September is the grand intersection month for our four major professional teams. The Dolphins are underway, the Marlins are still playing (if you can call it that), the Panthers would have begun training camp this week if not for the NHL lockout, and the Heat’s first preseason practice is next weekend.
So this seems like the right time to take stock of how each team is being run and led with a state-of-the franchise report. We’ll look at management style and results, and offer grades and a prognosis for what’s immediately ahead.
Let’s go top to bottom based on overall grades:
MIAMI HEAT (Grade: A-plus)
A state-of-the-art owner in Micky Arison, a legendary president/personnel chief in Pat Riley, and a defending champion team led by the best player on Earth. What’s not to like? There is scarcely a nit to pick.
Arison is the perfect owner, in that he spends what he must and is content to be a behind-the-curtains guy – not a man who treats the franchise like his toy. Riley masterminded adding LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Dwyane Wade, perhaps the all-time NBA coup, celebrated a title, and then went out and got Ray Allen.
The Heat also have a Riley mini-me in bright young protégé coach Erik Spoelstra.
This thing has a chance to grow into a dynasty for as long as LeBron is the on-court grand marshal and Riley is around to keep adding, tweaking, improving. I don’t know that South Florida has ever had a better-run franchise than what the Heat is today.
FLORIDA PANTHERS (Grade: B)
This ongoing NHL lockout that threatens to cancel the entire season is awful business, and the last thing hockey or the Panthers need, but that’s on the league and its players’ union, so we won’t downgrade the local club for this mess.
The Panthers started over in 2010 with a low-key new owner in Cliff Viner and a new general manager in Dale Tallon, a marquee hire who was fresh off helping the Chicago Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup. Tallon in turn brought in a new coach last season in Kevin Dineen.
We have seen the progress, the dividends, which is all you can ask of an ownership/management team.
Last season Florida ended a record 10-season playoff drought and finally made the postseason.
In Tallon, there is the sense for the first time in years that this club is in good hands and headed right.
Now if only the NHL will let the Cats back on the ice.
MIAMI MARLINS (Grade: C-minus)
Owner Jeffrey Loria, president David Samson and manager Ozzie Guillen lead the major leagues in ego and noise. In on-field results, not so much.
The Marlins have a beautiful new stadium and therefore a solid, long-term future in Miami, and for that this regime deserves credit. It is the only reason our grade isn’t appreciably lower.
The bottom line is that this disappointing season now huffing to an end will be the club’s ninth year in a row out of the playoffs. Until this year, player payrolls were beyond reasonably low. And the franchise has let its minor-league cupboards grow barren.
Loria is an out-front, hands-on owner, Samson is a loose-lip president who tends to rub folks the wrong way, and Guillen, well, even beyond his Fidel Castro mess, is what he is: a brutally, profanely honest man, the kind of guy who curses at ESPN writer Buster Olney on Twitter.
Guillen’s act flies if you are winning, not so much when you are not.
There is speculation Guillen’s job is less than safe. I have to believe he’ll be back but that personnel guy Larry Beinfest will lose his power or his job as a scapegoat for this nightmarish, last-place season.
The Marlins have some very nice pieces to build around – mostly Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Reyes – but they must deliver results that show in the standings or that jewel of a new stadium will continue unfilled.
Some advice for the Loria/Samson/Guillen triumvirate: Turn down the volume. Less talking, more winning.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (Grade: D)
There may be reasons at last for beleaguered, starving Dolfans to be hopeful, embodied by promising rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but right now the regime of owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland must be judged harshly.
I don’t include new coach Joe Philbin, who in fairness should be seen as a promising hire until he proves otherwise.
To his credit, at least Ross admitted his P.R. blunder and has done away with the infamous orange carpet and his obsession with parading his celebrity part-owners onto the JumboTron screen during games.
But until we see consistent results on the field that change the perception of this club and the narrative, Ross and Ireland will be known for their failures, such as very publicly going after Jim Harbaugh, then Jeff Fisher, then Peyton Manning, and getting none of them. That’s not to mention the various ill-fated draft picks or free-agent signings, or the fact Ireland is sending a rookie QB to battle without a premier receiver.
When your last playoff victory was in 2000 you are a desperate franchise. I keep hearing rumors Ross may be interested in selling the team. I’m not sure I’d blame him. Meantime, Ireland’s future here certainly should be considered tenuous. His unpopularity showed during Sunday’s game with a heated exchange between the GM and heckling fans. Ireland’s track record has been spotty to say the least and fans are sick of it.
Now, so much rides on Tannehill. If this kid hits big, the club has a chance to turn the corner and Ireland has a chance to save his job. If Tannehill falls short and isn’t the savior this club so needs, Ireland can’t logically survive here.
Interesting times for all four of our big pro teams, top to bottom.