SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
So why is Dolphins owner Stephen Ross keeping Joe Philbin after ditching Jeff Ireland and Mike Sherman, rather than letting the new general manager pick the coach? Ross respects Philbin’s integrity, his organizational skills, the way he carries himself.
And some of Ross’ closest associates, including Carl Peterson, have told him that Philbin is not the problem. And there’s this: Ireland had the larger body of underwhelming work; Philbin --- who has multiple years left on his contract --- has had four fewer years to fail.
But if Ross polled a wide range of players and others for feedback about Philbin and this coaching staff, he would get mixed reviews. He also would be confronted with this question: What special skill does Philbin bring to the job?
“There’s not great respect for the coaching staff there,” said a close associate of several Dolphins players.
“Criticism of the coaches is consistent with everyone I talk to on the team,” said another associate. “You have some assistants who weren’t experienced or comfortable in their jobs. Some players said they didn’t learn much. It’s pretty disconcerting.”
And… “There’s not a lot of great teaching there,” said another close associate who speaks regularly with several Dolphins.
Let’s be clear: There are some coaches on this staff who do good work and are deserving of their jobs, including Kacy Rodgers (defensive line) and Darren Rizzi (special teams). Tight ends coach Dan Campbell has done a commendable job with Charles Clay.
Dolphins players generally like defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, but some believe Rodgers should be the coordinator, and the front office was unhappy Coyle didn’t find more ways to use Dion Jordan.
But this is troubling: One offensive player said he hasn’t learned a single thing from his position coach. Another who has been on the team during Philbin’s tenure said the assistant receiver’s coach, Phil McGeoghan, does a much better job than receivers coach Ken O’Keefe, and questioned O’Keefe’s acumen for the job. (O’Keefe previously was the offensive coordinator at Iowa and worked three years with Philbin there.)
O’Keefe, like several of Philbin’s hires, had a personal connection to Philbin, which made him appealing despite not having any NFL experience. Aside from coordinators, nine of the 12 coaches that Philbin has hired had never worked in the NFL.
One of the three who did, linebackers coach George Edwards, left for the Vikings last week and didn’t exactly get the most from his players here. And now Philbin has subtracted his most experienced coach in Sherman, whose work also drew criticism from players.
As for Philbin, a lot of players like him personally. What you don’t hear are words such as "innovative" or "dynamic leader."
One player complained that teams take on the personality of their coach and said because Philbin is flat and unemotional, the team too often plays like that. That has become a serious concern, but it goes beyond Philbin’s lack of motivational skills. Another said his personality better fits a coordinator.
“Players don’t see him as a really good X’s and O’s guy,” said one of the players’ close associates. “He’s just an organizational guy who’s on top of the scheduling and planning.”
A prominent network analyst who asked not to be named said Ross was fooled if he thought he was getting an offensive savant in Philbin. “His background is offensive line,” the analyst said, adding that Philbin wasn’t the coach primarily developing Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. (And we all know how this offensive line turned out.)
When asked last year what he likes about a particular player (Chris Clemons), Philbin said: “He keeps his mouth [shut].”
That philosophy is why Philbin either wanted to dump or was perfectly fine with losing productive players who spoke out, from Brandon Marshall to Reggie Bush to Karlos Dansby – all of whom were highly productive elsewhere. Ireland, of course, also had a major part in this.
There are some people in the Dolphins front office who see the deficiencies in Philbin and this staff, but Ross believes Philbin is part of the solution.
Regardless of whether Philbin survives beyond 2014, the GM and the coaching staff must have more of a common vision of players and how to use them.
“There was a huge disconnect between the coaches and management,” said one person who spoke several times to Ireland. “Jeff was frustrated. He thought his rookies should be on the field more.”
Instead, they played less than any rookie class in the league, because the coaches didn’t quite see in them what Ireland did.
Perhaps new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor will infuse some creative ideas. He has been an offensive coordinator only in college (Buffalo and Virginia), but he’s highly-regarded.
Lazor’s offenses at Virginia (2010-12) used a lot of motions, shifts and formations and tried to disguise plays.
“It’s an offense that takes a lot of time and a lot of work on trying to solve the puzzle,” former Auburn coach Gene Chizik said during Lazor’s tenure at Virginia. “It’s very problematic in a lot of ways because you have to limit what you can do [defensively].”
Iowa assistant Jim Reid, Virginia’s defensive coordinator during Lazor’s tenure there, said the offshoot of Lazor’s disguises and formations is “it’s hard to get a beat on how you would like to blitz them.”
At Virginia, Lazor said: “Teams know we’re going to run the power play. We just don’t want to make it look like the power play.” (Or, presumably, say "go-go" before running plays.)
Lazor ran a pro-style offense at Virginia but has considerable experience in the West Coast offense with Chip Kelly and earlier with Mike Holmgren.
By the way, Philbin hasn't completely ruled out additional staff changes, according to an associate. Offensive line coach Jim Turner's status could be impacted by Ted Wells' report on the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito scandal.
### CBS' Jason LaCanfora reported Saturday night that candidates for the Dolphins general manager job have been kept in the dark and that Ross is now headed to London for a week and then China. He said some teams who have candidates up for the job aren't happy how slowly the process is going.
### Though Philbin had interest in former Texans coach Gary Kubiak for the Dolphins' offensive coordinator job before hiring Lazor, an associate said Kubiak has told people he doesn’t plan to coach next season.
### Browns receiver Davone Bess’ peculiar behavior in his final months as a Dolphin, as detailed in Saturday’s Herald, also included firing and re-hiring his agent, and asking for a trade than then retracting that request, according to an associate.
### There are mixed views inside the Heat about whether to pursue center Andrew Bynum. Miami has considered it, and it hasn’t been ruled out. But one Heat official said there are be concerns about how it would affect Greg Oden, who has done everything the Heat has asked, because Miami wants to give him minutes.
This is not the same Bynum who played for the Lakers. Before being released, Bynum had the second-lowest shooting percentage among 60 NBA center (41.9), was in the bottom third in rebounds-per-48 minutes, and the Cavaliers were outscored by 127 with Bynum on the court.
### Bynum would make sense only if Oden has a setback or struggles, or if the Heat decides to play a lot of the game with a true center (Oden, Chris Andersen or Bynum) and Chris Bosh at power forward. Heading into the weekend, a lineup with Bosh and Andersen had outscored teams by 43 in 89 minutes and was shooting five percentage points better and rebounding much better than the Heat does overall.
Conversely, before playing well in Philadelphia Friday, the regular starting lineup (featuring Shane Battier at power forward) has been outscored since the start of December when playing together.
“But if you go big, you really lack the offensive flow Battier gives them,” TNT’s Steve Kerr said off the air.
Small-ball, which leaves Miami vulnerable on the boards, works only if the Heat is defending effectively (it hadn’t been, entering the weekend) and shooting well. And Battier (40.9) and Ray Allen (42.1) each have shot three percentage points below their career averages.
### Mario Cristobal, who angered a bunch of people at UM when he bolted after less than two months on Al Golden's staff to take a job with Alabama, continues to spend time and energy trying to flip UM oral commitments. The latest: Chad Thomas, UM's highest-rated prospect. Thomas, rated the nation's No. 1 defensive end, said he's mulling whether to visit Alabama and also has been considering a visit to FSU. But he remains orally commited to Miami..
Three-star defensive tackle Lamont Galliard, a Georgia oral commitment, reportedly will visit Miami.... Three-star Tampa-based receiver/cornerback Deiondre Porter decommitted from USF and is considering UM, Rutgers, Georgia, UF and UCF. He's scheduled to visit UM on Jan. 31... Running back Kameron McKnight, a 6-2, 220-pound three-star prospect from Jackson, La., told rivals.com he's considering a UM offer. UM has been looking for a big back in this class, to complement the smaller, quicker four-star prospect, Joseph Yearby.
### Barring further moves, the Marlins' payroll will end up around $45 million, including $7 million still due the Diamondbacks in the Heath Bell trade. The Marlins began last season with a payroll of $48.6 million, but $12.5 million of that was for players who weren't on the team. So this year's on-field payroll will be slightly higher, but still among the lowest in baseball.
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