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.
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.