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3 posts from January 28, 2014

January 28, 2014

5 p.m. update: Sapp rant; Fallout from latest Fins' departure; Martin on bullying; Why Hickey's former boss believes he will succeed here; Fins, UM, Heat

The Wednesday buzz column is below. First, three updates:

### 5 p.m. update: Warren Sapp ranted against UM defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio today, telling WQAM: "The D coordinator is killing my school. That looks like no Miami defense in the history of our school... Don't talk to me about Al Golden and whatever the d-coordinator's name is. You don't ever hire someone you can't fire. That's the golden rule."

### 1 p.m. update: The Dolphins and assistant GM Brian Gaine have agreed to part ways after Gaine was passed over for the team's GM job. But this was essentially a dismissal. Gaine had been with the Dolphins since 2008. The Herald's Adam Beasley reports he was escorted out of the building.

Said new GM Dennis Hickey, in a statement: “I want to thank Brian for his contributions to the Miami Dolphins. We both agreed that this decision was in everyone’s best interests going forward. This will allow Brian to move forward in his professional pursuits and the Dolphins to move forward with our 2014 plan. I want to wish Brian the very best in the future.”

### In the Wednesday buzz column below, I quote Hickey's former boss in Tampa, Mark Dominik, about Hickey's track record. Dominik has now emerged as a possibility to replace Hickey as Miami's assistant GM.

When I reached him again this afternoon, Dominik was non-committal about whether he would end up here as assistant GM but didn't rule it out. He said he has "a lot of options" and a lot to digest. He called Hickey a "good friend" and said he knows a lot of people in the Dolphins organization.

The Buccaneers were 28-52 during Dominik's five years as GM, with Hickey heading up the personnel department. "The record isn't what we wanted but we were doing something right with the players we signed and drafted," Dominik said.

### 8 a.m. update: In an NBC interview that aired Wednesday morning, Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin told Tony Dungy that he’s ready to return to the NFL, blamed other Dolphins players besides suspended Richie Incognito for bullying him (without offering names) and didn’t implicate Joe Philbin in the locker-room bullying scandal that created national headlines this past season.

Martin said he never told Philbin that he was bullied by teammates before he left the team on Oct. 28.

Asked if he mentioned anything to coaches about the situation before this past season, Martin said: “I did mention. The organization knew I was struggling. I had some conversations with my coaches, mainly above me. I didn’t get into specifics. You’re not supposed to quote, unquote snitch on your teammates. I didn’t see it as my place to go above the heads of leaders on the offensive line and talk to my coaches about my teammates.”

Martin might have been talking about offensive line coach Jim Turner, who has downplayed the scandal. Turner never spoke to reporters about the scandal but said loudly in the team lobby last November  – with reporters in the room --- that “This is the most overblown story. Everybody knows Richie has a past.”

Turner remains on staff, but the Dolphins have not definitively said whether he will be retained.

Martin said what bothered him were “comments of a racial nature, aggressive, sexual comments related to my sister and mother.”

He said he spoke to former teammates on other teams and asked them, “Does this stuff go on? Is this normal rookie hazing?” He said “the consensus was this was not normal.”

Martin said there “were other” Dolphins players who were subjected to the bullying. “I can’t say why I may have gotten it more,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with the normal hazing you see in the NFL. Get a haircut, stuff like that, little pranks.

“But of a personal, attacking nature, I don’t think there’s any place for that…. It was a culture. I don’t think there’s a place to disrespect people in a professional sport.”

Dungy asked Martin if the sometimes vulgar, but sometimes playful texts, between Martin and Incognito were a sign of friendship.

"Yes it is,” Martin said. “I was trying with all my being to do whatever I could to be a member of this culture and our unit as an offensive line. I worked hard to be friends with Richie Incognito and others. I think it’s important building friendships with your teammates. So I turned the microscope back on myself: What am I doing wrong being treated this?”

Martin said he left the team because the bullying “was extending past my rookie season and I had to remove myself from the situation for my own health.”

In the portion of the interview that aired on The Today Show, Dungy did not ask Martin about his general mental health. He reportedly missed a couple of offseason workouts in April because of mental health reasons and sought treatment for depression after leaving the team.

During The Today Show segment, Martin also was not asked about the "malicious physical attack" that his attorney said he was subjected to by teammates.

Dungy did not ask Martin about where he wants to play, but a close associate said there’s no way Martin can return to the Dolphins locker room, and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said Tuesday that he does not believe Martin or Incognito will ever play for the team again.

Whereas Incognito is a free agent, the Dolphins are expected to try to trade Martin.

Asked if he’s ready to play in the NFL, Martin said: “I don’t think there’s any question I’m ready. Coach, I’m looking you in the eye and I’m telling you I’m ready to play. I’d be ready to play on Sunday if my team was in the Super Bowl.

“I understand opportunities in the NFL are fleeting. I’m hopeful I get another opportunity and I’m going to make the most of it because this is what I love to do. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t playing football.”

Martin said he hasn’t spoken to any Dolphins people since leaving the team. Conversely, Incognito continued to exchange text messages with teammates following his suspension and even watched a game with Mike Pouncey when Pouncey was sidelined by illness.

NBC Sports Network will air a longer version of the interview at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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WEDNESDAY BUZZ COLUMN

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, who was new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey’s boss the past five years, has some theories why he believes Hickey will be a good GM. Among them:

### Dominik believes Hickey, who was Tampa’s player personnel director the past three years, “has a keen eye for talent.”

He said Hickey advocated and was “instrumental” in the drafting of four key players who were outstanding picks in the past two years: impact linebacker Lavonte David (selected 58th in 2012), running back Doug Martin (31st in 2012), quarterback Mike Glennon (73rd in 2013) and former UM running back Mike James (189th in 2013).

He said Hickey was strongly in favor of drafting Glennon, who had a higher quarterback rating in 2013 than Ryan Tannehill (83.9 to 81.7). “He was always the top quarterback on our board, higher than Geno Smith and A.J. Manuel and Matt Barkley,” Dominik said, indicating Hickey agreed with that. “And he was the best quarterback in the rookie class this year.”

Dominik said over the past five seasons, Tampa rookies finished in the top five in snaps by rookie draft classes, and that Hickey deserves some credit there.

Was there any pick that Hickey had to really sell Dominik on? Dominik cited former Michigan State defensive end William Gholston, who was picked 126th last April and flashed potential as a rookie. He also said Hickey suggested selecting FSU linebacker Dekoda Watson in the seventh round in 2010; Watson has become a key reserve.

### He said Hickey is aggressive on waiver wire pickups.

After Tennessee signed and later cut undrafted running back LeGarrette Blount in 2010, Hickey suggested pouncing on him, which Tampa did. He ran for 1007 yards on 5.0 per carry in 2010 and had three solid years before Tampa traded him to New England in 2013. It wouldn’t be surprising if Miami pursues him in free agency this spring.

Dominik said Hickey also advocated the Buccaneers sign undrafted defensive end Michael Bennett after Seattle signed and then cut him. He had 15 sacks in four years for Tampa before returning to Seattle last off-season.

Dominik said Hickey also was involved in the decision to acquire two marquee players last offseason --- free agent Vincent Jackson and a trade for Darrelle Revis.

### Hickey’s character. “He’s got a tremendous work ethic --- strongest I’ve been around,” Dominik said. “He has great integrity, which is very important in this business.”

### Dominik said Hickey was “instrumental” in making the Buccaneers technologically-advanced: “We were one of the first to use I-pads, making everything digital” in draft preparation. (Hickey mentioned using advanced technology in his news conference Tuesday.)

### Dominik said Hickey, who was a Buccaneers scout when they won the 2002 Super Bowl, is a winner. “Everywhere, he’s had success,” Dominik said, citing high school, college and junior college, too. “He’s deserving of this.”

But Tampa was 28-52 the past five seasons, and it’s difficult to overlook that in evaluating any prominent Buccaneers executive. Hickey never had final say but had a “fairly significant” role in decisions, Dominik said.

Hickey, by the way, pointed to draft day trade-ups for David and Martin as what he’s most proud of during his Tampa tenure.    

CHATTER

### Former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland said he liked to “marry” a team need with the best player available in deciding whom to select in the first round of the draft. But Hickey said he believes in strictly taking the best player available and will rank players 1 through 500 before the draft. He already has done considerable work putting together a draft board because he was involved with that in Tampa Bay.

### Hickey said he believes in making decisions “collectively” with his coach, and resolving differences of opinion before draft day and before he’s ready to pursue a particular free agent. Considering Joe Philbin tried to persuade Ireland to acquire Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert last spring, it won’t be surprising if Albert emerges as a target in free agency in March.

### Stephen Ross said one challenge in his GM search was that “everybody wants to say, ‘I drafted this guy but the bad guy, somebody else did.’ So it’s hard to get a real feel. So you look at how they work together” with the coach.

### Ross, on his failure to land a big name coach or GM: “Sometimes big names deliver. Often times they don’t. Just because you’re a big name doesn’t mean you going to win.”

### Ross was asked where the Ireland/Philbin relationship created the most tangible problems. "Having respect for each other and listening to each other," Ross said. "I didn't feel it."

### Please see the last post for more from Tuesday's Dolphins press conference.

### With his knees feeling better, Dwyane Wade said he will return to the starting lineup on Wednesday. Even though he asked Erik Spoelstra to play him off the bench against the Spurs after missing four games, “I didn’t ask him to take me out as a starter for the whole year. We can quit that conversation right now.”

### Wednesday will be the first meeting between Wade and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant since their testy exchange in September, when Durant said James Harden should replace Wade on Sports Illustrated’s list of top 10 players. Wade tweeted then: “Note to self: Make him respect your place in history.” Durant responded: “Show me, don’t tweet me.”

Wade said Tuesday he holds no grudge against Durant. “From what I’ve known of KD, I’ve been cordial, he’s been cordial," Wade said. "I have no ill intent toward him. I don’t live my life that way. I’ve won three championships. I’m living in a dream, from the standpoint of basketball. Somebody has to take shots [at you] somewhere.”

But Wade said, smiling: “My top 10 is different from his top 10.”

And Wade added: "I respect his game. I understand where he is in his career, where everything's going great. I've been there. My job is dealing with what I'm dealing with to still try to be a very good player."

### An NFC scout who watched UM’s Stephen Morris closely at Senior Bowl practices last week told us: “His accuracy was erratic, like he was during the season. He will throw late to a receiver on an out route, or his ball will sail on him – more high than low. I’m not sure he judges the speed of receivers coming across the middle. I’m disappointed he didn’t improve from his junior to senior year. He probably will be picked between the fourth and seventh rounds.”

### We’ll have more on UM recruiting later this week. As our Manny Navarro reported today, key UM target Travonte Valentine said LSU has his "heart" at the moment but UM will get a chance when he visits there this weekend. He was wearing an LSU backpack during his interview Tuesday, and UM clearly has ground to make up....

Booker T. Washington five-star end Chad Thomas said he’s 100 percent committed to UM…. Three-star Jacksonville-based receiver Isaiah Ford canceled his trip to UM last weekend because he had a Friday night basketball game and UM is behind Louisville and Virginia Tech in his thinking, his school’s recruiting coordinator told me.     

### Twitter: @flasportsbuzz

8 p.m. update: Highlights from Stephen Ross, Dennis Hickey news conference

In pairing new general manager Dennis Hickey with incumbent coach Joe Philbin, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hopes he has found not only a winning formula, but a harmonious one.

Ross said “compatibility” with the coach was the “most important” element he was seeking in his GM search – something he said was lacking between Philbin and former GM Jeff Ireland.

Ross believes he found that in Hickey, who developed a good relationship with Philbin 14 years ago when Hickey was a Midwest scout for the Buccaneers and Philbin was a coach at Iowa.

Hickey, introduced at a news conference Tuesday, didn’t seem bothered that two others rejected the job before him, and that at least four others declined interviews.

"I always believed I was the right person for this job,” he said.

Hickey, who spent 18 years with Tampa Bay including the past three as player personnel director, will have final say on the 53-man roster but said he will consult with Philbin on personnel decisions.

Hickey said when he met with Philbin during his interview, “It was kind of like, this fits. I feel like we’re already on the same page. Our philosophies are the same.

“We want to build a winner and do it collectively. We want a tough, smart, physical football team. A big draw to me was the opportunity to work alongside coach Philbin.”

That was just what Ross wanted to hear. The owner believed the disagreements between Ireland and Philbin -- regarding playing time, personnel decisions and other issues -- were destructive.

Ross said the reason he parted ways with Ireland “wasn’t because I didn’t think highly of Jeff. I have a lot of confidence in Jeff. He’s a good friend. We needed to have harmony in the organization and think as one organization where everyone has respect for each other and operate with the same mindset in all situations.

“Unless you have an organization that could all be together and pulling that same oar with the same common goal, you’re really not going to succeed. That’s why we had a change. We have the right fit [now].”

He said successful GMs, whom he declined to name, told him the GM had to be “joined at the hip with your head coach.”

According to multiple sources, Patriots player personnel director Nick Caserio and Titans player personnel director Lake Dawson turned down the job because they wanted the authority to fire the coach whenever they chose.

Asked why he insisted on retaining that power, Ross said: “I own the team. Let’s start there.”

Regarding his trust in Philbin, Ross said: “We’re not playing fantasy football. With the great organizations, there’s consistency in it. You just don’t change every time something goes wrong, or if you don’t win a game, or something, you just don’t replace everybody. We were in it this year. I feel as bad as anybody we didn’t make the playoffs.

“We were competitive. There’s such a fine line between winning and losing. You just don’t start all over again. Talking to outsiders, we’re not that far away. I have a lot of faith and confidence in coach Philbin and his staff and the direction we’re headed. So there was no reason to make wholesale changes.”

Ross said he doesn’t understand why some candidates were confused about the organizational structure.

“I was pretty clear in the structure,” he said. “Not an unusual structure. General manager reports to me. Coach reports to me. I can’t answer the question for [why several people weren’t interested in the job]. They might have had other reasons.”

Dawn Aponte, the Dolphins’ vice president of football administration, will report to Hickey, who said he was impressed by Aponte’s “knowledge of the cap and… ability to work with people.”

Hickey, who accepted the job Sunday morning when he was driving home from church with his family, said he wasn’t ready to discuss the Dolphins’ personnel needs or whether assistant general manager Brian Gaine will be retained.

But he said he likes the Dolphins’ cap flexibility (about $30 million in space) and “I thought [they] had a good nucleus of young players that I felt could develop into a championship caliber roster.”

Hickey said he is drawn to players “that have been achievers,… team captains… leaders, guys like [former University of Miami running back] Mike James,” whom the Buccaneers drafted last April.

“I’m about winning,” Hickey said. “My competitive outlet is scouting, evaluating players, being innovative, looking at different ways to approach team building that can be better than the other 31 teams.”

The Dolphins know the organization has taken another public relations hit with the public rejections by several candidates.

Asked how the organization is perceived, Ross said: “The organization is perceived by the won/loss records. You are what your record says you are [8-8 in 2013].

“People believe we have a lot of talent on our team. I feel comfortable we’re headed in the right direction.”

### Jonathan Martin, in his first interview since Bullygate hit the Dolphins in late October, told Tony Dungy he left the Dolphins because "I felt trapped like I didn't have a way to make it right." He said he's a "grown man" but "the persistence" of the bullying drove him away. The full interview will air Wednesday morning on The Today show.

Ross said today that he doesn't expect Martin or Richie Incognito to return to the team.

Please check back later tonight for a lot more on Dennis Hickey, plus Canes and Heat.

Stephen Ross addresses issues at Dolphins news conference

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross made clear Tuesday that finding a GM who would have harmony with his coach was the most important element he was seeking and he has found that (even though other candidates turned the job down).

Highlights from Ross’ remarks at Tuesday’s news conference introducing new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey:

### Ross: “Looking for a general manager is one of the toughest jobs I’ve had. It’s kind of hard to prepare yourself. You’re interviewing people who haven’t had the responsibility you’re asking them to have.”

“I spoke to some of the most successful general managers about what characteristics you really look for a in a general manager. [He wouldn’t say who.] How do you find the right person? The words that came out of their mouth is you have to find someone that will be joined at the hip with your head coach and put the team and organization first and be totally compatible with the head coach and that the head coach be the representative of the team to the public.

“Trying to determine if he will have that compatibility with a coach --- that was the most important thing.”

### He said the reason he parted ways with Jeff Ireland “wasn’t because I didn’t think highly of Jeff. He’s a good friend. We needed to have harmony in the organization and think as one organization where everyone has respect for each other and operate of the same mindset in all situations.”

He said Hickey’s “knowledge and dedication was a perfect fit for the Dolphins.”

### Ross said Hickey will be responsible for the 53-man roster. Dawn Aponte, who handles the salary cap among other responsibilities, will report to Hickey.

### Ross doesn't understand why some people were confused about the organization's structure: “I set out the characteristics that were looking for. I was pretty clear in the structure. Not an unusual structure. General manager reports to me. Coach reports to me. I can’t answer the question for [why so many people turned it down]. They might have had other reasons. We’re one organization. Unless you have a common goal, you’re not going to succeed. We have the right fit."

### He made clear to candidates that Philbin had to be the head coach. “We’re not playing fantasy football,” Ross said. “With the great organizations, there’s consistency. You don’t change every time something goes wrong, or if you don’t win a game, you don’t replace everybody. We were in it this season. I feel as bad as anybody we didn’t make the playoffs.

“We were competitive. There’s such a fine line between winning and losing. You just don’t start all over again. Talking to outsiders, we’re not that far away. I have a lot of faith and confidence in coach Philbin and his staff and the direction we’re headed. So there was no reason to make wholesale changes.”

### Asked how the organization is perceived, Ross said: “The organization is perceived by the won/loss records. You are what your record says you are [8-8 last season]. People believe we have a lot of talent on the team. We’ve moving in the right direction. How we handled what took place here says an awful lot about this organization. I feel comfortable we’re headed in the right direction.”

### He liked “the compatibility between” Philbin and Hickey.

### Ross: "I was aware of disharmony [between Ireland and Philbin]. It was something I knew I had to address at the end of the season. You have to have one organization with one mindset where everyone is working together.”

### Why does Ross insist on controlling the fate of coach? “I own the team. Let’s start there.... I want to know what’s going on. I do have an interest. I have ideas. I told Dennis: If I tell you to draft a player or play a player, you don’t have to listen to me.”

### Ross said bringing in a big-name coach or GM won't necessarily result in winning: "You bring in the best people and let them do their job.”

### He said he doubted Richie Incognito or Jonathan Martin would play again for the Dolphins but then said he wanted to retract that statement.

### Hickey, by the way, said: "I always believed I was the right person for this job" but said he wasn't ready to address multiple issues, including team needs and the future of assistant GM Brian Gaine. He said he likes the nucleus of players and believed with some additions, this could be a championship-caliber roster.