Meet the new boss of the Miami Dolphins: Mike Tannenbaum.
An introduction, however, is probably unnecessary. He used to run the team’s biggest rival.
Late Tuesday, the Dolphins formally announced Tannenbaum, the former New York Jets general manager, as the team’s executive vice president of football operations.
Dennis Hickey, the Dolphins’ general manager, will report to Tannenbaum in the new power structure. He will continue to lead the personnel and scouting departments and have control of the 53-man roster, the team stipulated.
As for coach Joe Philbin, there is no change to his place on the pecking order. He will continue to answer to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.
Late Tuesday, Tannenbaum framed his role as collaborator in chief, saying repeatedly that he wants to free Hickey up so he can focus on running the personnel and scouting departments.
Hickey, widely seen as the loser in the franchise’s latest power struggle, will continue to have control of the draft, Tannenbaum insisted. Left unclear: What happens if Hickey wants a player, but Tannenbaum — his boss — does not?
“Let’s look at the team right now,” Tannenbaum said. “Dennis Hickey and Joe Philbin have done a very good job. The cupboard isn’t bare by any stretch. … We have to know our roster well, then attack our roster aggressively.”
Said Ross: “I am excited that Mike Tannenbaum has joined the organization full time. He is an experienced executive and leader that understands all facets of the sports landscape. During his time as a consultant this past season, I was able to see his impact firsthand through his commitment and passion for innovation and using every possible avenue to find competitive edges.”
The surprising news was a significant shake-up to the team’s front office that hasn’t had a traditional hierarchy since Bill Parcells left the team in 2010.
And it left many around the league in shock.
After the news broke, one former team executive texted the Miami Herald: “Wait … What?!?!?! What is going on down there????”
But for those closer to the situation, the move was just the next logical step.
It became clear in the last couple of months that Tannenbaum, 45, wielded influence on matters beyond simply analytics and sports science (his job description back in August), according to several league sources.
His hiring will add yet another voice in the room with Ross, a group that includes team CEO Tom Garfinkel, CEO of Ross’ RSE Ventures Matt Higgins and Dan Marino.
Tannenbaum has a distinctive set of qualifications: For the past year, he was also an agent, representing both NFL and NBA coaches. Tannenbaum represents at least one current head-coaching candidate — Seahawks assistant Dan Quinn — but clarified Tuesday that he will not be involved in his negotiations going forward.
So who exactly is Tannenbaum?
A native New Yorker, Tannenbaum methodically worked his way up the Jets’ hierarchy, first as a contract negotiator before ultimately succeeding Terry Bradway as the franchise’s GM in 2006. He helped assemble a roster that went to two consecutive AFC title games (a height the Dolphins have not reached since the 1992 season).
Those who know Tannenbaum say he’s a good consensus builder — a trait Ross said was of paramount importance during the team’s GM search — who trusts the people around him.
But Tannenbaum’s critics point to his spotty track record, particularly the condition in which he left the Jets after his termination following the 2012 season. Most notably, the organization had to dig out from underneath the extension for quarterback Mark Sanchez, which guaranteed his 2012 and 2013 salaries — to the tune of $20 million — in order to free up cap space.
Sanchez threw 18 interceptions and just 13 touchdowns in ’12, but because of his contract terms, the Jets couldn’t cut him. Adding injury to insult: Sanchez injured his shoulder during the summer of ’13 and missed the entire season. The Jets ended up paying Sanchez roughly $1.5 million per touchdown his last two years.
When he was hired, the Dolphins said that Tannenbaum’s primary professional focus would remain as an agent with Priority Sports, and his role in Miami would not include any on-field or personnel duties.
Instead, he would help the team’s sports-science push, the team said. The Dolphins were intrigued with his background and brought him aboard to explore new opportunities in innovation.
One of his first orders of business: create a director of sports performance.
“I’m trying to take the big picture,” Tannenbaum said. “Tie all those departments together.”