The Miami Dolphins have been on this unapologetic "blame last year's coaches" tour for quite some time now.
It began last October when head coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle took the fall for a poor start and underperforming defense. Weeks later, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor got fired for an underperforming offense and failure of quarterback Ryan Tannehill to improve.
After the season, receiver Greg Jennings accused the coaching staff of babying Tannehill. Owner Stephen Ross joined the chorus -- as if his firings hadn't already made his position known -- by blaming coaching for much of the team's troubles a couple of weeks ago. And on Tuesday, defensive back Michael Thomas piled on by telling 120 Sports that coaches "handcuffed" players on defense and that defenders were "limited to how many plays we could call, what type of plays we could call."
Thomas also found a way to blame Ndamukong's Suh's underperforming season on coaches because, he claimed, the $19-million-a-year defensive tackle "wasn't put in position to make plays."
And, I say, enough already!
Look, the entire Earth knows the Dolphins didn't get award-winning work from its coaching staff last year. Or the year before. Or the year before that.
But all this blaming after the fact ... All this deflection of responsibility ... All this hindsight pointing of fingers toward people who already got axed feels creepy. And kind of classless.
You know what I want to hear from Greg Jennings? Not that coaches "babied" Tannehill but that he (Jennings) caught only 19 passes in return for a $5 million payday and was a ghost most game days. I want to hear that on third-and-eight when he did get the opportunity to catch the football from that babied quarterback, he would too often drop it, or fall down after a seven-yard gain.
You know what I want to hear from owner Ross? "It is my fault."
Ross said the failure of 2015 was both on coaching and players but added, "...Obviously, we made a decision on the coaching, didn't we? That speaks for itself."
Actually, what speaks louder is that amid the failure of 2013, Ross's best thinking was that he had a good coaching staff. The Dolphins went through a bullying scandal that still boggles the mind and, of itself, required a firing of the head coach. But Joe Philbin was retained by Ross. The Dolphins dropped off the map their final two games -- losing two games to two losing teams when they needed only one victory to make the playoffs. Yet, again, Ross stuck with his coaches.
Amid that lethal combination of embarrassing scandal and embarrassing end to the season, Ross thought Joe Philbin was good.
And in 2014, when the Dolphins again failed miserably at season's end, losing three of four, Ross gave Philbin a contract extension!
So now he's blaming the same coaching that he so curiously and mistakenly propped up for years through no winning seasons and no playoff appearances?
Methinks Ross needs to look in the mirror before blaming coaches for his team's troubled recent past.
Lazor got blamed for Tannehill's failure to audible. Lazor got blamed for Tannehill's failure to improve in 2015, the first time in his NFL career the quarterback didn't get better from the previous year. But no one mentions Tannehill had his best pro season in 2014 -- under, you guessed it, Lazor.
Where were the complaints then? And where does the coach's responsibility for building the player stop and the player's responsibility for his own performance start?
(By the way, the former coaching staff "babied" Tannehill but also abandoned Tannehill because Philbin wanted to draft Derek Carr and Lazor didn't build a relationship of trust with Tannehill. And so where was Ross when this was going on as early as the spring of 2014?)
Suh wasn't put in a position to make plays?
Well, part of the time he was out of position, Suh put himself there. Because instead of trusting the system and the coaching and doing as asked, Suh did indeed freelance. He did indeed revert to old habits forged in Detroit. He did indeed do his own thing. That was reported by The Miami Herald early last season. Suh and the team pushed back hard on the notion and even exacted an apology from the reporter.
Guess what? It was true.
I've been told by multiple people within the organization Suh was doing his own thing. He was wanting to run his own show, right down to calling defensive meetings and ordering lounge chairs for the defensive line meeting room. And, yes, a position coach or defensive coordinator with courage would have stopped that approach dead in its tracks.
But they don't get all the blame. The responsibility for accepting a $19 million per year paycheck and then failing to live up to it is mostly on the player -- particularly when he lines up in the middle of all the action at defensive tackle but sometimes disappeared from games altogether. Check out Suh's production the first month of the season, and then again after November 22. Not close to $19 million worthy.
Thomas, meanwhile, complained he was playing out of position. He said injuries forced coaches to put him at safety.
Actually, coaches decided he's more a safety than a slot corner. And still, coaches put Walt Aikens at safety first. And Aikens listened to coaches. And worked on things in practice, preparing for what he was about to see in games. And when he saw them in games, he blew coverages. And blew coverages. And blew coverages.
That's on the coaching? I tell you where to be, you agree with me and tell me you understand, and then when it comes time to be there, you're somewhere else? And that's my fault?
Not buying it.
Aikens doesn't have to worry about that now. Although he remains at safety, the Dolphins this offseason added a presumptive starter to play next to Reshad Jones. Issa Abdul-Quddus, signed from Detroit as a free agent, is expected to be the new starter. And if he's not, then Aikens may get another shot.
So if he continues to blow coverages, that's on new head coach Adam Gase and new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and not on Aikens?
Where's the accountability here?
Thomas, it should be noted, is not going to be starting at safety despite replacing Aikens there last season. Thomas, I suppose, welcomes this because he said he was asked to play out of position due to injuries. He said his best position is slot cornerback. And I respect that's how Thomas feels. I admire he took one for the team and played where he was asked.
But guess what? Sports does not offer all perfect situations.
The Dolphins lost Branden Albert in 2014 and asked rookie Ja'Wuan James to play left tackle. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was out and Magic Johnson played center. The Heat asks Dwyane Wade to play point in stretches.
The Dolphins signed Brice McCain to be the slot corner in 2015. But he happened to be better than both Thomas and Bobby McCain at slot early on. And then everyone with eyes recognized he was better than Jamar Taylor on the outside as well. And so Brice McCain, signed to play slot, was enlisted as a starter on the outside.
And he struggled. But was that on the coaches?
They were putting their best available player at the spot. They had no one else. And when they tried someone else, Taylor turned into a completion-first down-touchdown yielding machine.
So it's on coaching that they look around and no one else is available?
Thomas, who I'm told was actually trying to talk the team up during his 120 interview, may or may not get his shot at slot cornerback this year. My take is he failed to lock down the job last year (admittedly with limited reps) before being moved to safety fulltime. That's not all on coaching.
As you know, I was not a fan of Kevin Coyle. Scan this blog and you'll see I documented the steady decline of the defense year over year under Coyle.
But you know what? When players such as Brent Grimes failed time and again in 2015 after succeeding in the same situations in 2013 and 2014 -- while being asked to do the exact same thing under the exact same system -- I don't blame that on Coyle.
The responsibility goes to the player.
Finally...The whole idea of blaming people who are gone and cannot defend themselves is lame. It is not a good look for the Miami Dolphins. It speaks of a lack of personal accountability. It speaks of pointing fingers to someone else. Back to Grimes and his wife Miko: The cornerback had an off year, but the wife ripped a teammate, in this case Ryan Tannehill, time and again while never acknowledging the CB was bad.
With the Dolphins, it seems, it is always someone else's fault. This speaks of a culture that obviously Gase is going to have to address because we keep seeing this deflecting of blame and finger pointing over and over this offseason.