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Harbaugh only real option to replace Philbin

The walls are closing in on Joe Philbin from all sides now.

Sunday's 28-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens makes this season look like it's headed toward the same mediocrity and failure to make the postseason as 2009 ...

And 2010.

And 2011.

And 2012.

And 2013.

And any number of years before 2008.

And so in my column today I ask owner Stephen Ross a simple question. Check out the column.

I am told Ross believes the Dolphins have playoff caliber talent. And because he believes there is enough talent to get to the playoffs, it is clear that if the Dolphins do not get in the playoffs, the owner may make a move to fire Joe Philbin.

After all, how can an owner sell to fans the idea that not making the playoffs three consecutive years is good enough to earn another season for Philbin? I suppose he could say, "Well, we've made incremental improvements and we think one more year will get us there."

And that will result in the stands being sparsely populated next season because my sense is fans are not in Philbin's corner anymore. 

Sources tell me Ross also believes the Dolphins are a very good job for any prospective coach now compared to a few years ago because it is a retooling and tweaking job rather than a rebuilding from scratch job. In other words, Ross believes that the Dolphins are a great coach and some minor moves away from being very good.

Have Philbin and his coaches done a great job at 7-6? Well, I'd say they've been inconsistent. They're really good some weeks. They're poor other weeks. They are, in other words, what their team is and what their team's record says they are.


So make no mistake: In the final three games this season, Joe Philbin and his coaching staff are working for the right to keep their jobs next year.

I am told by sources Ross sometimes talks of how coaches can take a franchise to the next level. He mentions Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay -- a lot. I suppose he could also point to Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, among others. There are myriad examples of coaches taking good to mediocre teams and making them very, very good.

So this again tells me the owner would consider "upgrading" from Philbin if the Dolphins don't get in the playoffs this year.

That leads me to Jim Harbaugh. Any report that suggests Stephen Ross doesn't want Harbaugh or wouldn't consider Harbaugh or, indeed, would not chase Harbaugh if he's in the market for a coach is dead wrong. That would be the first place Ross begins a coaching search.

The Dolphins, looking for a head coach the day after the NFL season, would join the Jim Harbaugh sweepstakes.

(Ironically, former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano and his Raiders beating Harbaugh's 49ers Sunday might be the final straw that makes Harbaugh available after this season).

Ross identified Harbaugh as a target in 2011 and tried to hire him then but failed. And since that failure, Harbaugh took the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC title game in 2011, took them to the Super Bowl in 2012, and took them to back to the NFL title game in 2013. (Dolphins fans would offer body parts to have their team in the conference title game three years in a row).

And Harbaugh did this with a team that was 6-10 the year before he arrived. 

Oh, did I mention Harbaugh went to Michigan? And Ross went to Michigan? Yeah, that's a thing for the Dolphins owner.

Yes, there are obstacles to getting Harbaugh. Harbaugh's wife is reportedly not a fan of the East Coast. The Raiders, just across the bay in northern California, offer the Harbaughs a viable counter to being with the 49ers. And the Raiders are very interested in Harbaugh or will be.

But ...

The Oakland Raiders job is a coaching death trap. Everyone in the NFL knows it. Harbaugh must know it. So the Harbaughs might prefer to grit their collective teeth and sacrifice in cold, ugly, uninviting, gray, South Florida for a handful of years and take a stab at winning big with a roster that seems good enough already to win on a smaller scale and certainly is better than the Raiders nucleus.

It is true the Jets will also be interested in Harbaugh. But why would he go to New York if Miami is an option?

This is speculative but do the exersise: Do the Jets have a better quarterback? No. Is there less pressure to win in New York than in Miami? No. Do the Jets have a better roster than Miami? No. Can Woody Johnson pay more than Stephen Ross?

Hell to the no!

I am also told that one thing that has stung Ross about his ownership stint is that he failed to land Harbaugh back in 2011. "He has remorse about that," is what I was told. So the Jim Harbaugh possibility is real for the Dolphins if Philbin does not right his ship the next three weeks.

One final thing: There was a New York Post report over the weekend that strongly suggested outgoing New York Jets coach Rex Ryan would be a candidate in Miami if Philbin is fired. I was told by sources this weekend that Ryan to the Dolphins is not likely.

Ryan is beloved by most of his players. He can coach the dickens out of defense. And yet, the Jets are 2-11. So all that love and great defensive scheming is not all it is cracked up to be. Ryan has also never really been able to hire an offensive coordinator that ran a 21st century NFL offense.

Let's be real. If Stephen Ross finally grows tired of the mediocrity that has characterized his tenure as owner, the first and perhaps only stop he's going to make toward upgrading his coach is Jim Harbaugh. Period.