Greg Cote

January 21, 2014

Greg Cote: Ray Farmer deserves Dolphins GM job on merit, but race also a positive

Eleven men by my count have piqued the Dolphins’ interest for the vacant general manager’s job, and the club has interviewed seven of them.

Eleven men by my count have piqued the Dolphins’ interest for the vacant general manager’s job, and the club has interviewed seven of them.

If you trust the folks running an organization you credit such a search as “thorough” and “exhaustive.” If you don’t trust the management of that club, you question the aim and delay in a net cast so wide.

If you’re not sure whether to trust — and waiting on this decision, this hire, to help you decide — all you can do is study the candidates and their backgrounds and see if any keep rising to the surface above the rest. For me there is one:

Ray Farmer.

He is the Browns’ assistant general manager, after previously serving six seasons as the Chiefs’ director of pro personnel, and before that as a Falcons scout.

Farmer is considered a rising star among NFL talent evaluators. He is young, at 39. He is smart, a Duke graduate with a degree in sociology. He is a former player in the league, a linebacker with the Eagles in 1996-98 before a knee injury cut short his career.

He is something else.

He is African-American.

This should not be the reason he is hired (hear that clearly, please), but neither should it be ignored as a positive factor — perhaps for this franchise more than for most.

I write this on Monday as our nation is honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on a day when we ponder the incremental advance toward racial equality, the big stone wheel King helped start to move. That’s a coincidence here, but one worth noting.

The Dolphins in their 48 years have never had a black general manager. There has not been a black head coach (but for Todd Bowles serving three games in an interim role in 2011). The lone black offensive or defensive coordinator across the decades has been Kippy Brown in 1998-99.

This is not a great track record for diversity, and hiring a qualified GM who also is black would be a smart move by a club that plainly needs an image makeover.

Again, though, this isn’t about tokenism. You hire Farmer first because he is most qualified — period.

One other name on Miami’s search list jumps out at me. That is Brian Xanders, who did some really good work as a former Broncos GM, bringing in a lot of the talent now headed to the Super Bowl. Xanders has more experience at the job than Farmer, arguably a stronger résumé. Xanders is white.

Hire who you think is better, Dolphins. But don’t wear blinders to the fact hiring Farmer would have a prudent effect in the way the franchise is viewed, and in a way that hiring Xanders would not.

The Dolphins’ image problem goes beyond the 13 consecutive seasons without a playoff victory or the fact that, as the Broncos and Seahawks prepare to play in a Super Bowl, Miami hasn’t done that for some 30 years.

This club’s image with other players around the league also was shaped when the Dolphins interviewed but did not hire coach Mike Tomlin after the 2006 season, opting instead for failure-in-waiting Cam Cameron, after then-CEO Joe Bailey was overheard referring to Tomlin as “too hip-hop.” That was heard as code for “too black” by many around the league.

Again in 2010, Miami made racially toned headlines when recently departed GM Jeff Ireland infamously asked receiver Dez Bryant in a predraft interview if his mother was a prostitute.

“The Dolphins never seemed whiter or as out of touch with the league’s makeup than right then,” a recently retired NFL player told me Monday.

Again in 2011, Miami wooed but failed to land coveted coach Jim Harbaugh, going after him as a sitting coach, Tony Sparano, was publicly embarrassed. The club’s image took another huge hit — with everybody this time.

That brings us back around to the current GM search, and Ray Farmer.

Miami would make a positive statement about itself to hire a qualified young guy who has played in the league and, yes, who is black. It would be an invitation for college players and potential free agents to rethink Miami as a favorable destination.

The new GM will have autonomy over the roster, over free agency and the draft. That makes this hire more important than head coach Joe Philbin. Two men will have the greatest hand in shaping this team’s immediate and foreseeable future: quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and the new GM.

That Farmer impressed the Dolphins in his interview should not surprise.

Browns CEO Joe Banner called him “an up-and-coming star in the league.” Respected former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, a mentor, called him “the best director of pro personnel in the league.”

Owner Stephen Ross says he is looking for passion and commitment. Listen to what Farmer said a year ago when joining the Browns, and see if the same words don’t apply now to the mutual interest with Miami.

“I feel like this is what I’ve been waiting for — to demonstrate my capabilities,” he said. “It’s like the point guard who finally gets in the game. Now what are you going to do with your chance? I may pass, I may shoot, but the weird part is I have no fear of turning it over. Whatever happens is going to be good.”

A pet phrase of Farmer’s is one he credits to former NFL coach Jim Mora: “I’m going to work at a pace that others are unable or unwilling to match.”

An associate of Ross’ told me Monday the Dolphins think Farmer could be “the next Ozzie Newsome,” the longtime and championship Ravens general manager who also is a former player, and who, in 2002, became the NFL’s first black GM.

Dolfans should hope Farmer would be the next great GM, period, black, white or beige. Newsome’s footsteps would be admirably followed from any angle, but the reality is race has not yet stopped being an issue at the GM level the way it increasingly has at the quarterback position.

The executive trail Newsome cut still includes only six current black GMs.

There should be more.

Ray Farmer seems ready.

Do it, Dolphins.

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About Greg Cote

Greg Cote


Greg Cote has been a Miami Herald sports columnist since 1995 and also writes the Random Evidence blog and NFL predictions along with his notorious sidekick the Upset Bird. He has covered Hurricanes football (1984-88), the Dolphins (1990-91) and major events including Super Bowls, NBA Finals, World Series, Stanley Cup, Olympics and World Cup.

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