Joe Philbin, the coach, is part taskmaster, part pot-stirrer.
On Tuesday, the Dolphins missed both.
Philbin is away from the team for a few days, grieving the death of his father, Paul, who died last week. But life for the Miami Dolphins went on as usual Tuesday. Meetings were held. Practice was crisp.
And yet ...
“We miss his voice,” wide receiver Mike Wallace said.
Added defensive tackle Jared Odrick: “[And] probably the guilt trip for appreciation.”
See, Philbin is a bit of a wisenheimer behind closed doors. He also has more appreciation for time than a Swiss watchmaker.
Rarely a week goes by that he doesn’t tell reporters that practice ended early — presumably a sign of efficiency in his mind.
But he lets his players know about it, too. When Philbin tells them they’re getting out a meeting early, he will shrug his shoulders and turn his palms to the ceiling — expecting applause, Odrick said.
Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has been filling in until Philbin returns Wednesday night. Fittingly, he begged for kudos when he ended a meeting early Tuesday.
“Palms up right away,” Odrick said with a chuckle. “It’s different not having [Philbin] here, but at the same time, we have so many guys and so many coaches that have been around the league and know what it takes to win and know what it takes to win the day, and I think we did that [Tuesday].”
Philbin has a reputation for being a bit buttoned down, and rightfully so. Odrick said Philbin gets on players for even having their shoelaces untied — a sign that their focus and preparation isn’t where it should be.
But Wallace takes credit for pulling Philbin out of his shell. The two celebrated demonstratively on the sidelines at least twice in the Dolphins’ win at Jacksonville two weeks back.
“Every now and then, we might get him to say a couple of things out of his character,” Wallace said. “If we get a little ‘hell’ or anything, we’re fired up. Any type of profanity, it’s good.”
And although he’s not a big yeller at practice, Philbin will get his point across with a understated sharp tongue.
“He’s a sharp guy,” Odrick said. “He can come at you at different angles, very subtly.”
Coyle will be the one delivering those barbs until Philbin gets back into town. Before leaving for home, Philbin laid out a plan for the two days he will be gone, and Coyle has acted as a sort of interim head coach in his place.
“I relayed his message to the players in the meeting this morning,” Coyle said. “Although he’s not here physically, they know exactly what Joe’s approach to this game is and what reflections he had on last week’s game. He’ll be back here soon with us, and we’ll just continue to move forward.”
Philbin is dealing with an tough balance — mourning the loss of a parent while preparing for a game that ultimately could determine the team’s playoff fate.
Despite three consecutive wins, the Dolphins (5-3) are still just the ninth seed in the AFC (the top six qualify for the playoffs). On Sunday, they travel to Detroit to face the 6-2 Lions.
Coyle wasn’t sure if Philbin would watch footage of Tuesday’s practice but did say the two would speak later in the day, when Philbin would deliver marching orders for Wednesday.
Through Coyle, Philbin told his team Tuesday “to build on what we did a week ago.”
Said Coyle: “We have felt that, if we hit all cylinders, offense, defense, kicking game, we’re a tough team. I think that was proven last week. ... Now we’re at the point where the consistency in all three phases is paramount to our success. We’ve got to go out and do it.”
Fewer players are closer with Philbin than Daryn Colledge. The veteran lineman played for the then-assistant coach in Green Bay for five years. Colledge signed with the Dolphins this offseason, in large part because of his affinity for Philbin.
“I think everybody misses Joe,” Colledge said. “Joe’s part of what we’re doing here every single day, and he’s a big part of the success we’re having. But he’s taking care of something that’s much more important than football so he’s instilled in this coaching staff and these players what we expect out of a week of work.”
“He’s having a hard enough time with what’s going on in his life but I know he’s having a hard time being away from this,” Colledge continued. “This is his life and his love and his passion. I know he wants to be in here with these guys just as much as we want him here.”