Back when television was all black and white, a young, pre- Tonight Show Johnny Carson used to host a game show called, “Who Do You Trust?” (Grammar had been invented by the 1950s, so English teachers of the time must have been aghast that it wasn’t “whom,” but let’s get back to the point).
The question, posed right now, would be a challenge to any Dolphins fan who has just seen his scabbed-over wounds freshly torn by the latest season to expire in disappointment.
Whom do you trust, Dolfan?
Nothing is black-and-white with the answer, or with this team. Everything is gray. Muddled. Debatable. Worrisome.
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Which man leading your franchise has turned your hope into belief?
Is it a team owner, Stephen Ross, whose five seasons in majority control have produced records of 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, 7-9 and now 8-8?
Is it a general manager, Jeff Ireland, who is unpopular with some cause and nobody’s threat for NFL executive of the year?
Is it a head coach, Joe Philbin, who in two seasons has yet to prove he is better than the average body of work that bears his signature?
Is it a quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, who improved overall this season but failed late, and badly, when his team most needed him to stand and deliver?
Whom do you trust without equivocation moving forward, Dolfan?
We could surely add Philbin’s chief lieutenants, offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and defensive boss Kevin Coyle, on our list of team leaders who have not inspired a whole lot of faith.
Something is bound to change after the way Miami blew a playoff spot with two terrible losses to end the season. The question is whether you trust the men making the decisions, doing the changing.
The Dolphins do not have anyone in the four most important positions — owner, GM, head coach or QB — who is top tier, right now, at what he does.
My email inbox is ablaze with a predictable fan consensus that everyone should be fired. In the real world, it is likelier Ross will give Ireland/Philbin one more season to find a map to the playoffs, but that an underling such as Sherman will be sacrificed.
The problem most clearly is not Tannehill, whose 3,913 passing yards this year were the most by any Dolphin since Dan Marino in 1994. But, just as clearly, Tannehill took an ill-timed step back in the crucial last two games — a shrinking from opportunity that will mean he enters 2014 still needing to erase doubts.
“What happened was, we scored seven points in the last two weeks,” receiver Mike Wallace cut to the chase. “Everybody has to be held accountable, no matter who it is.” (And one touchdown in the year’s last 25 possessions, Wallace might have added.)
Tannehill’s late swoon, Wallace’s drops, a running game that had four of the seven lowest-yardage games in franchise history, a lousy offensive line even before the Bullygate mess — all of these things must be held accountable.
But the quickest fix would be canning Sherman, and then zeroing in on a greatly improved offensive line as a clear priority.
“I have a lot of confidence in our staff and Mike Sherman,” Philbin said Monday — a statement that does not exactly grow confidence in Philbin.
The head coach spoke as the Dolphins held their season-wrapping media session at the club’s Davie headquarters. Don Shula used to call the day after a season ends the most jarring day of all, because, suddenly, there was no game to prepare for. The thing is, 16 of Shula’s 26 seasons at least ended in the playoffs, not short of them.
Monday marked the 11th time in the past 12 seasons a Dolphins head coach stood there trying to explain what went wrong, and why the NFL playoffs were leaving the station without Miami aboard. It has become like Groundhog Day.
“In all areas we need to improve, starting with me,” said Philbin, good on accepting responsibility, less so on providing answers to how the last two games put him in this spot.
“[A record of] 8-8 is not where this franchise wants to be, needs to be or should be.”
Philbin is well-meaning, diligent and honest, I think. He might turn out to be a fine head coach. But the personality he shows fans is uninspiring, actuary-dull, and I worry that the team has come to reflect his personality.
Jets were inspired
I wonder if it was a coincidence the New York Jets played so inspired Sunday trying to save the job of popular, fiery coach Rex Ryan (they succeeded), while Philbin’s team — even playing at home, with everything on the line — failed to match the Jets’ urgency.
Miami’s postgame locker room was quiet, emotionless, accepting.
I thought back to previous Dolphins’ locker rooms after particularly crushing losses. I remember Jason Taylor, crestfallen, seated at his dressing stall, white towel draped over his slumped head. I thought of Zach Thomas, spent, half-angry, half-heartbroken, still in his dirty uniform an hour later, still fighting tears.
I wonder who the Dolphins’ team leaders are now. I wonder if there are any, and if that is part of the DNA missing from this group.
Ed Reed, the old Hurricane, happened to have an interception for the Jets Sunday.
And I wondered if Miami could use a few Ed Reeds in its locker room, guys you don’t sign for their eroding skills, but for their invaluable leadership.
For years Reed and especially Ray Lewis inspired and willed the Baltimore Ravens forward. The Dolphins could use a Ray Lewis, and I don’t mean the talent or the tackling. I mean somebody feared and respected in equal measure. Somebody whose inspired pregame oratory marshals focus and passion. Somebody who, after a performance like Sunday’s, would have breathed enough angry fire to melt facemasks.
Look at the four AFC teams that were fighting for their playoff lives Sunday.
The Chargers fought and won, 27-24. The Steelers fought and won, 20-7. The Ravens lost but at least had the excuse of the toughest matchup by far, at playoff-bound Cincinnati. Only the Dolphins embarrassed themselves.
Now the same team and the same leaders move forward.
With an owner, Ross, trying to decide if major changes are needed. A GM, Ireland, already planning for the next draft. A coach, Philbin, debating if he should fire anybody. And a QB, Tannehill, who must own the last two losses as largely his.
And that question for Dolfans lingers:
Whom do you trust?