In My Opinion | Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero: Beyond Incognito and Martin, Dolphins suffer from lack of leadership

 
 
Miami Dolphins' Richie Incognito talks with coach Joe Philbin after Incognito was hit with a penalty in the second quarter as they play the Tennessee Titans at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, November 11, 2012.
Miami Dolphins' Richie Incognito talks with coach Joe Philbin after Incognito was hit with a penalty in the second quarter as they play the Tennessee Titans at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, November 11, 2012.
CHARLES TRAINOR JR / MIAMI HERALD STAFF

asalguero@MiamiHerald.com

If the bottle of Pepto is empty and you still don’t know who or what to believe regarding the relationship between Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, then push past the unknowns for now.

Forget that a he-said, he-said lawyer standoff has already begun between the sides representing these players and there are probably more sordid details about to be leaked in the coming days.

For now, instead, let’s deal with something that is clear and frighteningly obvious to everyone:

The Dolphins are a team sorely lacking leadership.

It is a void as wide as a galaxy and one that doesn’t need a telescope to spot. It’s apparent from the top to the bottom of this football organization. It shows in the locker room, portions of the coaching staff — everywhere strong, wise voices are needed but are seemingly absent or mute.

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, the Incognito-Martin saga put a bright light on their glaring weakness.

Consider for a moment that if reports of Incognito leaving Martin an expletive-laced and racially charged voicemail are true (no media outlet has actually played the voicemail, so some skepticism is required), then you have a veteran bigot threatening to kill a black second-year player.

I, for one, would love to hear the message for context, but assuming the words are accurate, it shows inappropriate behavior that has not been seen in any NFL locker room except, of course, the Dolphins locker room.

Why?

“It’s up to the leaders in a locker room to police those type of things, to address them and make sure they’re not happening and not dividing your ball club,” Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said on Fox Sports 1.

Former Dolphins running back Ricky Williams said on KGMZ radio in San Francisco: “When I look at this issue, it’s not about racism, it’s not about bullying. It’s not about hazing. It’s about a lack of leadership in that locker room.

“I think this has to do with a guy who didn’t know what he was getting into when he got in the NFL and when things got kind of hot and heated, he didn’t have any mentors or anyone that could give him advice about what to do and the situation got out of hand. Again, the only issue is the lack of leadership in that locker room, and this is one of the ways it’s manifested.”

The Dolphins leadership void was a topic of conversation around the league Tuesday. Giants safety Antrel Rolle and Redskins linebacker London Fletcher talked about it. Pundits from Phil Simms to Steve Beuerlein to Rich Gannon discussed it on national TV shows.

Even former Dolphins players texted or called me to discuss the matter privately.

Some of these people have never stepped foot in the Dolphins locker room whereas others haven’t been around for years. But from a distance, they all easily diagnosed a problem the Dolphins have not noticed up close.

That’s because the Dolphins think they have leaders. Coach Joe Philbin often makes references to the character of the players on the team as an example of leadership on the roster — failing to understand that a man of good character is not always a good leader.

So let’s examine that. The past two years, Philbin has allowed players to elect a “leadership council” consisting of a handful of players.

Last season’s leadership council consisted of Reggie Bush, Jake Long and Karlos Dansby. And all three did such a bang-up job that, coincidently or not, all left the team in one way or another last offseason.

This year’s leadership council consists of Ryan Tannehill, Mike Pouncey, Cameron Wake, Paul Soliai, Dannell Ellerbe and — this is going to make you smile — Richie Incognito.

Where were those guys while Incognito and Martin’s relationship disintegrated? Well, we know where Incognito was. And Pouncey might have been busy attending to that subpoena he was served the day before Martin went AWOL.

Soliai and Wake were probably busy attending to matters with defensive players because, honestly, the defense is their laser focus almost to the exclusion of anything on the other side of the team.

And Ellerbe, whose locker stall is about as far away from Incognito’s and Martin’s as you can get in the Dolphins locker room, said Monday he didn’t see any strange behavior between the men.

So the leadership council in this instance could provide neither leadership on the matter nor counsel for the men involved.

Well, how about coaches?

Offensive line coach Jim Turner looks like a leader, acts like a leader and, for goodness sake, was a Marine infantry officer serving in the Middle East, Europe and Japan in the 1990s. He hasn’t been able to get the offensive line right most of the season, but Turner knows how to be a leader.

If he had heard or seen inappropriate behavior by any of his offensive linemen, the assumption is he would have put a quick stop to it.

But as Philbin said Monday, no one on the team saw or heard about any misconduct involving anyone else.

The allegations the NFL is now investigating were as much a surprise to assistants and the head coach as the media — more because the media was reporting on the problem while Philbin was releasing a statement calling the allegations “speculation.”

The problem is, ignorance of what is happening directly under your nose is a leadership flaw.

“There’s no excuse for it, and I have a very hard time believing that no one in the organization of the Miami Dolphins [knew about this],” Beuerlein said on the CBS Sports Network, “whether it be a trainer, whether it is one of the assistant coaches, the head coach, somebody.”

There is a bright side, however. People speculating this saga will divide the Dolphins or splinter the locker room are not correct. Dolphins players — both black and white — agreed this week that they like Martin and love Incognito. They agreed that if both return to the locker room, they would be accepted.

You know why there was so much agreement? Because they were encouraged to do so by Philbin during a team meeting and many of them are great followers.

“It’s going to take people with great strength, great morals, fortitude and great leadership to go in there and clean up a locker room that is in disarray,” Gannon said.

“I don’t know that they have enough of those players right now in that building.”

Read more Miami Dolphins stories from the Miami Herald

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