Distractions — every team wants to avoid them.
And they are a bit like obscenity — hard to define, but you know one when you see it.
The moment video of Chris Foerster snorting cocaine off what most believe was his office desk appeared on Facebook, there was no question:
This not would only be a distraction, but a big one.
Adam Gase, like most, was surprised by what he saw.
But knew how to react, based on far too much experience putting out fires. Gase removed the problem, getting Foerster out of the building and the organization and addressed it with the team and the media with a level of candor rare in the NFL.
Then Gase moved on to the task at hand: preparing his team for Sunday’s game against the dangerous Atlanta Falcons.
From losing his starting quarterback to losing his home opener to a hurricane to losing his star linebacker from the team hotel, Gase has dealt with a lifetime’s worth of “distractions” already this season — and he is only a quarter of the way through it.
So where does the team that Foerster left cleaning up a powdery mess go from here?
That is up to the players and coaches still in the building.
If history is any guide, Gase will keep it together better than his predecessor, Joe Philbin, who was overwhelmed by a tidal wave of controversies in his three-plus years in Miami.
“Adam has done a great job with this team since day one – is what are we going to do?” said special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, who has been with the team since 2009. “Are we going to let distractions deter us and take us off the rail or are we going to circle the wagons kind of thing? I think we’ve done a pretty good job of eliminating distractions.”
Rizzi is one of just a handful of people in the building left from 2013, the last time the Dolphins made the national nightly news for all of the wrong reasons. It’s been four years now since the team’s ugly bullying scandal, sparked by the misbehavior of three Dolphins (Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry) toward teammate Jonathan Martin.
The ensuing investigation revealed what everyone around the organization suspected: That Philbin was in over his head and had no feel for the men in his locker room. The Dolphins lost eight of their last 13 games after starting 3-0, and while it’s hard to say what role the scandal played in their collapse, it must have played some role.
“It all goes back to – I think on an individual and collective basis – what do you let the distractions do?” Rizzi said of the difference between now and 2013. “Do you let them seep in and become a cancer or do you bond together and circle the wagons and keep those things outside?”
A look back at the Dolphins’ rocky last four years suggests they often failed that test.
Philbin's week from hell (Halloween, 2013)
Over the course of some 24 hours, law enforcement officers in Massachusetts served Pouncey with a subpoena related to the Aaron Hernandez murder trial and Jonathan Martin snapped, leaving the team and sparking the bullying scandal that would consume the next six months.
Dolphins’ next game: Dolphins 22, Bengals 20 (Oct 31, 2013). The Dolphins won on a walk-off safety. Cameron Wake sacked Andy Dalton in the end zone with 6:38 left in overtime, snapping a four-game losing streak.
Incognito suspended after racists texts emerge (Nov. 3, 2013)
The true nature of the bullying scandal was not known until the world read profane, racially charged messages that Incognito sent Martin, contributing to Martin’s decision to leave the team and serving as a blueprint for Ted Wells’ investigation.
Dolphins’ next game: Buccaneers 22, Dolphins 19 (Nov. 11, 2013). The controversy got so out of hand that Stephen Ross called an impromptu news conference in the press conference before the game to address it. On the field below, the Dolphins laid an egg, losing to the 0-8 Bucs and rushing for just two yards.
Cops 1, Derrick Shelby 0 (Oct. 4, 2014)
Shelby, a relatively obscure Dolphins defensive lineman, had too much to drink during a rare Saturday night off in Fort Lauderdale. That led to an altercation with police (which he lost), and he later allegedly asked authorities for medication due to worries over unprotected sex.
Dolphins’ next game: Packers 27, Dolphins 24 (Nov. 11, 2013). Aaron Rodgers played hero by throwing a four-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless with three seconds left in regulation. Shelby wasn't on the field — or even the stadium — for that decisive play. Philbin suspended him for the game.
Miko Grimes torches Tannehill (Dec. 28, 2015)
Of all the (many) inflammatory things Brent Grimes’ wife said on Twitter, her criticism of Tannehill probably ensured Brent would be gone after 2015. The locker room was a zoo a day or two after Miko wrote she “knew this qb stunk the minute we signed to this team,” along with a bunch of other things not suitable for print.
Dolphins’ next game: Dolphins 20, Patriots 10 (Jan. 3, 2016). The Dan Campbell Era ended with a bang, and Tannehill proved Grimes wrong, completing 25 of 38 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns.
Orr’s career goes up in smoke (Nov. 30, 2016)
Picture this surreal scene: You’re out practicing when a teammate gets yanked off the field because your coach just found out he got busted on a drug charge the day before — and never told anyone. Leon Orr hasn’t been on an NFL roster since.
Dolphins’ next game: Ravens 38, Dolphins 6 (Dec. 4, 2016). The defense had arguably its worst game in Adam Gase's time as coach, allowing four touchdown passes and 496 total yards. What, if any, difference Orr would have made is unclear.
Amazingly, this is not an exhaustive list. There have been other embarrassments in recent years, from Pouncey’s Free Hernandez hat to Laremy Tunsil’s gas-mask bong. But they just happened to occur in the offseason, so their impact on the team’s performance was negligible.
And still, they have added to a environment that has made the team, as Kenny Stills said, “comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Added long snapper John Denney, who has been with the team since 2005: “At this point, really, it's like, you become numb to it. You block it out. You almost embrace it, because you almost feel like it's you against everybody else and it draws everybody in locker room closer together, because you want to overcome those things.”