in receptions and receiving yards, earning his a trip to the Pro Bowl, third of his career. The Buccaneers also managed to lure two-time Pro Bowl G away from division-rival New Orleans.

In addition to the touted free agents, Hickey and Dominik have worked together to draft premium talent. Despite having traded their 2013 first-round selection for Revis, the team still managed to get CB Johnthan Banks, the winner of the 2012 Jim Thorpe award, given annually to the top defensive back in college football. In 2012, Dominik and Hickey chose a highly regarded draft class, with S Mark Barron, RB Doug Martin and LB Lavonte David all being named to the PFW/PFWA All-Rookie Team. Martin was also selected to go the Pro Bowl, along with Jackson and 2010 first-round selection Gerald McCoy.

[Update: The Dolphins had four finalists for the job. The only one that was not offered the job was in-house candidate and assistant general manager Brian Gaine. It is unclear whether Gaine will remain with the team long term, although one source says that is unlikely and that he will eventually leave because he recognizes he has no shot at advancement within the Dolphins organization.]

The 2011 draft brought several new building blocks to Tampa Bay, starting with DE Adrian Clayborn, selected 20th overall. Clayborn started in all 16 games and recorded 54 tackles, a team-leading 7.5 sacks, 26 quarterback pressures, four TFL and three forced fumbles. DE Da’Quan Bowers, considered a steal in the second round, futher bolstered the defensive line, and finished the season as a starter. Third-round selection LB Mason Foster provided great production, recording statistics in every major defensive category with a team-leading 126 tackles, four TFL, 2.0 sacks, four quarterback pressures, one interception, two passes defensied, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Foster also led all NFL rookies in tackles.

In 2010, Hickey was instrumental in bringing in a draft class that proved itself on the field during its rookie season, where seven of the nine picks recorded at least one start, with the draft class recording a total of 49 starts on the season. In fact, WR Mike Williams, a fourth-round selection, started all 16 games his rookie season, leading all rookie receivers in the league in receptions (65, second on the team), yards (964, first on the team), and receiving touchdowns (11, single-season team record). Williams was a finalist for the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year and finished second in voting for AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.

In addition to the draft class, Hickey has helped find and bring many undrafted gems to Tampa Bay throughout the years, including RB LeGarrette Blount. Blount, an undrafted rookie free agent acquired off waivers from Tennessee in 2010, became just the second undrafted rookie running back in NFL history to record a 1,000+-yard season when he finished with 1,007 yards, despite starting only seven games, and was nominated for the NFL’s Rookie of the Week award on five occasions. Other notable Buccaneers Hickey has helped in attaining include DL Michael Bennett, WR Preston Parker, T Demar Dotson and C/G Ted Larsen.

With Hickey’s assistance, the 2009 draft was highlighted by the addition of first-round selection QB Josh Freeman. Freeman led all rookie quarterbacks in completion percentage (54.5) while setting Buccaneer rookie records in touchdown passes (10) and passing yards (1,855) despite starting in just nine games. The third round of 2009’s draft produced DT Roy Miller who proved to be a solid contributor along the defensive line. Miller finished the season tied for third among defensive linemen with 54 tackles while adding two sacks. Perhaps the steal of the draft came in the seventh round with the selection of WR Sammie Stroughter. Stroughter ranked third on the team with 31 receptions for 334 yards and one touchdown while adding a kickoff return for a touchdown.

The 2008 draft produced CB Aqib Talib, who tied for first in the NFL among rookies with four interceptions, OL Jeremy Zuttah, who started at both guard positions, and LB Geno Hayes, who was a big contributor on special teams before moving into a starting role. The Buccaneers also procured talent through the signing of undrafted rookie free agents RB/KR Clifton Smith and CB Elbert Mack. Smith was selected to the 2009 AFC/NFC Pro Bowl as the kick returner and was named AP Second-Team All-Pro kick returner while Mack appeared in 15 games in the secondary and on special teams where he ranked fourth on the team with 12 special teams stops.

In 2007, Hickey helped assemble a draft class that included two rookies that were selected to the PFW/PFWA All-Rookie team in DE Gaines Adams, who led all NFL rookies with six sacks, and G Arron Sears, as well as standout FS Tanard Jackson, who started all 16 games for the Buccaneers. The 2006 draft produced four rookies who saw starting action in their first season, including G Davin Joseph, who has since developed into one of the NFL’s best guards while earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl following the 2008 season.

From 1998-2009, Hickey worked as a college scout for the Buccaneers, during which time he oversaw all scouting efforts in the Midwestern states for the team. Hickey was a member of the Buccaneers first Super Bowl championship in 2002, a 48-21 victory against Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Before assuming his role as a scout for Tampa Bay, Hickey spent the 1996-97 seasons as a pro personnel assistant in Tampa Bay’s scouting department. Prior to joining the Buccaneers, Hickey spent two years (1994-95) as an assistant coach at Blinn Junior College in Brenham, Texas. At Blinn, he coached the defensive backs and was responsible for recruiting in the state of Texas.

Hickey played collegiately at Coffeyville Community College and was a three-year starter and captain at the University of Tulsa, where he was also named an academic All-American. He received his bachelor’s degree from Tulsa in 1994.

He and his wife, Stephanie, have one daughter, Breanna, and one son, Barrett. They live in Tampa.

Dolphins turned Caserio into Manchurian candidate

For two days -- on Friday and Saturday -- the Dolphins graciously and eagerly hosted Nick Caserio in interviews to fill their general manager job. The New England Patriots director of player personnel met with and glad-handed the people that are supposed to be the best and the brightest the Dolphins have, including owner Stephen Ross. And while the Miami hierarchy tried to learn about this candidate as they considered him for their opening, it now becomes quite clear they didn't learn nearly enough.

They didn't learn that even as they were becoming comfortable with Caserio, he wasn't getting quite so cozy with them.

They didn't know that as they were seeing him in the Dolphins future he wasn't sharing their vision and probably never really intended to be part of that future -- based on the fact, as the NFL Network reported Saturday night, no one with the rival Patriots organization believed Caserio was truly serious about leaving to Miami.

They didn't know that as they were opening themselves up to Caserio -- sharing whatever institutional proprietary insights one unveils in such meetings -- he was simply taking it in and getting ready to carry it back to mother New England.

And so when the Dolphins offered their latest candidate the job on Saturday all they actually did was empower a Manchurian candidate.

Caserio no only turned down the Dolphins but seemingly used them to get a raise or promotion in New England. He turned down Miami, as the Patriots thought he would the entire time, and dealt the Dolphins something of an embarrassing rejection.

(For those keeping count of Dolphins rejections during this search: At least four candidates turned down intial interview requests. One finalist turned down a second interview. And the Manchurian candidate turned down the job.)

What's next? Brian Gaine, who's worked for the Dolphins for six years under Jeff Ireland, is offered the job and he quits on the spot?

Yes, that's a joke. A bad one. It's called gallows humor.

And if you think this situation is not worthy of mocking consider the past month ...

Needing one win to make the playoffs the Dolphins get shut out by the division's last-place team then show an alarming amount of regression in getting spanked by a team they had utterly dominated only a few weeks before.

After meetings and negotiations and much flying on his helicopter, Ross decides he wants to demote general manager Jeff Ireland. Ross had to offer a demotion because he had told Ireland multiple times this season his job was safe -- including only days before proposing the demotion. So Ireland declines this wonderful offer and gets a seven-figure settlement to mutually agree to part ways with the Dolphins.

Then we find out Ireland and coach Joe Philbin and executive VP Dawn Aponte weren't playing nice together much of the season. Oh, Philbin and Aponte were on the same page, but they were squarely aligned against Ireland. Office politics come to life in the NFL.

Then Ross asked Philbin to do what everyone on the planet knew needed done and get rid of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman because the Miami offense was about as effective as a Band-Aid for treating a gunshot wound much of the season and particularly during the playoff push that fizzled. And Philbin resisted! He didn't want to fire his friend Sherman.

Obviously, someone convinced Philbin to pull the trigger or perhaps Sherman volunteered to go -- who knows and who cares. But the fact the head coach didn't see the problem about 5,498,396,992 other people saw speaks volumes.

Following so far? We haven't even gotten to the pratfalls of the current general manager search yet.

The Dolphins decided they're not going to interview the most experienced people. They didn't interview or even show nterest in Scott Pioli primarily because Carl Peterson, who is Ross's GM whisperer, hates Pioli for what the former Kansas City general manager said about Peterson and did in KC after Peterson was fired there years ago.

Peterson did, however, identify several men he was familiar and comfortable with and brought them in for interviews. Peterson brought in Ray Farmer and Lake Dawson and both were tapped as finalists.

But both did not interview because Farmer became the public face of misgivings about the Dolphins so many others around the NFL share privately: Farmer was uncomfortable with the Dolphins structure and some of the people in that structure.

So everyone else apparently sees something strange about having a general manager, head coach and executive VP answering to no one other than an owner who is absentee. Awesome, so the guy who isn't around decides who is right or wrong when things get sideways -- and for the Dolphins they seemingly always get sideways.

Many NFL people also see this job as one where the new GM is already the odd man out because the head coach and executive VP are already aligned and, by the way, that alliance helped usher out the last GM.

What was it Nick Saban would often say? "The best prediictor of future behavior is past behavior."

Ross, of course, probably doesn't recognize he has a problem. He had the problem in Janaury 2012 when he tried to hoist an unproven general manager on a proven coach and was surprised and disappointed when the proven coach -- Jeff Fisher -- didn't go for it. Fisher turned Ross down cold when he was offered the job.

So did Ross learn? Oh, yes he did, but not the way anyone with sense would hope.

Ross obviously understood that attempting to hoist an unproven coach on a proven GM would not fly this time. So rather than solve the problem on the front end by eliminating the unproven coach or offering a proven GM authority over the unproven coach, the owner went for this backended solution:

Let's hire an unproven GM who will accept the unproven coach. After all, it worked when he hired the unproven coach to go with our last unproven GM.


What Ross obviously didn't count on is that his organization now has a reputation league-wide and it is not good, folks.

The team's repuation took a hit when Ross embarrassed himself during the Jim Harbaugh chase in 2011.

The team's reputation was cracking when Ross wanted to hire a superstar head coach in 2012 but Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden waved off overtures and Fisher turned down the job.

The Dolphins' reputation was already fractured when Peyton Manning wouldn't return their calls and the team had to beg Dan Marino to call Manning to ask please, please, please take a meeting with the team during his free agency derby.

And the Dolphins' reputation is totally broken now, as people most fans didn't even know weeks ago -- such as Farmer and now Caserio -- blow off Miami's best attempts to hire them.

Many people would say it's amazing Ross, a man who made a fortune in real estate, simply cannot close for the Dolphins. But it's not really unexpected. He's never going to land great people as long as he continues the habit of hiring inexperienced and unproven people and giving them contract extensions, promotions or his undying loyalty after they fail.

But don't worry. All is not lost.

Later today or tomorrow the Dolphins will hire a general manager. And, of course, he will be the man the Dolphins wanted all along, the right candidate.

Never mind that the team already tried to hire the Manchurian candidate.