Greg Cote: Jeff Ireland gone, but where do Miami Dolphins go from here?

Stephen Ross, the man in charge of South Florida’s flagging flagship franchise, the Miami Dolphins, met his customers’ vocal desires Tuesday and did something very popular in parting ways with unpopular general manager Jeff Ireland.

This club owner’s bold if somewhat expected stroke is more than a move of which fans will approve. It is justified. In the fast-forward, what-have-you-done-lately world of NFL football, five consecutive seasons out of the playoffs is an eternity. Impatience is all the rage, and a drought this long compounds the imperative for change.

That’s all the more so when you consider that Miami collapsed in two season-ending losses this season to blow a playoff spot that seemed well in its hands. (There is a word for that in sports. That word is “choking.”)

That is also all the more true when you consider that the once-proud Dolphins last won a playoff game in the 2000 season, last reached a Super Bowl in 1984 and last reigned as champions in 1973.

This franchise’s best days sadly are no longer measured by mere years past, but by decades gone by. The Dolphins have two towering icons. Long-retired Dan Marino is in his 50s now. Don Shula just turned 84.

All of these things weighed as factors in the departure of Ireland, and in the firing of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman the day before.

The moves, conveying a need for change, mirror what Dolfans have been thinking for a long time now:


Here is the problem that remains:

What’s next?

Who’s next?

And do you trust these Dolphins — either Ross in particular or the club in general — to make great hires and positively jump-start this thing?

Ireland’s dismissal supposedly was agreed upon in the “mutual best interest” of the Dolphins and Ireland. According to ESPN’s John Clayton, Ireland balked at plans to restructure the front office by giving more power to Dawn Aponte, the club’s executive vice president of football administration, if he stayed. In effect, Ireland was given the chance to stay on in a diminished role, and said no. That, in and of itself, suggests a lack of conviction in what to do moving forward.

Again, though, what matters now is what’s next.

Is there a plan?

When surviving head coach Joe Philbin announced the dismissal of Sherman on Monday, it was with regret. Philbin had called Sherman an “excellent” coach. Even in firing him he called him a “mentor.” Their professional relationship dated to the late ‘70s.

The presumption was Sherman was only let go because Ireland insisted on it.

Now, suddenly, Ireland is gone.

So Philbin remains, but without the offensive chief and trusted advisor he preferred to keep, and now having no idea who will oversee the roster and personnel decisions such as the draft and free agency.

It is those roster decisions that ultimately spelled Ireland’s fate. He spent more than $150 million in free agent money to finish 8-8. He traded up for a No. 3 overall draft pick, Dion Jordan, who hardly played. (I’m not even getting into his infamous pre-draft question asking Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute).

Now, though, who will want this job?

The sad reality is that the Dolphins have long since stopped being a destination franchise for the upwardly mobile. Just look at recent history. Coach Jim Harbaugh turned down Miami for the 49ers. Coach Jeff Fisher turned down Miami for the Rams. Quarterback Peyton Manning turned down Miami for the Broncos.

Now, what top-tier general manager will see this job as coveted? GMs prefer to swoop in able to hire their own head coach, but Philbin is in place.

Who will be enticed to come on board with an unaccomplished owner in Ross, an inherited coach in Philbin and a quarterback, in Ryan Tannehill, whose overall improvement in this second season was severely offset by his late failures that cost Miami a playoff spot?

Yes, justifiably impatient Dolfans surely are cheering Ireland’s departure right now. Torches and pitchforks have been laid down long enough to high five.

The question is: Do you trust what’s next? Do you trust this team’s owner to hire somebody better?

The apprehension in the question is the onus on Stephen Ross.

Read more Greg Cote stories from the Miami Herald

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