The coaching purge that swept through the NFL Monday spared South Florida — for now, at least.
Joe Philbin met with his players for a final time this season Monday morning and then addressed the media, discussing the organization-wide evaluation that will soon begin and promising that his team is “not that far away” from the playoffs.
What Philbin didn’t say: If all of his coaches — or even he, for that matter — will get another chance to get them there.
Arguably the worst collapse in team history and a fifth consecutive year out of the playoffs will have that effect.
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While most believe Philbin’s job is safe, he told reporters Monday that he had yet to receive that explicit assurance from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who is upset after a crushing late-season swoon.
The Dolphins would have made the playoffs if they had beaten either the Bills or Jets in the final two weeks. Instead, they lost by double-digits to each, scoring just 7 points in the final two games.
That has put everyone on notice, from general manager Jeff Ireland on down. But the most likely to go, insiders believe, is offensive coordinator Mike Sherman — Philbin’s mentor and longtime friend.
The Miami Herald reported Sunday that there’s a faction in the Dolphins locker room that wants Sherman gone after the team finished 27th in total offense (312.9 yards per game) and 26th in scoring (19.8). According to NFL.com, Ryan Tannehill has lost confidence in Sherman, who was also his coach at Texas A&M.
Philbin would neither commit to keeping Sherman nor commit to firing him, saying it will be part of the thorough evaluation in the coming days. He will seek “a lot of input from everybody,” including Ross, before deciding on changes to his staff.
Philbin did say that he has “a lot of confidence” in Sherman and his offensive staff, adding: “He’s an excellent football coach. That’s what I think.”
The Dolphins did not make Tannehill available for comment Monday, a day after perhaps his worst outing as a pro. Tannehill threw three interceptions in Sunday’s season-ending loss to the Jets, completing just half of his passes.
His worst miss: A deep pass to Mike Wallace down the right sideline that would have put the Dolphins up by two touchdowns, and likely put Miami in the playoffs.
His accuracy deep to Wallace has been a persistent problem, one that his speedy receiver said Monday must be addressed.
“We definitely have to get the deep ball going,” said Wallace, who paradoxically set a career-high in catches (73) but a career-low in touchdowns (five). “That’s a lot of big plays, touchdowns. We can’t leave those out there. That’s the difference between winning and losing some of those games.”
Wallace said Sunday that the team left 15 touchdowns on the field this year, and he’s probably not far off.
Tannehill completed just 16 of 64 (25 percent) of his passes thrown more than 20 yards in the air this year. He was the 11th-least accurate deep passer among quarterbacks to take at least 25 percent of their team’s snaps.
Wallace, who just finished the first of his five-year, $60 million contract, said that “everybody has to be held accountable” for the team’s performance, including the coaching staff.
However, Wallace disputed the idea that players had lost faith in their offensive coordinator.
“I think Coach Sherman put us in a lot of great situations, ones that we could have done a better job of executing,” Wallace said.
Regardless of who’s to blame, the 8-8 2013 campaign is seen as “a losing season,” Wallace reiterated.
Twenty minutes earlier, Philbin called it average — certainly not what Ross had in mind when he shelled out tens of millions in guarantees on free agents last March.
And while Philbin might think the Dolphins are close to truly contending, they have some serious issues that extend beyond coaching and front-office personnel moves.
Their offensive line was historically bad — allowing the most sacks ever by a Dolphins team (58) and managing just 90 rushing yards per game — and their run defense was victimized for nearly 2,000 yards.
And while they’ll have roughly $30 million in salary-cap space, the Dolphins first must decide out what to do with their 14 unrestricted free agents, 10 of whom either started games or would have had they not gotten injured.
Then there’s whatever fallout comes from the still-pending Ted Wells report on the team’s workplace conduct, commissioned by Ross after word of the locker-room bullying scandal emerged.
“Certainly, there’s areas we need to improve, starting with me,” said Philbin, who’s 15-17 as a head coach. “[Finishing at 8-8 is] not where this franchise wants to be, needs to be, and should be.”