Joe Philbin coached nine years in Green Bay and on the college level for 19 years before that so, as he says, “I’ve been around a little bit.” And in all those years and all those games, the Dolphins new coach doesn’t remember too many times when he was on a coaching staff that basically schooled the opposing staff.
“I don’t remember many games when I said, ‘Wow, we out-coached those guys,’ ” Philbin said Saturday. “And by the same token, I don’t know that we got out-coached. It comes down to players. It comes down to fundamentals.”
It comes down to talent.
NFL success, contrary to some schools of thought, is not found solely in a playbook authored by a genius coach. Success is the spawn of elite athletes playing to their capabilities.
The team with the best players and the greatest number of those players typically wins.
That’s the reason Tony Sparano, who couldn’t manage a winning season playing with bad quarterbacks the past three years, was hailed as something of a revelation and won 11 games in 2008 when his quarterback played like an MVP.
That’s the reason Bill Belichick stunk in Cleveland but became a genius with Tom Brady and Willie McGinest and Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi in New England.
It’s no coincidence Don Shula won more games than everyone else. He coached Dan Marino and Johnny Unitas and Paul Warfield and about a dozen other Hall of Fame players.
Great talent usually makes great coaches, but rarely do great coaches win without talent.
So the question about these 2012 Dolphins is whether they have enough talent to make Philbin’s first season a success? Are the Dolphins talented enough to win for their new coach?
They believe they are.
“The sky’s the limit,” tight end Charles Clay said. “We’re building on the momentum we had at the end of last season. I believe we can be great. There’s a lot of people outside this organization that don’t believe in us, but everyone in that locker room right now believes they can win.”
Clay is only in his second season, and it can be argued he’s still too young to recognize a locker room filled with champions. But Clay is backed by practically every other player in the Dolphins locker room.
They all think they’re going to comprise a memorable team, a winning team, a playoff team even.
“I think we’ll have a very successful season this year,” running back Reggie Bush insisted.
“We got the pieces, man, we just have to put it together,” Davone Bess echoed. “All across the board we got the pieces. It’s just about coming together and holding ourselves accountable and putting it together.”
This, by the way, is routine preseason talk throughout the NFL. Every team believes it can win. It’s understandable and indeed praise-worthy that players think that way.
The hope is that coaches and personnel departments are detached enough, realistic enough and expert enough to know if their roster is playoff good or not.
The Dolphins have failed in making this evaluation in the recent past. They added Karlos Dansby and Brandon Marshall for the 2010 season and saw both moves as the impetus for a playoff appearance.
Neither was a culmination move of any sort. Oh, both players were good. But neither was good enough to put the Dolphins back in the playoffs.
Right now, today, it is still arguable whether the Dolphins have enough talent to put them in the playoffs. Several Las Vegas sports books have set Miami’s over-under win total at seven.
And a look at the roster suggests there are only half a dozen or so players who are good enough to start just about anywhere else in the NFL. Those players would be left tackle Jake Long, center Mike Pouncey, Dansby, cornerback Vontae Davis, defensive end Cameron Wake and probably interior lineman Paul Soliai.
The Dolphins have other good players and even have young players who might burst onto the scene unexpectedly. But definite starters on any team they join?
This team can use more talent. It needs a playmaker at wide receiver. It needs a playmaker in the deep secondary. An above-average quarterback would help, too.
The frustrating thing is that Miami did precious little to upgrade at either wide receiver or safety this offseason.
Here’s a suggestion: There is at least one player, currently unsigned, who could help the Dolphins now.
The Steelers and receiver Mike Wallace have hit an impasse in contract negotiations to the point that Wallace’s days in Pittsburgh are numbered. The club will not be able to keep him past this season for financial reasons that not even a franchise tag can solve.
So it would not be shocking if Pittsburgh begins listening to trade overtures for Wallace. If that happens, the price would be steep — perhaps a second-round pick or multiple second-round picks plus the new, fat contract for the player.
So? Wallace caught 72 passes for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He’s a rocket. He’s dependable. He’s a 95-yard completion waiting to happen, and it happened last season.
If the Dolphins haven’t at least touched base with the Steelers to measure his availability, it’s a shame. Yes, Wallace would be expensive. But there’s nothing good ever said about fiscally sound losing teams.
And, yes, giving up draft picks would hurt. But what guarantee can Miami give that next year’s second-rounder will contribute as much as the 26-year-old Wallace would contribute immediately?
The Dolphins have some talent. They are not the mess some cynics would have you believe. But more talent is better. More talent means more wins.
Ask Joe Philbin.