As his players and coaches dug into their final preparations for Sunday’s showdown with the Cowboys, Dolphins football czar Mike Tannenbaum was stuck in the weeds.
Tannenbaum had a Friday morning meeting at the stadium to decide whether the team would keep Bermuda or switch to Paspalum grass when Sun Life Stadium’s canopy goes up next year. (Paspalum, which can grow in the shade, won out.)
Around lunchtime, Tannenbaum had an idea exchange with specialists from a big-time medical school about ACL implants and prehabilitation.
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And before he went home for the day, he took part in a conference call with a pro baseball club to discuss how they use analytics when making offseason trades.
As hard as it might be to believe, Tannenbaum found time for football, too. He squeezed in a few minutes with interim coach Dan Campbell to discuss which players would be active for Sunday’s hugely significant game.
In all of these meetings, he gave input. But he never gave orders.
That’s a critical distinction in light of a recent Fox Sports report, which made public a rumor that had been floating around Dolphins camp for a while: that Tannenbaum has instructed his neophyte coach whom to play — and when.
“Dan and I have a great partnership,” Tannenbaum told the Miami Herald on Friday.
“We collaborate and discuss a lot of different things. [But] at the end of the day, who plays is determined by Dan. I’m fully supportive of his decision.”
There is an important caveat: Tannenbaum, on behalf of owner Stephen Ross, will scrutinize most every decision that Campbell makes over the season’s final seven games.
He’s a no bull-[expletive] guy. He’s a guy that comes out, ‘Hey, you played good today,’ or ‘Hey, you played like [expletive] today.’
The Dolphins, remarkably, still have a playoff pulse in the mediocre AFC. That’s because Campbell helped right the ship after Joe Philbin’s firing in early October.
In the five games since, Miami has won three and lost two — despite playing just one at home. Sunday begins a stretch of five home games in the season’s last seven weeks. The Dolphins likely need to go, at the very least, 5-2 in that stretch to make the playoffs.
And although Tannenbaum — whose advice Ross will weigh heavily when deciding who will coach the team in 2016 — would not discuss what it would take for Campbell to keep the job, it’s hard to see how Campbell wouldn’t if Miami qualifies for the postseason.
So Miami’s interim coach surely sees the value in heeding Tannenbaum’s counsel on everything, from the depth chart to the travel schedule.
“He’s been very helpful,” Campbell said. “He’s really just helped me get my feet wet here. I would say a lot of it is behind-the-scenes-type things that he’s helped me take care of, from who sits on the plane to handling things down at the stadium.”
Added Darren Rizzi, Campbell’s top lieutenant and his special teams coordinator: “He talks to Dan about everything. … It could be everything from players and personnel to what’s going on in the game. He’s become a great resource.”
People within the building insist, however, that Tannenbaum acts as an advisor, not a commander.
Before the season began, he got up at a team meeting and told the players that he would help them with any concern or complaint they have — other than playing time or discipline.
Those decisions belong to the coach.
But Tannenbaum does want to let as many voices in the building be heard as possible, a philosophy that dates back to his time with the New York Jets.
There, he would organize weekly meetings with the coaching and personnel staffs, encouraging a free flow of information between departments that all too often stay in their own worlds. That hasn’t happened on a formal basis yet in Davie but could going forward.
And Tannenbaum was serious about having a frank dialogue with his players, particularly those with whom he has a rapport.
“He’s a no bull-[crap] guy,” center Mike Pouncey said. “He’s a guy that comes out, ‘Hey, you played good today,’ or ‘Hey, you played like [expletive] today.’ He’s going to tell you straight forward, and it’s something you respect out of a guy, especially a guy like him, with the résumé that he has.”
It is evident there is a fondness between Pouncey and Tannenbaum. A few weeks back, Pouncey gave Tannenbaum grief for wearing an ugly pair of sneakers unbefitting of an NFL vice president.
If you get me something hipper, Tannenbaum shot back, I’ll wear them.
A few days later, a tall stack of brand new Nikes were delivered to Tannenbaum’s office — courtesy of Pouncey.
Granted, not every player is the same, and some Dolphins privately complain that Tannenbaum at times oversteps what they see as the role of a football operations vice president. Some don’t like him. Others, including at least one significant contributor, hardly know who he is.
But count Ryan Tannehill among Tannenbaum’s fans.
He should be; Tannenbaum was a driving force behind the team’s decision to extend Tannehill this offseason, even though they had the quarterback’s rights for another two seasons.
“He’s a realist,” said Tannehill, who talks with Tannenbaum a few times per week. “I appreciate that. I think other people can appreciate that as well. He doesn’t sugarcoat things and make you feel good when you shouldn’t feel good.
“He wants to win, and he wants to drive us to win. And that’s kind of his mind-set in everything he does.”
Sometimes, that means asking Campbell why DeVante Parker, the Dolphins’ first-round pick, didn’t get a single snap against the Eagles.
And sometimes, that means figuring out which sod grows best in the shade.
“My job is, I’m big-picture overview,” Tannenbaum said. “Every day is different. Some days, we’re looking at what grass to where we can improve analytics to the personnel department.”