The Dolphins should bring Dan Marino home, back into the franchise he defined for two decades, but they should do so with caution and care.
Two extremes would be in play, both of them misleading.
1. Oh yeah! — Hiring Marino in a front-office role would be terrific for public relations, a hugely popular move with a beleaguered fan base, by a club whose image and brand may be at an all-time low.
But that shouldn’t mainly be why they do it.
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2. Oh no! — Hiring Marino would be a gamble open to second-guessing or even ridicule simply because the former quarterback and TV analyst is bereft of hands-on experience at evaluating talent or running a team.
But that shouldn’t be why they don’t do it.
All of this came into play Tuesday when CBS let Marino go after his 12 seasons as a studio host. Immediately there seemed possible a perfect and perfectly natural dovetail: A listing, embarrassed franchise desperate for good news. And the most popular figure in the club’s 49-year history suddenly out of a job and available.
Marino declined email and text requests Wednesday to be interviewed for this column, but a close friend of his told me Marino would be interested in discussing a role with the club if it were substantive. Marino would not want a ceremonial or glorified P.R. role as “consultant” or some such thing. I don’t blame him.
Likewise, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has yet to comment on Marino’s availability and could not be reached Wednesday, but presuming Ross’ interest in at least exploring the idea would not seem to be a reach. Ross had talks with Marino about a role two years ago, and recently named him to a “task force” to help develop a team code of conduct in the wake of the Bullygate scandal.
Even if Ross were hesitant to find a place for Marino and restructure his front office power grid yet again, being convinced to do so could be in the club’s interest.
Understand that a lot of running a successful NFL club involves image and salesmanship.
It is desirable to have a front man at a level below the owner but above the coach who presents the image you want, and who can sell your team and its vision to prospective major hires such as top free agents or coaches. That is doubly desirable when neither your owner nor head coach is accomplished in his role or charismatic, and when your general manager is newly hired and a rookie at the job.
The salesmanship, résumé and aura of Pat Riley cannot be underestimated for its huge impact on the Heat. When LeBron James was in play, the Heat had a closer. Riley sealed the deal.
Marino would give the Dolphins a front man of similar stature. A closer.
Remember when the Dolphins were going hard after Peyton Manning? What do you think impressed Manning more: Denver’s pitch delivered by John Elway? Or Miami’s pitch delivered by Jeff Ireland?
Let’s say the Dolphins in two or three years were trying to pry Bill Cowher out of retirement. Who would you think would have a better shot at it: Miami general manager Dennis Hickey? Or Dan Marino?
The NFL is a copycat league, and the Broncos have offered an enticing template with the rise of Elway as executive vice president overseeing personnel.
Elway had the same amount of experience as Marino does in running a football operation or making roster decisions — that would be zero — when Broncos owner Pat Bowlen hired Elway in January 2011. He served one season in essentially a learning role before assuming full control.
Does Marino have the nose for talent evaluation and the aptitude for running a team that Elway showed? Would Marino be committed?
If he believes so and the Dolphins agree, why not find out?
Hire him in an at-first limited role, groom him, give him a season (or two) to learn and develop in more of an advisory role — to prove himself. Let him earn his power over decision-making, not be handed it because he’s Dan Marino.
Meantime, he’d bring stature and history to the table even during that evolution — a good man to have at the table when you’re trying to impress Jeff Fisher, for example. Undoubtedly, Marino also would be a plus in further developing Ryan Tannehill.
Marino’s 12 years in TV don’t hurt. It has kept him involved in the league, in its trends, in what works. It has kept him connected with players and coaches.
Of course what happened in 2004 must be mentioned here, if only to downplay its significance 10 years later. Marino agreed then to be the Dolphins’ executive VP of who knows what? His role was ill defined and he obviously wasn’t that into it. He quit after three weeks, an embarrassment to all concerned.
Marino and the owner then, Wayne Huizenga, were close friends. Golfing buddies. I don’t think either thought it through. Fair to also suggest Marino might have been going through personal issues around that time, considering the love child he admitted last year to fathering was born in 2005.
Today, at 52 and seeing Elway’s success, Marino could be ready this time for the challenge. Ross needs to find out. Simply that.
Few franchises in the NFL — or at the moment in all of sports — need something good to happen more than the Dolphins. When it has been 13 seasons since your last playoff victory, a shame augmented by Bullygate, you have an image problem. You have a fan base that can’t decide if it is angry, embarrassed or disinterested. You need help.
Remember how I said the main reason for hiring Marino shouldn’t be to make fans happy? True enough.
But that sure would be a heck of a welcome little bonus, wouldn’t it?