America’s first true introduction to Joe Philbin came in weekly installments — not on the football field, but the small screen.
Philbin was the protagonist in HBO’s Hard Knocks, the all-access reality TV show that framed the Dolphins’ first-year coach as a straight-laced, no-nonsense leader.
Remember the nervous hush that fell over the quarterbacks’ meeting room when Philbin entered to announce the starter for the first exhibition game? How he combed the locker room for any errant scrap of paper or trash?
And who could forget his dramatic sit-down with Chad Johnson after the receiver’s domestic violence arrest?
Philbin put the “Oh!” in zero tolerance.
But a year later, that script needs revision.
A kinder, gentler Philbin? Maybe not. But certainly a looser one.
“He’s letting his hair down a little bit, the little hair he does have,” quipped defensive end Cameron Wake.
Added quarterback Ryan Tannehill: “I think we’ve all gotten more comfortable, ripping him, giving it back to him. He’s got that real dry sense of humor. I try to rip him as much as I can.”
An example: The always-punctual Philbin was the last onto the practice field for the June 12th minicamp session. He wasn’t late, but he cut it closer than usual.
It didn’t go unnoticed.
“I got everyone to start ripping him as soon as he walked out,” Tannehill said with a chuckle.
Now, that’s a small thing, but not inconsequential. Imagine Bill Belichick’s reaction if he got semi-publicly chided by his entire team?
“He’s more himself, I guess,” Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline said. “He doesn’t seem as rigid. He’s easy to talk to. Probably a combination of that is us getting used to being around with him.
“He’s a lot of fun,” Hartline added. “He’s got a great sense of humor, and once you get that, he’s going to be more fun to be around.”
And he has shown that even his no-off-field-embarrassments rule isn’t hard and fast.
Yes, Philbin cut Johnson during last season’s training camp just hours after he got out of jail. But Philbin also gave second chances to Jonathon Amaya and Evan Rodriguez after their respective arrests.
Amaya was accused of assaulting a cab driver — a charge that was later dropped — but Philbin allowed him to finish the season on the team. (He’s now a member of the Arizona Cardinals.)
And Philbin green-lit the recent signing of Rodriguez, a fullback who has been arrested twice this offseason. (“I feel like I’m getting a second chance,” a grateful Rodriguez said last week.)
But even if his demeanor has changed, Philbin’s core principles have not.
Philbin said Rodriguez’s background was discussed — and surely weighed — before agreeing to offer him a contract. He still doesn’t like trash-talking in the media.
And his parting message to his veteran players just before the team broke for the summer: Keep your nose clean, because you are a representative of the Miami Dolphins 365 days a year.
“He’s the same,” center Mike Pouncey said. “He’s the commander-in-chief, he likes to run a program one way, he’s very straightforward about it, and he’s going to do a great job rebuilding, and building this team from now on out.”
Added Wake: “We still get after it. We know what he wants, what he expects and we make sure we do it on the field.”
• Talks between NFL teams and Vonta Leach have heated up in recent days, the Miami Herald has learned, and Philbin is said to want a deal done by the end of the week.
Leach, an All-Pro Bowl fullback, has been on the free agent market since the Baltimore Ravens cut him early last week. He visited the Dolphins during last week’s minicamp but left for home without a deal in place.
If signed, Leach would assumedly become the starting — and possibly only — fullback on a Dolphins offense that struggled in short-yardage situations a year ago. He has drawn interest from multiple teams.