Dan Campbell is like the rest of us. He doesn’t know what his future holds.
In the coming days, Campbell — the Dolphins’ interim coach since October — will get a chance to sell team owner Stephen Ross and vice president Mike Tannenbaum on letting him keep his job. Beyond that, he’s basically in the dark.
But as for his recent past? Campbell knows plenty about what went wrong — and what he would do differently if he does get another shot as an NFL head coach, either here or somewhere else.
“I would do a better job of holding everyone more accountable, from staff to players,” Campbell told the Miami Herald ahead of what many believe will be his final game in Miami.
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“Everybody that’s involved. Some of the things that I did were to keep everybody up and in a positive nature, because of the circumstances. I feel like I did what I had to do, and the best that I could. But that’s the one thing that I definitely know that I would change.”
Campbell is no ordinary interim coach. The players love him, and showed it with blowout wins in his first two games in charge.
Then came the Dolphins’ disastrous trip to Foxborough, Massachusetts, in late October. It’s a bit of bitter irony that Campbell’s final game of the season — and perhaps as Dolphins coach — will be against the team that did the most damage to both Campbell’s job prospects and the prospects of the 2015 Dolphins.
Remember back, if you can, to those giddy days. The Dolphins had just blown out the Titans and Texans to claw back to .500. Anything — including a playoff run — seemed possible.
The Patriots brought those hopes crashing back to Earth with a 36-7 beating. Making matters worse, Cameron Wake tore his Achilles tendon — a season-ending injury.
“I felt like we were really close to going places that I felt like we needed to go and have been looking for, for a long time,” Campbell said. “[So] I think it did more damage than just the loss.”
The Dolphins never really recovered. Since then, they have lost six more games, with just two wins. Their offense, in Campbell’s own words, has been “anemic” — no matter who calls the plays. Zac Taylor has been no more effective than Bill Lazor, whom Campbell fired in late November.
And the loss of Wake was a double whammy. Of course, there’s the on-field toll; he was again playing at a Pro Bowl level. But perhaps just as important, it created a leadership void in the locker room.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh both tried to fill it — in their own ways. Campbell has recently spoken about the strides Tannehill has made in that regard.
But both could do more.
“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” he said. “I think that any time that your most productive players are in those roles and can be leaders for you or improve in their leadership, it’s only going to help the team. Certainly, those are two guys that you’d love to see grow more into that area, and it would help.”
If Campbell gets another year (or five) in Miami, he would encourage that growth. Dealing with the 53 different personalities on a 53-man roster was perhaps the steepest part of his learning curve.
But interaction with his players is also the aspect of the job he enjoys the most, Campbell said. He loves being around football and loves players who feel the same way.
Campbell believes he has a good, strong locker room. He just wishes all those intangibles translated into more wins.
The Dolphins’ 5-10 record has been tough on everyone — his family included.
“It hasn’t been easy,” Campbell said. “My wife has done a great job of being able to hang in there, but I know it hasn’t been easy. We’ve made it work. They’ve made it work.”
The argument against the Dolphins keeping Campbell is pretty straightforward: The Dolphins have not been appreciably better under his stewardship than they were when Joe Philbin was coach.
But the argument for keeping him includes this point: Campbell never really got a true shot as head coach. He inherited a roster, a coaching staff and an offensive and defensive system from Philbin. So how can you fairly judge him?
Campbell wanted no part of that conversation, out of fairness to the people still here.
When asked to sum up 2015, Campbell kept returning to the word “frustration.” Losses hit him particularly hard. And there have been far too many of them.
So Campbell must know that the likelihood is high that Sunday’s game will be his last as the Dolphins’ coach. And if it is, he wants to go out a winner.
“It would be great,” he said. “That’s the whole idea. That’s why we play the game. It would be great. There again, why would it be great? Because it’s a win. And that, above anything, means more to me.”
▪ The Dolphins placed receiver Rishard Matthews (ribs) on injured reserve. The move opened up a roster spot, which the Dolphins filled by elevating Mike Hull from the practice squad.