Joe Philbin knows the results haven’t been good enough. He knows his players haven’t been good enough. He knows his assistant coaches haven’t been good enough.
And, yes, Joe Philbin knows he has not been good enough.
The Miami Dolphins coach has a career record of 23-25. He’s not had a winning season in three tries. He has not gotten the Dolphins in the playoffs any of his three seasons.
And despite much public and private support from owner Stephen Ross, including that one-year contract extension the coach got weeks ago, Philbin is on notice that he better make the playoffs in 2015.
“There has to be improvement,” Ross said of his 2015 expectations. “What is improvement? I mean, there could be other circumstances, but I’m looking to make the playoffs. And I think Joe’s looking to make the playoffs. And that’s the expectation for all of us.”
The inference made here is if Philbin fails to make the playoffs a fourth time in four years he might not get the opportunity at a fifth try.
So, in that regard, 2015 might be a playoffs-or-bust season for the Miami coach. It might be make or break.
But Philbin doesn’t quite see it that way.
“I said to Steve when I interviewed for the job that my vision is to create a team that competes for championships,” Philbin said. “And so to compete for championships, you have to get into the tournament. I don’t think of it as make or break because I’m going to prepare for this season in a lot of ways the same way I prepared to coach my first game against Houston [in 2012].
“But it’s time for us to take it to another level. Eight and eight is not good enough for me. It’s not good enough for the players. It’s not good enough for Steve. So we have to be better. We have to do things better, without a doubt.”
Do not be confused. Philbin says his preparation for the season will be similar to what it was before his first game. But he has evolved as a coach.
He is going to make changes from last year. And you will recall last year he made changes from the year before.
So Philbin isn’t the same guy he was as a rookie coach even if the preparation is similar.
“I’m going to be a little more hands on coaching-wise this year,” he said. “I’m not necessarily calling plays, but involved more coaching-wise. I want us to do a better job coaching in practice. We have to do better there.
“We’re going to talk about how we interact with and coach our guys every single play during practice better than we have in the past. Sometimes you’re a coach and you’re looking at what you’re running — I right YAM 97 pitch X hook — and you’re looking at your script all the time.
“I want us to have more instruction and more feedback on the field. It doesn’t have to be more yelling or more screaming to be better. It’s just trying to make everything better.”
Philbin says anyone paying attention will see differences in the team’s offseason program that begins in a couple of weeks.
“It’s kind of an ongoing process. The plan isn’t complete yet,” Philbin said. “But I know it isn’t going to be exactly the same, because exactly the same hasn’t been good enough.
“Exactly the same has been average. We’ve been 8-8. I have to do better, and I plan on doing better.”
The reason the Dolphins have failed to make the playoffs the past two seasons is because they wilted at the end. In 2013, they needed to win one of their final two games to make the postseason and lost both against teams with losing records.
Last season, the Dolphins defense fell off the table, allowing 37, 35 and 41 points the final three games. Miami predictably lost two of the three and a chance to make the postseason.
Despite that failure, Philbin decided defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was worth keeping. It wasn’t necessarily a slam-dunk decision but one Philbin feels comfortable about.
“I looked at things on paper. I looked at things on tape. And my decision was based on a three-year body of work as opposed to a five- or six-game slide at the end [of 2014],” Philbin said.
“We had a number of different discussions over the week to 10 days, to two-week period. And I came to the decision I like our defensive staff. I like the composition of our staff. I think they work well together. For two-and-half seasons and over a three-year period even after the five- or six-game slide I believe we were 10th in the NFL in scoring defense over a three-year period. Certainly, we have some things we have to do better. We have to coach better but at the end of the day, but I felt that was the best thing for us moving forward.”
The Dolphins this offseason have crossed the salary cap Rubicon in that they paid defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh like a franchise quarterback and will soon have to give their franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill a franchise quarterback contract, as well.
That means the coaching staff must develop younger, cheaper players more quickly to fill other positions — something the staff has not done so well with players such as Dion Jordan, Jamar Taylor, Will Davis, Dallas Thomas and others.
“We got to have guys to step up, and that’s what the coaches job is,” Philbin said. “That’s without a doubt.
“This profession is demanding, and we all want results and I do, too. For the fans, for everybody. We want to push this thing up another notch. We have to.”
THE FIRST THREE
A look at the records for Miami Dolphins coaches in their first three seasons:
George Wilson (1966-68): 3-11, 4-10, 5-8-1
Don Shula (1970-72): 10-4, 10-3-1, 14-0
Jimmy Johnson (1996-98): 8-8, 9-7, 10-6
Dave Wannstedt (2000-02): 11-5, 11-5, 9-7
Tony Sparano (2008-10): 11-5, 7-9, 7-9
Joe Philbin (2012-14): 7-9, 8-8, 8-8