SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
Professional sports owners can be just as susceptible as Dick Vitale to the coach worship mentality that infiltrates sports. We saw that last September, when Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was practically giddy about trading two players and paying $10 million to Ozzie Guillen, and again in January, when Dolphins owner Stephen Ross spoke of Joe Philbin “having a lot of the same attributes as Don Shula.”
Owners often overestimate what coaches/managers can do for them, especially in baseball, and that has been painfully obvious with Guillen, with several Marlins officials privately expressing immense disappointment about how little positive impact he has made.
It’s far too early to judge Philbin considering the limitations of his roster. Players like his attention to detail, respectful tone and approachability. “You’re bringing in winners,” Reggie Bush said of Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. “I have a high respect for coach Philbin.”
But with winnable games looming – beginning Sunday against Oakland - it will be fascinating to see if Philbin can do what his owner fully, if perhaps unrealistically, expects (mold this team into a winner this season) and what his general manager expects (develop young players more than the former staff did).
Cam Cameron lost support in 2007 because he micro-managed, rubbed players the wrong way and lost his first 13 games. Philbin appears to command a lot more respect than Cameron. But as Channing Crowder said, Dan Marino would have laughed at Philbin if he had asked Marino to pick up trash and keep his locker area tidy – one of Philbin’s pet peeves.
With Guillen, management not only expected his presence would translate into more wins, but are irked by some of his comments even beyond the Fidel Castro fiasco, including blaming the organization for previously allowing players to delay surgery.
"He’s throwing blame on areas he doesn’t know much about,” one Marlins official said. “You look at the personnel he was given. It was good enough to compete for the playoffs. Your job as a manager is to get guys to perform. He couldn’t do that with Hanley Ramirez, John Buck or Heath Bell. He was supposed to handle Hanley, and how did that work out? Good managers are supposed to be good motivators. He wasn’t much of that this year.”
One player blamed Guillen for not doing more teaching. But many Marlins players have no issue with Guillen. Jose Reyes said his best attribute is "he tells you to your face what he expects."
One player said he thought Guillen would yell more and has been pleasantly surprised he treats them like adults. "He yells at the other team more than us," the player cracked.
Most players are amused by his unusual antics, such as writing a note on a ball and rolling it to Yankees manager Joe Girardi during an exhibition game, laughing at Giants manager Bruce Bochy when he caught Bochy looking at someone in the stands (according to a Marlins player), and affectionately telling his former White Sox player, Philadelphia’s Juan Pierre: “You’re not that good!” when he came to the plate against the Marlins.
The exchange with Pierre “is the first time I’ve heard my manager ever do that. It’s fun,” said Buck, a Guillen supporter.
One National League scout wasn’t as amused, saying Guillen “does a good job of waving to people in the stands. He leaves a little to be desired with in-game decisions. Watch how close [bench coach] Joey Cora sits by him and reminds him of stuff he’s supposed to do.”
Positives? “Ozzie’s engaging, smart and bilingual,” the scout said.
The Marlins also believe there needs to be better coaching from Guillen’s staff, and changes on the staff are expected. The Marlins have declined to give Guillen a public endorsement, though it would be somewhat surprising if they part ways with him after one season.
Loria is now declining to comment on Guillen. Marlins president David Samson called Guillen's season "disappointing" to MLB.com.
As for Philbin, we’ve heard mostly positive reaction, though some players were disturbed when Philbin cut Chad Johnson after talking to the team about sticking together and the importance of family. One player said Philbin is “OK” but wants to see how he deals with adversity.
We also would like Philbin to stop saying “I didn’t coach the game well enough,” as he did again Monday.
The good news? “There’s more attention to detail now – that’s the biggest difference in this staff,” center Mike Pouncey said.
“If something happens like a guy jumping offside,… coach Philbin runs the whole play again. These coaches have a plan for us every day, working on a certain area where we’re lacking. It’s going to pay dividends. Our coaches were good last year, but obviously, they needed a change around here and brought in better coaches.”
Players appreciate that Philbin doesn’t yell as much as Sparano and, as Pouncey said, “treats us like pros.” Richie Incognito calls Philbin “a thinker – very cerebral.”
But as a first-year coach, will Philbin need to win for everybody to buy in? One Dolphin veteran said yes. A second player, Pouncey, said: “The coaches lay the platform; the players win the games. But if you have a coach that has a great plan for a team, then we’ll win.”
Perhaps Philbin and his coordinators will come up with a wrinkle that makes a difference Sunday. It’s questionable whether Philbin can be expected to win even half his games with this roster, but it isn’t unreasonable to expect improvement from young players.
This staff could not get that out of its most talented cornerback (Vontae Davis) or fastest receiver (Clyde Gates). But if Ryan Tannehill, Jonathan Martin and other young players show major growth, Philbin will at least have achieved one of Ireland’s expectations.
### The Dolphins have told people they’re going week to week in deciding whether to add another receiver. Jabar Gaffney and Patrick Crayton are among those on Miami’s list, but former Lions receiver Roy Williams declined an offer to audition here and then retired.
### Dolphins players hope for more deep and intermediate passes to be called Sunday. Only seven of Tannehill’s 36 passes traveled more than 10 yards in the air against Houston; no other NFL quarterback threw fewer in Week 1. (Andrew Luck threw 22.) Tannehill completed two of the seven, with only one in the air more than 20 yards. A more vertical passing game “will keep the defense honest,” Brian Hartline said. But Anthony Armstrong’s injury hurts; he's doubtful for Sunday.
### One of the Marlins’ problems is none of their small number of top position prospects is close to the majors -- a group led by Single A Jupiter left fielder Christian Yelich (.330, 12 homers, 48 RBI, 20 steals) and Jupiter right fielder Marcell Ozuna (.266, 24 homers, 95 RBI). Third baseman Zack Cox, whom the Marlins believe is a year or two away, was underwhelming at Double A Jacksonville: .253, 13 RBI, 27 strikeouts and seven errors in 24 games.
### The NCAA told us that any school that’s anticipating NCAA penalties can declare itself bowl ineligible during a season, as long as it's mathetically possible to be bowl eligible. UM spokesman Chris Freet said he has heard no discussion of UM doing that again. That might earn points with the NCAA, but doing it now would remove a carrot for UM players.
### The Heat concluded a several-day audition of former Kings center Hassan Whiteside and will decide whether to sign him, Josh Harrellson or neither. So far, Miami passed on auditioning former Nuggets center Chris “Birdman” Andersen, who would love to play here, or older veterans such as Mehmet Okur… A Heat official said the team was disappointed in Dexter Pittman’s summer league work and “this is a crucial training camp for him. But the slate is clear.” Pittman has a guaranteed contract ($854,389) and seems likely to stick but has been assured nothing.
### Note: Please see our last post for postscripts from UM's win against Bethune Cookman on Saturday.