Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross strongly endorsed his team’s direction Monday, praising his new coach, his young quarterback and the job done by general manager Jeff Ireland in setting up a potentially franchise-changing offseason.
Crediting Ireland’s “football intelligence,” “hard work,” “respect of his peers” and “enthusiasm,” Ross said his polarizing personnel chief has laid out a plan to meet the owner’s singular goal in 2013: Win.
“I believe they have the talent to deliver day-in and day-out,” Ross said of his front office. “I would like to think next year we’re going to be in the playoffs, and winning.”
Ross’ remarks came during a rare sit-down with Miami media Monday, just eight days after the Dolphins concluded their fourth straight losing season. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2008, the season before Ross bought the franchise from Wayne Huizenga.
Still, Ross said he truly didn’t make his mark on the team until the past 12 months, when he fired Tony Sparano, hired Joe Philbin and decided to retain Ireland.
Ireland has been a lightning rod for criticism in his five years as GM. Early in the 2012 season, a fan even asked Ireland to fire himself at halftime of a home game.
Still, he has a chance to make a splash this spring. The Dolphins have five of the first 82 picks in April’s draft and roughly $47 million in salary cap space to spend.
“I want to build a winning team. … I’m willing to spend whatever it takes to build it. If the right players are there, I don’t care what it costs,” Ross said. “We’ll go after them.”
But the owner later said that the club wants to build through the draft, and that “free agency certainly isn’t the answer.”
“We’ve all seen that,” Ross added. “You can talk about the failures of free agency more than the successes.”
Ross might as well have been singing from Philbin’s hymnal.
The Dolphins’ coach, who went 7-9 in his first season, recently embraced an all-of-the-above strategy to player acquisition, but has consistently said his preference has been to draft and develop stars, instead of buy them from other teams.
Ross made it a point to praise Philbin’s organization and adherence to the plan the coach put in place when he was hired last January.
The owner also likes what he sees in Ryan Tannehill, the eighth overall pick in last year’s draft who became the first Dolphins quarterback to start every game as a rookie.
Ross said the two biggest ingredients to winning in the NFL are having the right coach and a winning quarterback.
“I was really impressed with Coach Philbin. We have a solid head coach here. … [And] I think we have our quarterback,” Ross said.
Other takeaways from the 20-minute Q&A:
• The team will indeed make changes to both its logo and uniforms, and will unveil the new look by the draft. “It’s time for an update,” Ross said.
• When asked about the team’s meager attendance last year (its average home crowd was just 57,379, the smallest since 1989), Ross said: “I can understand if you’re not winning, why people might not want to show up. When we put a winning team on the field, people will fill up that stadium. I really believe how important the Dolphins are to people of South Florida.”
• Ross declined to speak about the team’s plans to make a push for tax dollars for stadium renovations. But news should come very soon. Six weeks ago, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said that the team’s plans would be made public in 30 to 45 days, and on Monday, Dee stood by that time frame.
• Ross on his five-year plan: “The end-game for five, 10 years, what was your won-loss record over that period of time? How many Super Bowls did you win? That’s how you’re going to be judged. I’m prepared for that.”