After this terrible collapse was complete and another Dolphins season ended in disappointment and out of the playoffs, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross emerged from a back door to his team’s locker room and basically announced no one’s job is safe.
Ross, looking lean and beaten down, wasn’t ready to do what New York Jets owner Woody Johnson did immediately after Sunday’s game when he announced Rex Ryan would return as coach in 2014.
And who could blame Ross. Johnson’s team finished the season with consecutive victories and Ryan milked an 8-8 record out of a roster that has obvious flaws while playing with a raw rookie quarterback.
Ross, expecting to be in the playoffs only two weeks ago, today owns a team that not only underachieved but picked the worst time of the year — the final two weeks against teams with losing records — to play some of its worst football of the season.
So Ross wasn’t ready to say anyone — not general manager Jeff Ireland, not coach Joe Philbin nor any of his assistants — would be back in 2014. No, he didn’t say anyone would be fired either, but the feeling among team sources is changes of some significance are coming.
“We’re going to look at everything,” Ross answered when asked directly if he has decided whether to keep or fire anyone. “I’m disappointed. What else can I tell you? For everybody, you know? I have a lot to think about. I’m going to look at everything. When you’re disappointed you don’t make decisions on the fly. You have to give it a lot of thought and go look at everything.”
That all encompassing picture Ross will be studying starting immediately is not a pretty one.
The Dolphins committed more than $200 million in new contract obligations and spent more than $100 million in guaranteed money to upgrade the team that finished 7-9 in 2012.
And that spending spree, along with trading up in the draft’s first round to the No. 3 overall spot, got the owner exactly one more victory over a year ago.
So Ross paid a mint to have an unremarkable 8-8 team.
The problem is this 8-8 doesn’t really suggest progress despite the mathematics of it all. This 8-8 reeks of underachievement and a late-season swoon. And that should color Ross’s decision on people’s careers.
The Dolphins, after all, took a stop back in the AFC East. They finished third in AFC East and were swept by fourth-place Buffalo after a second-place finish a year ago. Miami posted the division’s worst record. The Dolphins were more, not less, vulnerable at home this year.
And did I mention the collapse?
Ross, it should be noted, was willing to understand and even dismiss last week’s loss to the Bills as just a bad performance. He was willing to hold his nose after that stinker as long as the Dolphins made the odor disappear with a victory over the Jets.
But a loss to the Jets now turns the final two games into twins to be considered at the same time as a trend.
“You expect to win,” Ross said. “To have something like this — to lose the last two games — I’m disappointed for everyone.”
So why did the Dolphins lose these final two games? Why did they regress the last two weeks, particularly against a Jets team they manhandled in November?
Obviously, players have to shoulder much of the responsibility. Obviously, coaches, led by Philbin, have to take blame.
“You have to earn your way into the playoffs,” Philbin said. “Clearly, we didn’t do that. Certainly that was the objective. I thought we would have played better. I have to start with myself. We didn’t play well enough to win and earn a spot in the playoffs.”
The thinking throughout this season has been that Philbin’s job is safe. Ross loves his coach because his coach, while unspectacular, is everything previous coach Tony Sparano wasn’t with the owner — communicative and engaging.
But this coach has issues. He either lacks fire or has decided to show little fire or personality. He’s about steadiness and stability.
The problem is the Dolphins are neither stable nor consistent so they haven’t taken on Philbin’s personality and they lack fire and swagger because they see very little from their coach. This team just kind of sort of exists.
There’s also this: Philbin has a long and well-chronicled allegiance to offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. Sherman is something of a mentor to Philbin.
And yet Sherman’s offense has been disappointing much of the year save a few games early. Sherman’s offense did not find an identity all year long. Sherman’s offense had no balance and it scored one touchdown the final two weeks with the playoffs and the season on the line.
It would not surprise if Sherman decides to go do something else now — a resignation with honor. But if that were not what he wants, would Philbin be willing to fire his mentor?
There are also questions about offensive line coach Jim Turner and quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor. Turner presided over an offensive line that was a disaster much of the year. Taylor got moderate but unimpressive improvement out of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Both Turner and Taylor are related to Sherman by either blood or marriage. So do they stay if he goes?
That brings me to Ireland, who put this team together. Weeks ago things looked good for him. Ross had even given him an assurance things would be fine.
But because he’s still not been able to help the Dolphins post a winning season in the time he has been general manager, Ireland is in trouble following the collapse of 2013.
Interestingly, if Ross decides to can Ireland it will happen in the year the general manager did one of his better jobs. Again, only two weeks ago this team was in great position to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs.
The talent Ireland gathered looked good enough then. Today?
“I don’t look around this locker room and see average,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “I don’t look in the units and see average. I feel like we have above-average talent, I think exceptional talent when you break it down.”
But that talent didn’t deliver, didn’t develop, didn’t produce nearly enough.
No wonder Ross is looking at everything.