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60 posts from January 2014

January 11, 2014

Miami Dolphins interview Ray Farmer

It's the weekend but the Dolphins are working.

(No, not in a playoffs kind of way. Sorry).

The team today interviewed Cleveland Browns assistant GM Ray Farmer, according to an NFL source. It is believed Farmer is the only interview today. The team is expected to release the list of all general manager and offensive coordinator candidates every day once those interviews are completed.

I'll update here once the Dolphins announce their interviews for today.

[Update: The Dolphins have confirmed this report. And there were no offensive coordinators interviewed today.]

Farmer joins Pitsburgh's Omar Khan, Arizona's Jason Licht and in-house candidate Brian Gaine as having interviewed. The other three men interviewed Friday.

I cannot tell you if the interview with Farmer went longer than that with the other candidates. If it did, it would hint at the idea that he is indeed the leading candidate for the job. Farmer and Gaine are considered the two most likely hires, according to a source.

January 10, 2014

Dolphins announce three interviews of the day

The Dolphins today interviewed Jason Licht, Omar Khan and Brian Gaine for their vacant general manager job, the club announced.

You already know about Licht. As I told you earlier he is the Arizona Cardinals vice president of player personnel. I tweeted about Khan earler today as well:

 

Khan is interesting because unlike the other names that have either been released or leaked, he is not necessarily a talent evaluator. Yes, he has some talent evaluation experience. But the whole league knows Kevin Colbert is the man behind the Steelers talent evaluation.

Khan has at times assisted Colbert but his expertise is the cap and dealing with the league. He is a close and trusted advisor to the Rooney family, which owns the Steelers.

So why is the fact Khan is fluent in Spanish important? It is not lost on Stephen Ross that the Dolphins have a major public relations issue with their fans locally. It is not lost on Ross that Khan, despite the fact he's not from South Florida, could connect with some of those South Floridians as the majority of residents in Miami-Dade are Spanish speakers.

Gaine is the in-house candidate. He is considered a strong candidate because of his familiarity with the Dolphins and the roster. He has a good working relationship with both coach Joe Philbin and executive vice president for football administration Dawn Aponte.

My concern with Gaine?

While he is obviously not Jeff Ireland, he's been here for what transpired during the Jeff Ireland era. So if 7-9, 6-10, 7-9 and 8-8 wasn't good enough to keep one guy employed why is it good enough to promote another?

Perhaps Gaine can convince Ross that his ideas were different than Ireland's.

I will say this: In 2003 the Miami Dolphins, under then owner Wayne Huizenga, conducted a national search for a general manager. Among the men they interviewed were Ted Thompson and Jerry Reese. Neither got the job. The job was given to in-house candidate Rick Spielman.

Two years later Spielman was fired. Thompson went on to win a Super Bowl as Green Bay's general manager and Reese went on to win two Super Bowls as the New York Giants general manager.

I'm not saying Gaine is Spielman. I'm saying the Dolphins need to be very careful.

One more thing: The Dolphins will take as long as this process requires but would, in a perfect world, like to have a GM in place in time for the Senior Bowl. Senior Bowl bowl practices start January 20. At the rate of three interviews per day, it is easily possible the Dolphins can have a GM in place by late next week.

Dolphins finally contact Eagles about Tom Gamble

The first name to come out as a Dolphins target was Tom Gamble. Understandable. He's got a great resume. But his name had faded a bit in recent days as the Dolphins asked for and received permission to interview other candidates.

Until now ...

The Dolphins have asked permission to interview the Eagles vice president of player personnel, according to multiple sources. The Eagles have confirmed is and are granting permission.

And I'm told Gamble would very much like the opportunity to interview.

None of this changes the fact Ray Farmer continues to be the leading candidate for the job. But as I told you previously the leading candidate does not always land the job because interviews can change the dynamics of everything.

I also reported previously Arizona's Jason Licht is interviewing today.

Here's some interesting background on Gamble: His pedigree under Bill Polian and in San Francisco is impressive. The reason he left the 49ers and returned to his hometown of Philadelphia is because he wanted to be closer to his father Harry Gamble, who happens to be the former president of the Eagles.

The elder Gamble is sick now but that is not expected to tie his son to Philly over the longterm.

The man Harry Gamble worked for in the Eagles organization?Club owner Norman Braman.

Braman, a South Florida car sales magnate, loves the Gamble family. He knows Tom Gamble very well.

Why is that a thing? Well, Braman also happens to be the chief opposition to Stephen Ross as the Dolphins owner has been seeking public funds to upgrade Sun Life Stadium. Braman has defeated Ross at practically every turn on this matter.

Although I doubt Ross has thought about this, I know that Gamble working for the Dolphins would force Braman to think long and hard about continuing to oppose a measure if it even indirectly hurts Tom Gamble.

Obviously, this is not a reason to hire a GM. That person should be hired on merits of finding talent first and foremost. But does this help Gamble? It could.

Dolphins interviewing Jason Licht today

The Dolphins made no secret of the fact they were starting their general manager searches today (Friday, for the drunk among you). They did not say specifically who they were interviewing today.

(Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he would release the names of the candidates interviewed -- probably on a daily basis as the interviews happen).

Well the first interview is Arizona vice president of player personnel Jason Licht, according to multiple NFL source.

Does the name sound familiar? It could.

Licht is a former Dolphins scouting assistant (1995) and offensive quality control coach (1996). He's been a college and national scout for the New England Patriots and then became the assistant director of player personnel -- a total Patriots run from 1999-2003.

After stints in Philadelphia and Arizona, Licht went back to New England to be the director of pro personnel. He had that job from 2009-11.

In 2012, Licht went back to Arizona to become the director of player personnel and is now the vice president of player personnel.

As you know, it's hard to pinpoint who drafted or signed whom. Take all that with a grain of salt when people get blamed or get credit on that front. But I know Licht in his interview today can say this:

You, the Miami Dolphins, last year cut a big salaried but underperforming Karlos Dansby. We, the Arizona Cardinals, signed him for a relatively cheap deal and he had a monster year.

Dolphins leading GM candidate: Ray Farmer

Whenever an NFL team begins a coach or general manager search the term "leading candidate" invariably gets thrown around by insiders and the media. And often times the "leading candidate" doesn't land the job because the interview process can change the dynamics.

But sometimes the leading candidate is really the only candidate. Consider Miami's hiring of Jimmy Johnson and even Tony Sparano as coaches years ago. Consider Washington's hiring of Jay Gruden on Thursday.

Saying that, consider the name multiple sources are now telling The Herald is the Dolphins leading candidate to take the Dolphins GM job: Cleveland Browns assistant general manager Ray Farmer.

Remember the name.

Farmer has emerged as the search began Friday for two reasons:

He truly is a strong candidate with a strong background. Secondly, former Kansas City Chiefs President Carl Peterson has joined the Dolphins search and is Stephen Ross's chief advisor in the process. Peterson is a 30-year friend and confidant to Stephen Ross. And Peterson loves Farmer.

Morever, Peterson is supremely confident in his ability to identify and hire prospective NFL general managers.

Four current or former NFL team general managers built their resumes as members of the Chiefs' front office under Peterson: Atlanta's Tom Dimitroff, Tampa Bay's Mark Dominik, Miami's Jeff Ireland, and Seattle's John Schneider. They obviously did not all succeed but, as Bill Parcels said, talent evaluation is not an exact science. National Football Scouting President Jeff Foster also was a Chiefs scout under Peterson.

And Ray Farmer was hired by Peterson in Kansas City in 2006 and worked there until 2012 as the director of pro personnel. It is interesting (and impressive) that even though Farmer was a Peterson hire, he was retained by new general manager Scott Pioli when he took over in KC in 2008.

Browns CEO Joe Banner described Farmer as “one of the up-and-coming stars in the NFL,” last September.

Farmer, 39, has a sociology degree from Duke. He's a former fourth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. His career as an NFL linebacker ended after three years when he suffered a knee injury.

Farmer served as an academic coordinator and recruiter at Duke from 1998-2001, then was hired as a scout by the Atlanta Falcons before joining Peterson and the Chiefs. He joined the Browns in 2013 under general manager Mike Lombardi.

 "I’ll be surprised if Ray’s not a GM in the next few years, which will be good and bad news for us," Browns owner Jimmy Haslem said during the 2013 NFL owner's meetings, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.

DawnJoe should be included in GM interviews

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross laid out his outline or vision for the Dolphins looming general manager search on Thursday evening.

That search will try to identify the best and brightest mind that will help raise the Dolphins from their lingering mediocrity. That's got to be goal No. 1. Everyone agrees.

But goal No. 2 has to be finding a person who will be able to circumnavigate the kind of drama I've laid out for you in my column and this blog this week. He must find a way to make and maintain peace with head coach Joe Philbin and Executive VP Dawn Aponte.

(Jeff Ireland wasn't able to find that peace and look where that got him).

For Ross, who reads everything about his Dolphins and is aware of the well chronicled mess, finding someone who can mesh with DawnJoe is very important.

"Regardless of reporting structure, the relationship between the general manager and coach Philbin must be one of trust, respect, and collaboration," Ross said in his statement Thursday, "and this will be an area we will look closely at during the process."

Good idea. And here's another idea once Ross whittles down to some finalists:

Include DawnJoe in the interview process. If the new GM must mesh with DawnJoe then they should meet during the process so that both sides can vet, inspect, screen, assess, scrutinize, and evaluate the other.

Getting my drift?

The Dolphins have for whatever reasons fostered a circumstance whereby the past GM had clashes with two consecutive coaches -- Tony Sparano and Philbin. The Sparano vs. Ireland issue was Ross's fault, but that does not matter.

This cannot continue to happen.

The Dolphins cannot get it wrong on this issue again. So everyone involved should get to know each other before they get to work with each other.

Interestingly, the Dolphins are already hurting themselves somewhat in that the new GM may not be hired before the new offensive coordinator. Think of that. Yes, it is clear that Philbin has authority over the OC hire as his contract states. The GM has no real say in that hire.

But if you understand that one of the reasons Philbin and Ireland clashed is that Ireland didn't appreciate the work former offensive coordinator Mike Sherman did last year and was openly critical of it, then you understand the Dolphins are somewhat setting up another situation whereby the GM may not hold the OC in the highest regard.

Again, Ross wants people working together and signing kumbaya in harmony. But two of those people are being pulled in from disparate searches by different parties -- Ross and Carl Peterson searching for the GM and DawnJoe searching for the OC.

Shouldn't the new GM, who has no say over the hiring of the OC, at least get the courtesy of knowing him before that important member of the organization comes aboard? Isn't that what "collaboration" is kind of about? Just a thought.

The Dolphins promise to release the names of the GM candidates as they interview. We know some of those names already:

Browns assistant GM Ray Farmer, Tennesse VP of player personnel Lake Dawson, Pittsburgh director of football operations Omar Khan, Arizona VP of player personnel Jason Licht and Falcons director of player personnel Lionel Vital, Giants VP of player evaluation Marc Ross, and internal candidate Brian Gaine, the Dolphins assistant GM.

Notably missing from the confirmed list interviews so far?

Scott Pioli, who made his reputation as New England's personnel chief during their Super Bowl years and was the Chiefs GM until from 2009-2012.

Pioli makes a ton of sense. He is said to think highly of Philbin and is the son-in-law to Bill Parcells. Aponte is a Parcells disciple. 

The Dolphins also had not contacted Eagles VP of Player Personnel Tom Gamble as of Thursday evening. That's strange as well as Gamble is at least partly responsible for the talent the San Francisco 49ers and Eagles put on the field. Gamble was a Colts scout under Bill Polian from 1998-04, was with the 49ers from 2005-2012, most recently as the player personnel director, and then joined the Eagles in 2013.

Gamble is said to be a little rough around the edges. To that I say, if he can pick talent, I don't care if the guy has edges of an unsharpened serrated knife. A great evaluator is a great evaluator. 

January 09, 2014

Statements from Stephen Ross and Carl Peterson

Stephen Ross released a statement about the general manager search that begins on Friday. That search, by the way, will be done with the advise of longtime Ross friend Carl Peterson, who will not have a role with the team beyond that according to the Dolphins owner.

The statement from Ross:

“We will begin interviewing candidates for the General Manager position tomorrow.  It will be a thorough process with the goal of bringing the best person to help us build a team that will be a consistent winner. Carl Peterson will serve as an advisor to me on this search.  Carl and I have had a business relationship for almost 30 years dating back to the USFL and I have tremendous respect for his experience and judgment on team building and football operations. He will advise me on the search but he will not have a role with the Dolphins after the process is over.

"The new General Manager will have autonomous responsibility for the 53 man roster and selecting players during the draft and will report to me.  First and foremost, this person must have a passion for the game and demonstrated player evaluation expertise. They will need to be a person who is a collaborative team player that puts the organization first.  Regardless of reporting structure, the relationship between the General Manager and Coach Philbin must be one of trust, respect, and collaboration, and this will be an area we will look closely at during the process.  This individual also must be a person with integrity who is open-minded and creative.

Our media relations department will update you on the list of candidates when interviews are finalized.  Once the process is complete, I will make the final decision on who to hire.

Coach Philbin and his staff are continuing their offseason activities while conducting interviews for the offensive coordinator position. We are also working on our draft preparation, including our upcoming trip to the Senior Bowl as well as all of the other aspects of player evaluation and procurement.  At the end of this process, we will be a stronger organization with people working together to build a Championship team."

The statement from Carl Peterson:

“I’ve known Steve for a long time and I know that no one wants to bring a winner to Miami more than he does. I look forward to advising Steve through this search and I am confident that he will add an outstanding candidate with a proven track record in talent evaluation to the Dolphins.“

Previously you read that John Wooten had issues with the clarity of the Dolphins GM job. This statement has changed his mind.

"Everything is fine," he said. "Everything is great. No problem."

He is now encouraging minority candidates to interview.

Fritz Pollard: Minorities should wait to interview with Dolphins

The Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation, the country's primary promoter of minority candidates for NFL front office and coaching jobs, is recommending that minority candidates not interview with the Dolphins for their general manager position until there is clarity from the team about what exactly the job entails.

Fritz Pollard Chairman John Wooten told The Herald's Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) there is no clarity about what kind of job the Dolphins are offering and if that job is just for a talent evaluator rather than a general manager who has all the authority that job entails, he couldn't endorse minorities interviewing.

"If it's just going to be a personnel guy, my opinion is our guys don't need to be going in and taking those interviews, " Wooten said. "I don't know if the new people Ross is interviewing are going to be true general managers."

The reason for the lack of clarity is two-fold:

First, the Dolphins have not stated and have declined to answer what kind of structure owner Stephen Ross wants for his football operations going forward. Secondly, in speaking to the NFL and the Dolphins, Wooten came away unclear what that job would entail.

Wooten is concerned the Dolphins are simply holding interviews for the "general manager" job that was offered to Jeff Ireland as a demotion before he departed the team. The club offered not to fire Ireland, but wanted to take away much of his decision-making power on personnel matters.

"Are you now going to have the same position that you're offering Jeff Ireland?" Wooten asked. "Then our guys need to stay where they are."

The Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation coordinates with minority candidates and teams so that teams can identify, interview, and ultimately hire the best available minority candidates.

The Dolphins have asked and received permission to interview Tennessee's Lake Dawson,  Marc Ross of the New York Giants, and Cleveland's Ray Farmer. They requested permission to interview Pittsburgh's Omar Khan. Green Bay personnel scout Alonzo Highsmith is also on the radar.

All are minority candidates. But rather than endorsing those interviews go forward as soon as possible, Wooten is tapping the brakes.

He described the situation as in a "holding pattern."

The three structure possibilities for the Dolphins

When it comes to the Dolphins search to replace Jeff Ireland the "what" is initially more important than the "who."

I don't mean to diminish the identity of the person who will fill the job. The "who" is important. But what job is that person going to be doing? What role will that person have within the Dolphins football structure? Most importantly, what kind of power will that person have?

Once owner Stephen Ross, who plans to speak to the media at some point soon, makes clear what his vision for the job is, then we'll know who is best suited for the job.

Ross and the Dolphins have really only three choices for that open role because they have three directions they can go in establishing their club structure. Those are:

The strong general manager, the weak general manager and the talent evaluator. Allow me to show you what each role entails ...

The strong general manager: This person is hired with the autonomy (power) to make multiple key decisions. He can bring in his own personnel staff, including assistants and scouts. He does not answer to anyone else in the organization other than owner Stephen Ross. And he has the power to fire coach Joe Philbin -- if not immediately, then after one year of evaluation. 

I'm not a big fan of what Ross has done the last two change cycles he's put the Dolphins through. He fired Tony Sparano in 2011 but kept general manager Jeff Ireland. That forced him to miss out on proven coaches, including Jeff Fisher, because they wanted to bring their own GM they were comfortable working with them. This year, he fired Ireland but kept coach Joe Philbin. So, once again, it is possible Ross will miss out on the best or most proven strong GM candidates because they might like the option of hiring their own coach to work with.

Instead of sprinting into organizational changes the Dolphins have had to limp on one leg because Ross handicaps the process by limiting his field of interested candidates. Oh, the list of candidates may not seem limited initially, particularly in the GM search, because no one comes in with demands of full autonomy. But once the Dolphins show interest in a particular outstanding candidate, he might back out if he demands full autonomy and Ross isn't able to grant it.

The weak general manager: This person is titled as the GM but his power is limited. He may have final say over personnel in the draft and free agency but that is probably limited to him needing a consensus with his coaches, particularly Philbin. He has no authority over Philbin or executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte and therefore cannot keep or get rid of either one -- regardless of whether he'd like to do that upon his hiring or after one year. He probably wouldn't answer to either of them but instead answer directly to Ross just like they do.

Under this structure, Ross would have the weak GM running personnel and answering only to him. Philbin runs the coaching staff and answers only to him. And Aponte runs the remaining portion of football administration -- the player budgeting, contract negotiations, league matters, other legal matters like getting Richie Incognito off after he assaults a female golf course volunteer during a team event ... and the always important editing of the winning locker room video with the hopes of hiding the fact Philbin was reading from an index card.

(Not kidding).

I'd say the Dolphins had a weak general manager in Ireland. He didn't have the ability to hire or fire either Philbin or Aponte -- and that was proven when he unsuccessfully tried to have Aponte fired in 2012. But even Ireland had more power than probably an incoming weak GM would have in that he made the final call on not only the draft and free agency, but also the roster. I would not be suprised if Philbin gets final call on the roster going forward.

The talent evaluator: This person may or may not carry the title of general manager but it would be something of a misnomer. He'd be a glorified scout. He'd be only a talent evaluator and that's what I'm calling him going forward. He'd lead the setting up of the draft board. He'd make suggestions of which players to draft and which free agents to sign or discard. But he would have no final say on, well, anything. He wouldn't have the overriding final call on pulling the draft-day trigger. He wouldn't have the ability to hire or fire anyone, least of all DawnJoe. He'd have to get consensus to do practically everything outside of giving his opinion on talent.

In this scenario, the Dolphins might have Aponte as the GM with the ability to hire and fire this talent evaluator. Or they'd possibly have a football czar -- someone like Carl Peterson or Eric Mangini -- over the organization. Philbin, Aponte and the talent evaluator would be under the football czar who would be under Ross. Current assistant GM Brian Gaine has been mentioned as an internal candidate for the open position. He'd be a fit in this talent evaluator job.

By the way, if this is the one that is actually open, the Dolphins will have a difficult time attracting top-flight talent. The best and brightest simply want more power than this neutered version of a sort-of GM.

So which of these jobs is the one that should be open? I have an opinion. But as I've already thrown 935 words at you, I'll leave that for another post. 

 

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.

January 07, 2014

Dolphins, Ireland go separate ways

Jeff Ireland is no longer the Dolphins general manager.

The Dolphins just announced Ireland and club owner Stephen Ross "have mutually agreed to part ways" after six seasons.

The team will conduct an immediate search to bring new leadership to head the team’s football operations. 

“I want to personally thank Jeff for his hard work and dedication in building the team over the past six years,” said Ross. “After a series of discussions, we both felt that it was in our mutual best interest to part ways. Jeff was a loyal and dedicated member of the Dolphins and we wish him and his family nothing but the best."

Ireland was obviously not safe after the end-of-season collapse by the team that saw consecutive losses to last-place Buffalo and the New York Jets. Ireland and the personnel department argued the problem was primarily in that the talent was not maximized.

Coach Joe Philbin argued he needed more talent to get better results.

Ross obviously has sided with Philbin.

A club source said Ireland was going to lose much if not all his decision-making power on personnel. Ross intended to bring in someone with personnel powers over Ireland. That was not acceptable to Ireland.

The parting of way is a courtesy to Ireland.

“I’ve spent the last six years with the best organization in football,” Ireland said.  “Steve and I came to an agreement that the best thing moving forward for all parties would be to part ways.  I’d like to thank Steve for all his support and kindness. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing people during this time and I’d like to thank them all from the bottom of my heart."

The Dolphins have not parted ways with assistant GM Brian Gaine. But even if Gaine remains the team is very likely to bring in someone over him.

Ben McAdoo a possibility for OC but not yet

The moment news of Mike Sherman's firing as Dolphins offensive coordinator became public, speculation about his successor started. The name most tied to the vacancy is that of Ben McAdoo, the Green Bay Packers quarterback coach.

And while it makes sense based on ties you'll soon understand, one cannot accuse the Dolphins of acting fast if they have interest. The Dolphins as of this writing had not sought permission to interview McAdoo.

Therefore there is no interview scheduled with McAdoo.

The Cleveland Browns, meanwhile, have received permission to interview McAdoo for their open head coach job, according to the NFL Network and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That will happen Wednesday.

(Yes, McAdoo is out of contract after this season. But as contracts don't expire until March, teams have to get permission to interview McAdoo anyway).

So why has McAdoo's name come up?

Well, he worked with Joe Philbin in Green Bay. He was the tight ends coach while Philbin was on that staff as the offensive coordinator. When Philbin came to the Dolphins to turn the Dolphins into a playoff team around, McAdoo became the quarterback coach for the Packers.

Interestingly, McAdoo, 36, has never been an offensive coordinator. He's never called plays.

So why is he so hot?

He's been compared to Kansas City coach Andy Reid, who rose from Green Bay tight ends coach, to quarterback coach to head coach in Philadelphia.

January 06, 2014

Philbin (safe according to source) fires Mike Sherman

The Dolphins have announced offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has been fired. I am also reporting that coach Joe Philbin is "definitely safe," according to a club source and will return for his third season with the Dolphins.

 “I would like to thank Mike for his contributions to the Miami Dolphins,” Philbin said in a statement released by the club. “Mike has been a mentor to me throughout my coaching career, dating back to 1979. He is a man of great integrity, dedicated to his family, his team, his players and his profession. On behalf of the entire Miami Dolphins organization I want to wish Mike and his family the very best in the future.”

Interesingly, Philbin did not wish to fire his "mentor." The coach had previously defended Sherman as an "excellent" football coach. But owner Stephen Ross wanted Sherman out after the Dolphins scored only one touchdown in the season's final two games when the playoffs were on the line.

Ross, however, could not actually fire Sherman as he had signed over hiring and firing power to Philbin in his contract. But obviously, rather than defy his boss, Philbin did as the owner wished.

In fulfilling his owner's desire to "relieve Sherman" of his duties, Philbin accomplished something very important: He solidified his own job status.

Ross had no desire to get rid of Philbin but might have been forced to do just that if the coach had refused to comply with his wishes. In complying, however, Philbin remains safe.

It is unclear if this is the one and only change to the Dolphins this offseason. There is still a chance the team may add a football czar. General Manager Jeff Ireland's status also has yet to be cemented by the team.

I reported in early December that Ross had assured Ireland of returning next season. Obviously, the collapse at the end of the season with the playoffs beckoning made that very less certain.

 

The football czar approach might be Ross answer

So what does an NFL owner do when he's got a lot of money?

When he needs to make changes to a stagnant NFL franchise but doesn't want to actually fire anyone?

When his general manager and head coach are not BFFs and he wants to keep both?

When he needs to make a splash announcement to sell tickets and try to save his reputation?

Well, that's the situation facing Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. And his answer might just include throwing money and resources at the problem by hiring another football czar.

A football czar is not an official title. It's a term I use to describe that person who reigns over the entire football organization. He's over the coach. He's over the GM. He reports to the owner and is the owner's eyes and ears. He's like a king of football.

For the Dolphins, the football czar should be somebody with name recognition that fans will eagerly receive. It should be someone with football acumen. It should be someone who can get in the gap between Philbin and Ireland (assuming they both stay) and bring them together. It should be someone without an agenda for being power hungry. It should be someone who can report back to Ross -- an absentee owner living primarily in New York -- and let him know what he thinks about what is really going on down here in South Florida.

Those necessary qualifications means there's not a long list of candidates, folks.

Dan Marino is a possibility.

Tony Dungy is a possibility.

Carl Peterson is a possibility.

Eric Mangini is a possibility.

Don Shula is a possibility.

Scott Pioli is a possibility.

Bill Polian is a possibility.

Now, those are just the names. Let's whittle those down.

Shula is a great name, knows football and commands respect of the football people. But he just celebrated his 80th birthday. He's been living a great life for quite a while and managing the health issues that most men his age manage. I don't believe he's want to take on this day-to-day job.

Marino is the biggest name on the board. The Dolphins have discussed him having a role (again) with the organization as recently as last year. Marino never dismissed the idea and indeed embraced it as a future possibility.

But is the future here?

Is he ready to leave TV -- a cushy gig that requires only 25 weeks of work or so per year -- to do a 52-week a year grind? He had a taste of that work a decade ago when then-owner Wayne Huizenga hired him and Marino lasted only a few days before he realized he didn't want to do it.

Has anything changed?

Marino would be roundly received as a coup for Ross. It's a PR win. And he is so secure in his own skin and identity that he wouldn't be playing any political games with Ireland and Philbin to gain power. Moreoever, both those men respect Marino as a football guy for obvious reasons.

Mangini? Ross loves him. Ross wanted to hire him before -- before the 2011 season -- but Ireland and then-coach Tony Sparano presented a united front against the idea.

Now, neither Ireland nor Philbin have the accomplishment capital to keep Ross from bringing him if the owner wants. Mangini knows football. But he has no South Florida ties. Fans would look at him as a failed New York Jets and Cleveland Browns coach.

Dungy? He'd be great. He's a winner with multiple Super Bowl rings. I suggested him as the answer months ago. Ross tried to bring him on board last year -- Ross has been trying and failing to hire a lot of people it seems -- and Dungy declined. Despite this, Dungy has remained as something of an advisor to Ross.

But is he ready to leave his cushy TV job? Is he willing to move to South Florida? Does he want to take on a role as peacemaker for men (Ireland and Philbin) who aren't his guys?

Polian? He'd probably love the job. My sense is Dolphins fans respect his body of work. The problem is he would come in with predisposed ideas about the principals involved. Polian is not a big Ireland fan. And he's 72 years old so there's a question about his desire to do this for a significant length of time.

Peterson? Ross has resisted the idea so far. Maybe he's desperate enough to do it this time. Ross trusts Peterson. Peterson has the experience and credentials to do the job. But he's not a popular answer among Dolphins fans.

Pioli? Makes sense. Knows what a winning organization looks like. His family would probably like it as he is married to Bill Parcells' daughter and Parcells lives half the year in Stuart, Fl. Would he be a PR boon? Probably not. But he's young, he's energetic and if he's empowered he could be a resource.

 

Dolphins state over the weekend: Limbo

Limbo.

That's where club owner Stephen Ross left the Dolphins when he boarded his helicopter (feel free to give it a name in the comments section) last Thursday evening. That's where the Dolphins were late Sunday night.

No one knows 100 percent what will happen next.

No one believes they are 100 percent certain of coming back for 2014. No one believes they are 100 percent certain of being dismissed by Ross. Everyone is walking on egg shells and worried about their status.

This will be an interesting week as it will likely bring answers.

Below I list for you the primary players in this evolving soap opera and give you their current situation best as sources are handicapping:

Coach Joe Philbin: He is likely safe. Ross likes his head coach and, moreover, must understand that having hired him only two years ago (over San Diego coach Mike McCoy, by the way) his own personal reputation for hiring and firing is riding on this one. As Ross's reputation isn't at an all-time high right now, it could be the owner doesn't want to hurt that further by admitting he made a mistake on Philbin. But one reason Philbin cannot be considered 100 percent safe is because it is believed Ross wants changes on the coaching staff and Philbin does not. So does the owner blink and let the coach have his way? Or does the coach blink? Or do neither blink, in which case Philbin is gone.

General Manager Jeff Ireland: I reported Dec. 9 that Ross had told Ireland he was safe. But then the collapse of 2013 happened. And while that collapse probably is Philbin's responsibility, it is possible the owner could sacrifice Ireland as a scapegoat. Fans want this. But fans don't get a vote. The fact is Ireland put more talent on the Dolphins 2013 roster than he had in his previous seasons as general manager. 

(There is an interesting dynamic at work here between Philbin and Ireland. I told you last week that in evaluating the personnel department and coaching staff, Ross may have inadvertently been forcing his football operation to face off against itself. Well, ESPN reported Sunday there is "tension" between Philbin and Ireland. I checked around on Sunday. No one denied the report. So how do these two men overcome their "tension" if they're to stay together?)

Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman: As of Sunday afternoon, he had not been told anything -- not whether he is safe or out -- by Philbin or anyone else. It is quite possible Philbin, told to fire Sherman, would keep this from his OC knowing that if he tells him, Sherman might resign to make sure his friend doesn't go the way of former Tennessee coach Mike Munchak.

Executive Vice President of Football Administration Dawn Aponte: She seems safe but, interestingly, she wants badly to get out. Aponte is a candidate for vice president of football operations at the NFL office in New York. She wants the job badly. Having served 15 years at the NFL office, having club experience and, yes, being a woman, she is a capable diversity candidate. But the field of candidates is considered strong and also includes former Chiefs GM and Patriots personnel man Scott Pioli. NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash adores Aponte.

Bottom line? Ross typically resists change. He doesn't want to fire anyone. (Remember, Philbin is the person I reported has authority to hire and fire assistants). And as you read above, Ross told people at different points last season they're safe, and he probably doesn't want to go back on that word.

What does that mean to you and me?

We should find out this week.

January 03, 2014

The arguments: Coaching vs. personnel dept.

 

The NFL is about pitting opposing forces against each other in a battle for survival. It's about one team against another. An offense against a defense. A unit, perhaps offensive line, against another unit, such as the defensive line. Sometimes the NFL even pits a team against itself. Teammates practice against one another. Teammates at the same position compete against one another for jobs and playing team.

And at times like this, one department within a team may be forced to face off against another.

That's what it seems might have happened with the Dolphins Thursday. You see, if owner Stephen Ross's visit to the Dolphins training facility was what was widely reported -- a fact-finding mission to help the owner understand why his team was only 8-8 -- then Ross might have unintentionally been asking one department to face off against another.

On Thursday at Dolphins camp it could have been the coaching staff vs. the personnel department.

It was Ross meeting separately with coach Joe Philbin and general manager Jeff Ireland to find out why things went sideways in 2012. And he almost surely got vastly different answers to the same questions.

We already know Philbin believes his coaching staff, led by offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, did an outstanding job in 2013. That's why Philbin wants to keep the group intact. And it's pretty clear the personnel department believes it also deserves a continuing opportunity to upgrade the Dolphins because, well, the talent in '13 was upgraded over 2012.

But both cannot be exactly right when they're both responsible for a team folding in the final two weeks and losing as many games as it won. So here are the different views of the world:

The coaching staff's view: We did as well as we could under difficult circumstances and talent that simply wasn't good enough.

The personnel department's view: We provided enough talent to get this team to the playoffs and the development and coaching of that talent failed to get us there.

I'm not saying that is exactly what the two department heads -- Philbin and Ireland -- told Stephen Ross. But ultimately, that has to have been the general message for each to make a case they deserve to continue with the team.

Same team. Two different views of why the Dolphins failed to make the playoffs.

And, interestingly, both can score points. Both have a case. It's not 100 percent one department's fault why the Dolphins didn't reach the playoffs.

Consider, if you will, the issues I am about to present. I will give you the coaching staff's view of the issue and the personnel department's view.

The offensive line

The coaching staff's view: Are you kidding us? We worked a miracle with this rag tag bunch. Sure they allowed a franchise record 58 sacks but we lost two starters, we were working with an afterthought signing at RT that got benched midway through the season, we had to start Sam Brenner, a rookie undrafted guy, a couple of games. We might have used a rookie high-round draft pick to fill in but we didn't have any. We had Dallas Thomas but he didn't meet his draft pedigree expectations. We made Mike Pouncey into a Pro Bowl player. And we didn't have Jake Long.

The personnel department's view: We offered Jake Long nearly as much money to sign in Miami as he got in St. Louis and he made the decision to leave. We didn't cast him out. Also, he finished the season on the injured reserve list for the third time in three years so he simply is not a playoff-caliber LT because he doesn't last until the playoffs anymore. We had a solid answer to replace Long with Jonathan Martin but he freaked out. That's not the personnel department's fault. And even before that happened, we traded for Bryant McKinnie and he played well much of the time he was here. As for right tackle, Tyson Clabo was very good in Atlanta last year and was good toward the end of this season. He neither forgot how to play after leaving Atlanta nor suddenly remembered late in the year. His early season struggles was a coaching issue. Oh yeah, we drafted Mike Pouncey.

The run defense

Coaching staff's view: The two new linebackers the personnel department signed -- Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler -- didn't pan out as advertised. They didn't play downhill. They didn't make plays behind the line of scrimmage. They weren't the upgrade we were promised. Randy Starks had a good year. Paul Soliai was good as well. We improved the play of Cameron Wake in holding the edge and developed Olivier Vernon into a fine player. We rock!

Personnel department's view: The two new linebackers did not play as well in Miami under this coaching staff as they did last year for different staffs -- Ellerbe in Baltimore and Wheeler in Oakland. And here's a trend: The two guys we got rid of, because this staff wanted an upgrade, played better for their new coaches than they played here for these guys. By the way, we didn't overpay for Starks or Soliai so they played harder in a contract year. And we drafted Vernon. What a bargain!

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill

The coach staff's view: He improved this year. He's still a work in progress but anyone who doesn't see he's getting better is a hater. Yes, he's got pocket presence issues. But Zac Taylor will take care of those next training camp just like he took care of the issue for ... um, nevermind. Tannehill cannot hit the deep pass to Mike Wallace but that's because Wallace runs too fast. Why did we sign a guy that runs too fast? We will get that taken care of next training camp.

The personnel staff's view: We drafted him. Fans said we overdrafted him at No. 8. If he was coming out in this year's draft he'd be No. 1 overall to the Texans. You going to get rid of a GM who finally found you a quarterback? Checkmate.

Mike Wallace

The coaching staff's view: He had a great season. We were given a player who doesn't fight for the football when it's in the air so his ball skills are questionable. He had durability issues in training camp and we milked him for a good, solid season. It's not our fault if someone, ahem, overpaid for him.

The personnel department's view: Wallace is a proven, dynamic, deep threat receiver who averaged 17.5 yards per catch in Pittsburgh and that's what he would have been here if the coaching staff hadn't turned him into a 12.7 yard per catch possession receiver. They always lined him up on the same side of the field. They never motioned him to get him open quicker. They never used him in the slot.

Brent Grimes

The coaching staff's view: We coached him back to his Pro Bowl form.

The personnel department's view: We saw something in him and were willing to pay what other teams, including the Atlanta Falcons, were not. We rock!

Reshad Jones

The coaching staff's view: He took something of a step back once those other guys paid him. We did the best we could and turned him into a run-stopping strong safety.

The personnel department's view: He was becoming a playmaker until those other guys couldn't find a way to stop to the run and started lining him up in the tackle box most of the time.

The rookie draft class

The coaching staff's view: They didn't help one bit. They were always hurt. It's as if they weren't there. We can't make chicken salad out of chicken, well, you know.

The personnel department's view: No one developed them. Great coaching staffs develop players as we go, even after training camp is over. This group gives up on young players after training camp so it takes a year to develop even the good players -- like Olivier Vernon. Trust us, Dion Jordan is a beast and Jamar Taylor will be good.

The running game

The coaching staff's view: We didn't have Reggie Bush. The offensive line fell apart. Daniel Thomas is just a guy. Lamar Miller is just a faster guy, but ultimately he's JAG.

The personnel department's view: Bush fumbled a bunch and was benched in Detroit. How do you think that would have played here? Miller averaged 4 yards a carry. We'll address the position in the offseason. And, by the way, you can't run the ball against Buffalo (the No. 26 ranked team against the run) if you don't try it more than 12 times. New England ran it on Buffalo 43 times one week after we tried only 12 runs. They gained 267 yards.

The collapse

The coaching staff's view: We had a bad game at Buffalo and none of the players made a play. That's a talent issue. Against New York, they played very well. We congratulate the New York Jets for the victory. They deserved to win. But everyone gave effort. We tried hard. We milked every last point out of a team that was so lacking in talent we were 3-4 against AFC teams that failed to make the playoffs.

The personnel department's view: We were talented enough to beat Phillip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton and Tom Brady but we lost to Thad Lewis twice and Geno Smith with the playoffs on the line? We were 4-1 against AFC playoff teams but lost twice to the last-place Bills and the winless (at the time) Bucs? That inconsistency isn't a talent issue. We had the talent to make the playoffs.

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.