Adam Gase got his coronation like all head coaches do when they’re first hired, and that is deserved because the Dolphins put him through a vetting process so stringent and thorough it could be used to grant a federal agent top-secret clearance.
“We kidded a couple of times among ourselves,” Dolphins executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum joked, “none of us could survive our own process.”
And because Gase did more than survive — he thrived during the days of background checks and interviews and trick questions — he has the “unanimous” confidence of an entire football franchise.
Gase is only 37 years old but he holds the careers of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Tannenbaum, the point man on this search, in his hands, because if he fails, they fail.
He has never been a head coach before, but owner Stephen Ross has tied his reputation to Gase because the owner has botched a couple of football hires already and another mistake might be more than even the most loyal season-ticket holder could endure.
Gase has never been in front of a team. Never put together a coaching staff. Never managed the clock in a tense game’s final two minutes. But the Dolphins gave him say over his roster, gave him a lifetime-securing, five-year contract, and Ross was talking about future Super Bowls at the introductory news conference.
How is all this possible?
How did the Dolphins get here?
Let me start by telling you that after the microphones were switched off, after the lights were turned away from Gase and Tannenbaum and Ross on Saturday, a very high-ranking member of the organization looked at me with a straight face and compared Gase with a young Bill Belichick.
And when I challenged that comparison, this man, who I respect, stuck by his guns on the comparison — not enough to let me quote him, but enough that it gave me pause.
Anyway, when you start comparing your just-hired rookie head coach with a man who is perhaps on the Mount Rushmore of NFL coaching, you’re obviously quite convinced he’s the right guy. So there’s that.
But Gase, who will be competing against Belichick soon enough, wasn’t facing that foe in this coaching search. The Dolphins put together a solid if incomplete (in my opinion) candidate list. They whittled a list of 25 candidates to seven. They made 237 phone calls throughout the process.
And when they finished talking to former Atlanta coach Mike Smith, a solid candidate, they came to the conclusion that he wasn’t a fit as the organization’s head man.
When they finished talking to two-time Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan, the Dolphins recognized many of Shanahan’s “guys” are currently employed elsewhere, so putting together a strong staff was going to be difficult.
The team’s head coach search committee — Ross, Tannenbaum, vice chairman Matt Higgins, president and CEO Tom Garfinkel and general manager Chris Grier — also wondered among themselves how much his laudable accomplishments had softened Shanahan.
They wondered, if the team was in the middle of a three-game losing streak in next November, was Shanahan going to suddenly dial back instead of press forward, knowing he has a jillion dollars in his bank account and really doesn’t need to work?
“You want to deal with young people who’ve got ‘it,’ ” Ross said. “You’re looking for that guy with the ‘it’ factor who can make it happen. And I think this is that guy.”
The Dolphins watched with interest on Monday when the New York Giants and head coach Tom Coughlin announced their divorce. Coughlin still wants to coach, and the search committee discussed him.
So why not this other two-time, Super Bowl-winning coach?
He’s going to be 70, and that factored not because of his age but because it would make the hire a two- or three-year answer to a three-to-five year question, and the Dolphins wanted to emerge with that long-term plan.
Secondly, the Dolphins did some research on the job Coughlin did in 2015 coaching the Giants. They decided he hadn’t had a very good year. And so they moved on.
When this search got most serious is when it changed venues from New York, where Shanahan and others were interviewed, to South Florida where Gase, interim coach Dan Campbell and former Buffalo coach Doug Marrone were interviewed Thursday and Friday.
Campbell, I’m told, had a great interview. Not good. Great.
He finished No. 2 behind Gase in this derby. But ultimately the Dolphins thought Campbell making the leap from coaching four players (as a tight ends coach) to an entire roster the next four or five years was simply too wide for him to bridge now.
Campbell, by the way, was a combination of angry and bitterly disappointed when he heard the news from Ross himself that he didn’t get the job.
How angry, you ask?
The Dolphins intend to give him a few days to cool off before getting back in touch.
Marrone finished third despite being Tannenbaum’s early favorite. The two men are familiar and comfortable with each other. Marrone has some, although not a ton, of head coaching experience. He was a good candidate.
So why not him?
Marrone came strong during his interview with a plan for fixing the Miami defense. But I’m told Gase had the best plan of any candidate for fixing Tannehill. And Tannehill is the quarterback, which makes him the most important person on the roster.
Tannehill needs a great tutor, counselor, mentor and guru because he has been playing his first four years under a coach who didn’t believe in him.
That’s right. Joe Philbin didn’t believe in Ryan Tannehill.
Everyone high enough in the Dolphins organization to know admits it now. I’m told Tannehill figured it out as well before this season began. The Dolphins don’t dismiss the idea that it played a factor in the quarterback’s performance.
So Gase, who has the blessing of Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler, the past two quarterbacks with whom he has worked, must hone and craft Tannehill into something better than he has been.
The Dolphins are confident it will happen.
“We’re convinced,” a source said, “you’ll see a different Ryan Tannehill next year. That’s how much Adam will affect things around here.”
That is the reason Adam Gase is here.