In pairing new general manager Dennis Hickey with incumbent coach Joe Philbin, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hopes he has found not only a winning formula, but a harmonious one.
Ross said “compatibility” with the coach was the “most important” element he was seeking in his GM search — something he said was lacking between Philbin and former GM Jeff Ireland.
Ross believes he found that in Hickey, who developed a good relationship with Philbin 14 years ago when Hickey was a Midwest scout for the Buccaneers and Philbin was a coach at Iowa.
Hickey, introduced at a news conference Tuesday, didn’t seem bothered that two others rejected the job before him, and that at least four others declined interviews.
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“I always believed I was the right person for this job,” he said.
Hickey, who spent 18 years with Tampa Bay including the past three as player personnel director, will have final say on the 53-man roster but said he will consult with Philbin on personnel decisions.
Hickey said when he met with Philbin during his interview, “It was kind of like, this fits. I feel like we’re already on the same page. Our philosophies are the same.
“We want to build a winner and do it collectively. We want a tough, smart, physical football team. A big draw to me was the opportunity to work alongside Coach Philbin.”
That was just what Ross wanted to hear. The owner believed the disagreements between Ireland and Philbin — regarding playing time, personnel decisions and other issues — were destructive.
Ross said the reason he parted ways with Ireland “wasn’t because I didn’t think highly of Jeff. I have a lot of confidence in Jeff. He’s a good friend. We needed to have harmony in the organization and think as one organization where everyone has respect for each other and operate with the same mind-set in all situations.
“Unless you have an organization that could all be together and pulling that same oar with the same common goal, you’re really not going to succeed. That’s why we had a change. We have the right fit [now].”
He said successful GMs, whom he declined to name, told him the GM had to be “joined at the hip with your head coach.”
According to multiple sources, Patriots player personnel director Nick Caserio and Titans player personnel director Lake Dawson turned down the job because they wanted the authority to fire the coach whenever they chose.
Asked why he insisted on retaining that power, Ross said: “I own the team. Let’s start there.”
Regarding his trust in Philbin, Ross said: “We’re not playing fantasy football. With the great organizations, there’s consistency in it. You just don’t change every time something goes wrong, or if you don’t win a game, or something, you just don’t replace everybody. We were in it this year. I feel as bad as anybody we didn’t make the playoffs.
“We were competitive. There’s such a fine line between winning and losing. You just don’t start all over again. Talking to outsiders, we’re not that far away. I have a lot of faith and confidence in Coach Philbin and his staff and the direction we’re headed. So there was no reason to make wholesale changes.”
Ross said he doesn’t understand why some candidates were confused about the organizational structure.
“I was pretty clear in the structure,” he said. “Not an unusual structure. General manager reports to me. Coach reports to me. I can’t answer the question for [why several people weren’t interested in the job]. They might have had other reasons.”
Dawn Aponte, the Dolphins’ vice president of football administration, will report to Hickey, who said he was impressed by Aponte’s “knowledge of the cap and ability to work with people.”
Hickey, who accepted the job Sunday morning when he was driving home from church with his family, said he wasn’t ready to discuss the Dolphins’ personnel needs or whether assistant general manager Brian Gaine will be retained.
But he said he likes the Dolphins’ cap flexibility (about $30 million in space) and “I thought [they] had a good nucleus of young players that I felt could develop into a championship-caliber roster.”
Hickey said he is drawn to players “that have been achievers team captains leaders, guys like [former University of Miami running back] Mike James,” whom the Buccaneers drafted last April.
“I’m about winning,” Hickey said. “My competitive outlet is scouting, evaluating players, being innovative, looking at different ways to approach team building that can be better than the other 31 teams.”
The Dolphins know the organization has taken another public-relations hit with the public rejections by several candidates.
Asked how the organization is perceived, Ross said: “The organization is perceived by the won/loss records. You are what your record says you are [8-8 in 2013].
“People believe we have a lot of talent on our team. I feel comfortable we’re headed in the right direction.”