January 27, 2014

Edwin Pope's Super Bowl streak to end

Former Miami Herald sports editor Edwin Pope, among only a handul of sportswriters in America who have covered every Super Bowl game, will not be attending or covering Super Bowl XLVIII in New York.

Pope, 85, had covered the previous 47 Super Bowls during a career in which he received numerous awards including the Red Smith Award. Pope has also been elected to the national sportswriters and sportscasters Hall of Fame.

No reason was given for Pope breaking his Super Bowl streak. Pope declined comment on not attending this year's Super Bowl. He was among a few hundred journalists who covered the First World Championship game AFL vs. NFL when it was played on January 15, 1967 -- Super Bowl I between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. And he was part of the weeklong coverage of every game since until this year's game.

This year Super Bowl XLVIII will be covered by approximately 5,000 journalists from all over the world.

Pope, the author of two books, began his journalism career at the age of 11 in his native Georgia and moved to the Miami to work for The Miami Herald in 1956. While currently retired, Pope has contributed occasional columns to the Herald since 2003.

The Miami Dolphins named the main football pressbox at Sun Life Stadium after Pope in 2010.

 

This Dolphins situation belongs completely to Ross

It's on Stephen Ross. All of it.

He hired this coach. He has hired this general manager. He has hired the Dolphins new President and CEO. All that stuff about inheriting people like Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano is out the window now. For the first time since he's owned the Dolphins, Ross actually owns the team of people that will take the Dolphins to heights or keep them at their current level of mediocrity and NFL irrelevance.

It is all on him.

And Ross is apparently quite comfortable with that because he obviously believes he's got the right people on the job. As I write in my column in The Herald today, Ross had plenty of chances to get rid of Jeff Ireland after 2011 when he jettisoned Sparano.

He didn't.

And at least one candidate for the general manager vacancy asked Ross to remake the team as a condition of being hired over the weekend. And Ross remained oddly loyal to his people, most notably Joe Philbin.

Do I agree with that loyalty?

No.

I think the owner's loyalty must be to the brand and his fans first and foremost and his coach and employees after that. And if someone isn't helping that brand, he or she is hurting that brand. I guess I ascribe to the Genghis Kahn school of NFL ownership.

And having graduated from that school summa cum laude I would now be looking around the room if I were Ross and figuring out who is helping my brand and who is diminishing it. And whoever is diminishing it gets pushed into the shadows.

So let's go through the exercise.

Carl Peterson: He is a longtime Ross advisor and confidant. He led in identifying and pushing of many of these candidates. But I'm looking at him sideways now because while he convinced Ross and others that Ray Farmer and Lake Dawson were quality GM candidates, he didn't seem to have much pull with either man. Farmer, named a finalist, didn't even take a second interview. Dawson, another finalist, took the interview but, as I detail here, didn't take the job. Nice work, Carl! Unless Peterson identified Dennis Hickey and Hickey turns into a stud of a GM, fake owner Salguero isn't feeling all this love for this trusted advisor going forward.

President and CEO Tom Garfinkel: I get the feeling he's going to be wielding a lot more power within the organization going forward, and I'm not thinking it'll be limited to the business side of the organization. Unlike Mike Dee before him who was not included in interviews for coaching candidates and thus couldn't save the process, Garfinkel was intimately involved in the search for the GM. His was apparently a stabilizing voice in the room. Yes, he is a strong Ross advocate. Obviously. But I have a feeling he sees the process was not pristine by any measure. He recognizes need for improvement.

Executive VP of football administration Dawn Aponte: I'm told many of the candidates came into their interviews wary of Aponte. Understandably, I might add. She reportedly had her issues with a GM in Cleveland. She definitely had her issues with GM Jeff Ireland in Miami. But once the candidates got to understanding Aponte's role, she sunk into the background. She was not the reason, at least not the primary reason, either Nick Caserio or Dawson declined the job. Now, fake owner Salguero would not have included her in the interview process at all because, as the Dolphins describe it, she will be answering to the GM on salary cap matters going forward. If that is true, what kind of backward set-up allows a subordinate to interview a potential supervisor? Strange.

Head coach Joe Philbin: He should be feeling pretty good about himself right now. Ross stuck with him. Showed loyalty to him. Is convinced he's the right guy to coach the team. He emerges with the most valuable of endorsements -- one proven by actions. But it should be understood that during interviews when Ross was asked by at least one candidate what he (the candidate) would be able to do after the 2014 season if the Dolphins didn't play well, the answer was not, "Joe Philbin is staying no matter what." The answer was, "We'll handle that situation if and when it arrives." So loyalty from the owner has to continue to be earned.

Assistant GM Brian Gaine: This one has to hurt. Gaine was the only finalist who was not offered the job. I'm told he is considering his options and future, including leaving the organization. Hickey will make a call on trying to keep him or not. Look, would fake owner Salguero have hired Gaine as GM? No. He's been a leader in the personnel regime that was just fired. But does fake owner Salguero try to move heaven and Earth to try to keep Gaine? To make Gaine feel whole? To convince Hickey to keep Gaine? You betcha. Brian Gaine is a quality person. He's a good personnel man. He helps the brand. And that should keep him with the Dolphins if the owner is trying to keep good people.

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.

Genius!

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.

January 25, 2014

Reports: Caserio offered Dolphins GM job (Staying in NE)

The Dolphins have offered their general manager job to Nick Caserio, according to a report by Washington, D.C. News4 anchor Dianna Marie Russini.

Yes, I know, the report is believable but its geography is a surprise. News4 covers neither the Dolphins, nor the Patriots and is not a national NFL media source.

If true, the Dolphins are making a push to strengthen themselves and at the same time weakening AFC East division rival New England.

If true, the point I've been making to you about Dolphins owner Stephen Ross falling in love with the last person he meets has a new illustration.

Russini is also reporting that Caserio has not accepted the offer and is mulling it over.

Update: Tom Curran of CSN New England is reporting that regardless of offer or not, "indications are Caserio is staying with the Patriots.

So, is it possible Caserio was made and offer and it wasn't good enough for whatever reasons. Or he wasn't offered the job, in which case he's staying with the Patriots.

Update 2: Ian Rappaport of the NFL Network is reporting that Caserio was indeed offered the job and has decided to stay with the New England Patriots.

Update 3: I have confirmed the reports are true. The Dolphins are not getting Caserio. The team is moving on.

Dolphins finished with three more secondary interviews

The Dolphins today confirmed they interviewed Lake Dawson, Nick Caserio and Dennis Hickey for the second time as they continue their search for a new general manager. The team interviewed in-house candidate Brian Gaine on Friday.

It's fair to believe these are the Dolphins four finalists.

The Dolphins next general manager will come from this group.

Caserio stayed in town Friday evening after interviewing in the morning and afternoon and got a second look today. Dawson and Hickey had their first interviews earlier and were brought in as finalists from Tennessee and Tampa Bay respectively.

The Dolphins are expected to pick a GM by Monday or Tuesday.

That means there will likely be a lot of soul searching and debating and discussing each candidate's strengths and weaknesses within the team's hierarchy on Sunday.

Ultimately, however, owner Stephen Ross will make this hire.

 

Nick Caserio might get second interview Saturday

It's going to be a busy day of finalists interviews for the Dolphins. And Patriots vice president of player personnel Nick Caserio might be one of those, according to Tom Curran of CSN New England.

Curran was told by a source that Caserio stayed in South Florida overnight after his interview Friday and was "going back tomorrow." But the source apparently was not clear whether he meant Caserio was going back for a finalist interview with the Dolphins or going back to Boston.

So, basically, Caserio might be a finalist. Or he might be nothing more than a tourist in a South Florida airport Saturday morning.

(My guess is he's a finalist, but that is only a hunch based on years of knowing how the Dolphins do business).

[Update: Caserio remained in South Florida and continued interviewing Saturday. It is unclear if this means he is a finalist or his initial interview continues.]

Tennessee vice president of football operations Lake Dawson was also scheduled to interview on Saturday.

Dolphins assistant general manager Brian Gaine, definitely a finalists, had his interview Friday afternoon and evening.

Cleveland assistant GM Ray Farmer, who was to be a finalist, turned down an opportunity to be considered any further.

It is interesting if Caserio has made the final cut because he was the last of the GM candidates to have a first-round interview. The Dolphins targeted Caserio early in their search but were not sure they would be able to get an interview with him until after the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs with a loss in the AFC Championship game.

Three things you must remember relative to the Caserio candidacy:

 1. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and Patriots owner Robert Kraft are not close. Indeed, "not close" can be said another way ... they do not like one another. It probably would please Ross to take one of Kraft's men. It probably would please Kraft to keep Ross from getting his guy.

Either way, the sound of a cash register could be ringing in Caserio's head.

2. There is something to be said for Caserio bringing the Bill Belichick system of player evaluation to the Dolphins. But that system has been with the Dolphins before. That system has roots in the Bill Parcells approach, which is in part what Jeff Ireland was using after Parcells departed in October 2010. And the Dolphins had a derivative of that system when Nick Saban was running the Dolphins as well.

3. Remember what I've told you multiple times about Ross since this process began: He often falls in love with the latest person he engages with. Caserio was Miami's final candidate Ross and his team interviewed in the first round of this process.

Just saying.

January 24, 2014

Gaine completes finalist interview, reminds of past

The Dolphins on Friday evening completed their second interview with their in-house candidate, assistant general manager Brian Gaine. Gaine is the first finalist interviewed for the job and more finalists interviews are on tap this weekend with Lake Dawson on Saturday.

And like many Dolphins fans, I am torn.

I have tons of respect for Gaine and have no questions about his professionalism and ability to one day run his own personnel department.

Gaine knows what makes a good football player. He knows if a lineman's punch is good, he knows if a running back runs behind his shoulder pads, he knows it all.

But I cannot get over two things:

Number One: A personnel man who Gaines worked with years ago (not Jeff Ireland) told me recently there is one thing Gaine has trouble answering one question when he breaks down a player: Can he play?

If that sounds simplistic to you, I understand because it sounded that way to me initially. But isn't the answer to the question -- Can he play? -- the bottom line? Isn't a general manager's job ultimately to make a call that seems simple on the surface but is really at the fundamental core of talent evaluation success?

Understand that when these men worked together, it wasn't Gaine's job to make any final calls. He didn't get to show he could make that decision but neither is that proof he couldn't.

So take one man's opinion for what it is: One man's opinion.

Number Two: I've seen this movie before. I've seen it multiple times in my two decades covering the Dolphins.

Exactly 10 years ago this very month, the Dolphins demoted coach Dave Wannstedt by taking away his final say on personnel decisions. That happened after Wannstedt drafted Jamar Fletcher ahead of Drew Brees and Eddie Moore ahead of Anquan Boldin.

Anyway, the Dolphins set off on an extensive and exhaustive search for a general manager. They interviewed in-house candidate Rick Spielman, Ted Thompson, Jerry Reese, Tim Ruskell, Randy Mueller, Phil Savage, and even Paul Warfield.

And when it was over, the Dolphins promoted Spielman.

"The candidates we interviewed were just outstanding. Everyone (who) came in, we were impressed with," then owner Wayne Huizenga said. "But also along the way we interviewed and met with Rick three different times. And during the interview time, we finally came to the conclusion that the person we have in-house is as good as, or better than, the people we were talking to.

"While I know it may not be the popular decision to make, I am convinced 1,000 percent that it's the right decision for the Miami Dolphins."

Well, Thompson went on to put together a Super Bowl team in Green Bay. Reese put together two Super Bowl teams with the New York Giants. Spielman was fired within two years -- but not before he gave up a fourth-round pick to move up one spot -- from 20 to 19 -- in the 2004 first round so he could pick Vernon Carey.

The New England Patriots selected Vince Wilfork two picks later.

Two University of Miami players. Spielman traded up to pick the wrong one.

That Spielman draft also yielded such all-time greats as Tony Pape, Tony Bua, and Will Poole.

(Peanut gallery: But Mando, what does that have to do with today? That was a different ownership group, that was a different GM search, and Gaine is not Spielman).

Yes, peanut gallery, you've finally made some good points. And it is true Gaine and Spielman are not the same person.

But I'm scarred.

And a repeat of the same act, with different protagonists, has a term in the movie industry. It's called a remake. And remakes typically end the same way as the originals -- with the Dolphins picking a forgettable offensive lineman and the Patriots picking a difference-making defensive lineman. 

The bottom line is the mistakes Wannstedt made in the draft with Spielman at his side basically continued when Spielman was elevated. There was  a different person calling the shots, but the approach was sytematically the same, the kind of players the Dolphins went for were the same, how the Dolphins measured the critical factors they looked for in players was the same.

And so the results were, well, the same.

So if Gaine succeeds Ireland will everything be the same? Will the systematic approach be the same? Will the critical factors be measured the same way?

I am not saying they will be. I don't know.

But many fans grew tired of the past six seasons Ireland served as GM. They wanted him out. Gaine was under Ireland for six of those eight seasons. How much different will it be if he's promoted?

I do not know.

Dolphins interviewing Nick Caserio today

While the Dolphins have already identified at least two finalists for their general manager job, they are still doing first-round interviews with one candidate today:

Nick Caserio, the top personnel department man in the New England Patriots organization is on deck for this afternoon, according to a team source.

I told you earlier the Dolphins might do more interviews this week before doing their finalist interviews. It seems at the time they were working on getting permission to talk to Caserio.

The idea of interviewing Caserio for the first time, a day before finalist interviews begin, is not exactly the most elegant way to conduct business. The Dolphins recognize this. But they figure you cannot always look beautiful while winning.

Winning ugly is good.

And talking to Caserio is a win.

This is how this is going to work, as explained to me by the team:

Caserio, 38, will interview today and if he is impressive to the point where he belongs among the finalists, he will move to that group this weekend for a second interview. If he is not worthy, in the team's eyes, then the club will move to its finalists interviews without Caserio.

[Update: The Dolphins announced around 1:30 p.m. that Caserio's interview had been completed].

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.

January 22, 2014

Dolphins to interview GM finalists this weekend

The Miami Dolphins plan to interview at least two finalists for the vacant general manager position starting this weekend, according to source familiar with the process.

The club -- which has been in contact with the seven men who already interviewed for the job -- will begin calls to six of those men in the next few hours to either 1. tell them they are one of the finalists and schedule the second interview or 2. thank the men for being part of the process and say the team is moving in a different direction.

The Dolphins had hoped to interview at least one more candidate this week, most likely plucked off a playoff team that participated in Championship Weekend last Sunday. But those hopes faded for unknown reasons and the likelihood that will happen are now slim.

The Dolphins plan to hire their next general manager well before the Super Bowl in 10 days and there is even optimism within the organization a new GM could be in place by Monday, the source said.

Earlier Wednesday, the NFL Network reported the Dolphins tried to hire Arizona's Jason Licht when the team caught wind of the fact Licht was offered the general manager job in Tampa Bay.

Two sources -- one very close to Licht and a Dolphins source -- said the report is not accurate.

The Dolphins indeed found out Licht was offered the Tampa Bay job and contacted him to inform him he'd be would be one of the finalists brought in this coming weekend. The Dolphins wanted to give Licht the option of waiting for the finalist interview before making his decision final.

Both sources confirm Licht decided to go with proverbial bird in the hand, taking the certain job offer rather than waiting to see if he would make the cut in Miami to have two job offers.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross will be part of the finalists interviews and will be the man hiring the new GM. He has not left the country this week.

Aside from Licht, the Dolphins have interviewed Cleveland's Ray Farmer, Tennessee's Lake Dawson, Pittsburgh's Omar Khan, Tampa Bay's Dennis Hickey, Detroit's Brian Xanders, and in-house candidate Brian Gaine.

One of those will be Miami's new GM perhaps as early as Monday.

January 21, 2014

Dolphins coaches home while rest of AFC East in Mobile

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

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

Philbin was the only AFC East coach not attending.

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

Those are the facts.

So is this troubling?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'd say there are bigger worries.

Talent men on playoff teams might be up next

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

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

Fifteen.

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

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

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

(You as a fan better hope).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not talk to them?

 

January 20, 2014

Source: More GM interviews coming, Ross engaged

The Dolphins search for a general manager is not over in that interviews for new candidates are coming, according to a high ranking team source. After all of the interviews are complete -- there have been seven so far -- then the club will narrow down to finalists and pick the new GM.

And this: Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has been present "and engaged" in every interview so far. And he will be physically present for every future interview, and every part of the process that entails, the source said.

The source spoke on condition of anonymity. The source declined to confirm or deny a CBS Sports report that Ross is in the United Kingdom and will be traveling to China thereafter is accurate. (I am now assuming the report is accurate).

However, that changes no part of this process, as far as the Dolphins are concerned.

The team is currently doing a "deeper dive" and "work behind the scenes" to vet candidates already interviewed and those yet to be interviewed.

During the interviews already completed -- with Lake Dawson, Omar Khan, Ray Farmer, Dennis Hickey, Brian Xanders, Jason Licht, and in-house candidate Brian Gaine -- Ross has been part of the full group of people talking with the candidates.

"He is not on his phone or doesn't step out to take breaks," said the team source who is intimately familiar with the interviews.

The Dolphins are talking to candidates as a group led by Ross, advisor Carl Peterson, Dolphins President and CEO Tom Garfinkel, RSE Ventures CEO Matt Higgins and Dolphins executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte.

Candidates are also meeting with Dolphins coach Joe Philbin separately, the source said.

(The team needs the new GM and Philbin to forge a strong bond because last year Philbin and former GM Jeff Ireland were not always on the same page).

The Dolphins, I'm told, are acutely aware of the criticism of their GM hiring process. Senior Bowl practices start this week in Mobile and it is clear a GM will not be named before those end. So there's criticism the process is taking too long.

The team's answer?

The goal is to hire the right man, rather than a right now man.

(I would say I agree with this. Obviously, there are deadlines that have to be met. The Dolphins need to hire a GM in time for the Feb. 18-25 NFL Combine as well as May draft. And the team will obviously have a GM in place before then. But him not being on board this week is not going to affect draft preparations. Most, if not all the candidates the Dolphins are considering will indeed be at the Senior Bowl working for their current teams, anyway. So that institutional knowledge will travel to Miami once the hire is made.)

There is also criticism of Ross being out of the country at times during this process.

It doesn't look good on the surface because it suggests the owner has left the process or become bored by it or has decided he has better things to do. This is a perception the club knows exists. And the pushback on that is that there is no part of the process Ross hasn't been a part of or will be a part of in the future -- in person.

Including, and most notably, making the final decision. 

Report: Dolphins hire Mark Duffner as LB coach

The Dolphins are off to a fast start at the Senior Bowl this week, filling their lone open coaching position by hiring Mark Duffner as the new linebacker coach, according to a report by the Florida Times-Union.

Duffner, 60, has been the Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker coach under three different head coaches -- Jack Del Rio, Mike Mularkey and Gus Bradley. He's been with the Jaguars since 2006.

He worked for the Packers in the mid 2000s when Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin was on that same staff thus the familiarity.

Duffner has 17 seasons of NFL experience thus making him the Dolphins coach with the most NFL experience.

 Duffner is formerly the head coach at the University of Maryland. He coached the Terps from 1992-96. Prior to that he was the head coach at Holy Cross.

As Duffner was also the linebacker coach for the Jaguars, this suggests he was either out of contract or the Dolphins will make him an assistant head coach as well.

January 19, 2014

In shadow of Bess trade, Dolphins looking for integrity

When Dolphins owner Stephen Ross released a statement telling the world what kind of person he wants as the team's next general manager he included this sentence:  "This individual also must be a person with integrity who is open-minded and creative."

"Integrity" is a word that should not be ignored here. Ross, I'm told,  wanted that in there because right now the Dolphins don't have a very good reputation within the NFL personnel community for, among other things, the manner they traded Davone Bess.

Bess, as has been widely reported this week, is troubled. And as The Herald reported this week, he was troubled before the Dolphins traded him in April 2013 to the Cleveland Browns. Less than one month before shipping Bess out, the Dolphins learned Bess's family had him Marchman Acted so he could be evaluated and receive treatment for the emotional or psychological issues that seemed to be troubling him.

But while the Dolphins knew Bess was troubled, sources confirm they took a don't-ask-don't-tell approach on the matter when shopping and trading Bess. The Dolphins did not offer information on Bess's apparent personal instability, according to multiple sources.

[Update: Another source confirms the Dolphins did not offer information but did tell the Browns to "do their homework."]

Now, an aqua-and-orange bleeding Dolphins fan might smile and consider this a coup. They might think the Dolphins pulled the wool over the Browns. Ha-ha, yeah too bad. Buyer beware.

That is not how most NFL teams conduct business.

Most would have simply cut Bess rather than run the risk of seemingly serving up a potential lemon without some sort of disclosure to another team. Why is this?

Well, because even though players come and players go, and front office people come and front office people go, teams remain. And personal reputations remain.

And having a reputation as a team or individual that cannot be a trusted trade partner is a bad thing. You can be certain the people who made the trade for Cleveland will never trust former Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland again. You can also be certain the Browns will likely be distrustful of the Dolphins in the future unless fences are mended.

Credibility and respect are currency in the NFL and no one wants to be bankrupt. 

You have no idea how many NFL people I talk to tell me about the respect they have for one another despite the fact they want to bash each other's heads in on game day.

Once upon a time the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys fought for NFC East dominance year in and out. And yet Tom Landry served up advice to young Bill Parcells. The Oakland Raiders roster was known an NFL rogue's gallery and yet Al Davis offered advice to practically any young coach or personnel man who called.

There was an honor code among these men and although the times have changed, much of that code remains. Not all of it, but much of it.

The Dolphins broke that code by not disclosing Bess's problems to the Browns. Indeed, if they'd decided they didn't want to break confidence with the Bess family because their son had been a valued member of the organization for four years, the right move would have been to simply cut Bess and walk away.

That message, I'm told has reached Dolphins ownership.

And that's one reason the word "integrity" was used in the statement Steve Ross released when he began searching for a new GM.