Dan Marino returned to the Dolphins practice fields this week and at age 52 looked like he still belonged.
The former Miami quarterback didn’t pick up a football but instead spent time talking with general manager Dennis Hickey, who is about to make roster-cut decisions. He talked with executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte, who is deciding on how and whether to extend contracts for Charles Clay and Mike Pouncey. Marino also visited with coach Joe Philbin, who broke away from the practice to spend nearly 10 minutes in conversation.
Marino stopped being the Dolphins quarterback 14 years ago, but when he returned to the same practice fields where he honed his skills, he picked up right where he left off as the center of attention.
“He’s here to observe and chat,” Philbin said. “It was great to have him here. I told him he’s always welcome, any time.”
That, in effect, has been the Dolphins’ message to Marino for quite some time.
Owner Stephen Ross, who is fond of Marino, and team president and CEO Tom Garfinkel, who is an astute guide atop the Dolphins corporate structure, have been actively trying to hire Marino for a long time. Indeed, former CEO Mike Dee also tried to hire Marino years ago.
The attempts are not new, but they heated up this year after Marino was dropped from the CBS pregame show and have become even more intense lately as the start of the 2014 season approaches.
The reason to get Marino on board is simple: He is the most decorated and beloved person in the franchise’s history outside of Don Shula.
He is a link to better days.
He is respected in football circles.
He’s good business for the Dolphins.
“But for all the sense adding Marino to the fold makes for the club, and despite a face-to-face meeting between Marino and Ross in April on the subject, a deal is not quite done yet.”
And that raises the question: Why?
The simple answer seems to be that the sides have been trying to find the right fit that suits everyone.
The Dolphins would love Marino to rejoin the organization, but it’s clear they want him as what he naturally seems to be — a face for the franchise that is recognizable and respected and a reminder of how good things used to be.
(No he never won a Super Bowl, but playoffs almost every season is much better than no playoffs every season.)
Such a position does not require a lot of preparation. Such a position does not require a full-time, breakneck commitment. Such a cushy position is seemingly a no-brainer for Marino.
And I commend the Dolphins, specifically Garfinkel, for seeing and pushing for that fit.
Marino wasn’t initially sold on that fit. He wanted to be more than a marketing tool that is trotted out at events and then sent back in the shadows when real football business is handled.
Marino apparently has wanted a voice in the organization. He has wanted some actual power.
The problem is that Marino is not currently suited for a role that includes any power. He’s not ready to be a coach. He’s not ready to be a general manager. He’s not ready to be team president.
And then there’s this: No one is certain exactly how much desire Marino has for putting in exceedingly long hours.
I believe that if Marino today decided he really wants to run the Dolphins within five years by filling a job similar to the one Bill Parcells had, he could drop everything else he has going on and devote himself to that goal as he devoted himself to playing quarterback.
But Marino has a family. And a life. So there’s no surety about such a commitment from him at this point.
In the past, I’ve suggested that Ross should hire Marino as his eyes and ears in Miami. I’ve suggested that Marino could sit in on coaches meetings, talk to players, listen to the personnel department’s plans, and report back to Ross on what worked and what did not work and why.
That way the absentee owner could actually know what’s going on within his football organization based on information from a source in the building that has no agenda or worries about keeping his job.
As it is, Ross today relies on information he gets from his people whose goal is to stay employed.
But I’ve been told neither Ross nor Marino really love that idea. Ross wants to listen to whom he wants to listen. And Marino apparently doesn’t want to be an informant.
So the sides have to continue to work on how to get together. And how do we know they’re working toward getting together at all?
Well, Marino has run away from questions on the subject as if it was Bruce Smith chasing him to ask. He came to camp but cut out before reporters were allowed on the field to ask him about his plans.
That is not a sign Marino will surely get hired by the Dolphins. But it is a certain sign that the sides continue to talk about it.