Joe Philbin enters his wood-laden office through a back passage that didn’t exist when Don Shula or Jimmy Johnson guided the Dolphins. He greets me with a smile and a handshake.
And within a couple of seconds, the second-year Dolphins coach is discussing what is perhaps the toughest period of his short reign — a three-game losing skid amid high expectations that has some fans growing disenchanted with him, and some media (me) starting to ask harder questions.
This is how that one-on-one sit-down with Philbin went:
Question: What are you doing to change the results of the past three games?
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Philbin: “Number one, we’re going back to the fundamentals that we believe in strongly. Number two, we’re analyzing everything we’re doing to see if we can put our players in a better position to be successful. And three, we’re relying on the strength and the character of the guys we have in the locker room to work through this, knowing that there’s going to be inevitably some tough spots that you have to go through during the course of an NFL season. This certainly would classify as one of them. That’s kind of what our focus is on right now.”
Q: Have you, or the coaching staff under your direction, changed direction and done anything different so that you get a different result?
A: “Not necessarily, no. We feel good about the process we have in place. We feel good about the schedule that we have in place. We think this gives our players a chance to get themselves prepared both mentally and physically — on the field, rested, with enough time in the classroom. We’ve kept things very, very similar because we feel like when we were winning, things were working, albeit we were in some close games then. We have to find a way, as I said to the team [Friday], to make plays that will determine the outcome of the game. And I think tape would tell you early in the year we were doing that and we haven’t been doing it as often or frequently and that’s one of the reasons we haven’t won those games.”
Q: A knee-jerk approach is bad, but fundamentally, do you reject the idea that you have to do something different to get a different result?
A: “No, I try to stay true to the film. I watch the film or look at the film and say, ‘How can we get our guys … are there things we can do better from a staff standpoint? Are there things our players can do better? Should we play more zone and less man? Should we do more inside zone as opposed to outside zone? We’re always looking for some of those answers as we put the plan together. But I don’t know that fundamentally we just do something different just for the sake of doing something different.”
Q: Your message to the team this week, what is it?
A: “The message to the team starts mostly the first time when we introduce the next opponent and talk about how we want to play the game, how we want to do things. The first thing we talked about was, ‘Look it, guys, we’re going up to play a team that’s won 90 percent of the their games roughly over the last three or three-and-a-half seasons [at home]. Thirteen straight AFC East games [at home]. We’re going to have play all three phases and we’re going to have to play well from start to finish. We’re not going to have to be perfect but we have to play very, very well — our best game of the year — to win the game. That’s number one. Number two is we’re playing an up-tempo team. We’re going to have to play with a lot of urgency. We’re going to have to get out there and play fast and decisive. Number three is they’re going to make some plays most likely during the game. We’re going to have to keep our poise and answer back. We’re going to have to respond when those things happen. And the last thing is we can’t question our confidence in our ability to be successful. We have to stick together and play like a team. That’s kind of what I’ll really reiterate primarily [Saturday], what I reiterated already at the beginning of the week. And that’s how we build it toward the game.”
Q: What has been your and your coaching staff’s responsibility, culpability if you will, for the failures of the past month?
A: “Well we’re certainly … this is a team, so we’re all accountable to one another. It’s never one guy. Ultimately, the responsibility is on me as the head coach. And certainly I accept that responsibility. That being said, this is a ‘we’ operation. We’re not looking to blame one player. We’re not looking to blame the offensive line or the linebackers or the quarterback or the running backs. It’s everybody. Collectively. We have to do better. I’ve got to do a better job. Our staff does. Our players do. Everybody. Without a doubt.”
Q: Are you aware that some fans have started to grow dissatisfied with the work of offensive coordinator Mike Sherman more than anyone, but the coaching staff overall over the past couple of weeks? Or are you insulated from that?
A: “Yeah, I don’t do much on the Internet. I don’t look at ProFootballTalk. However, I can imagine … as coaches we want to be better. We want the results to be better. I’m actually pleased that our fans are passionate and loyal and want us to do better. And I can understand where they’re coming from. We spend time thinking about game management, thinking about decisions that are going to be made at critical times, thinking about calls that are going to be made at critical times. We understand. And we have to do better. Absolutely.”
Q: You have the floor. Anything you’d like to say to Dolphins fans who are depressed, downcast, upset or unhappy about the past three games?
A: “I would tell them that I believe in the locker room. I believe we have excellent men on this football team that representing the Dolphins is very important to them. And we’re going to work through this thing together. I’d love to ask for their loyal support, that we can fix this thing. And we will fix it. You know, in tough times you got to stick together and you got to believe in what you’re doing. You have to believe in your players, you have to believe in your staff. If you don’t have faith in one another you have no chance. We have to stick together and we have to work through this.”