After authorizing his front office to spend $240 million in contracts this offseason — including more than $110 million in guaranteed money — Dolphins owner Stephen Ross expects results.
But Ross — in his first public comments since March — on Wednesday stopped short of saying that anything short of the playoffs would be a failure. And he expressed confidence he has the right people in place, from quarterback Ryan Tannehill to general manager Jeff Ireland to coach Joe Philbin.
Asked to define what would be a successful season, he said: “You can’t make moves and not want to and hope to make the playoffs and see where you go from there. You want to see progress. That’s the most important thing. I’m looking to bring a team to South Florida that wins consistently.
“… We certainly want to make the playoffs. [Offseason moves were] all done with that in mind. But I want to see growth in the team and building the foundation for this season and future ones. I don’t want to be a one-shot wonder. … I’m excited about this season. I was accused before that I only care about entertainment. What I really care about is winning football games.”
On the offseason acquisitions, Ross said: “We didn’t try to sign players that had reached their potential and were just a name. … You can’t buy yourself a franchise. You’ve got to be smart.
“Spending the money you have to spend and not leveraging it for the future. That’s what we’ve done. You’ve seen too many franchises have spent tons of money on one or two players probably past their prime, didn’t have a real plan. That’s not the type of formula I’m looking to follow.”
Though Ireland made the decision on what players to pursue, Ross said he was part of the process — to an extent. “You question why they’re making the decisions and you want to know they’re well-founded and that they’ve done their homework,” Ross said.
Ross said “you need to have a great quarterback” and “we believe and hope” Tannehill will be that. “I love the guy. He’s the right person to lead the way.”
Asked if Ireland needs to produce this year, Ross said: “I’m committed [to him] long-term. He’s doing a great job.”
And he said of Philbin: “You can see this coach is different. … He’s a great football mind. I hear so many owners and other coaches say, ‘Steve, you’ve made a great selection.’ I like what he stands for. I like his plan. He’s a stickler for details. He expects a lot from his players as well. He also commands respect.”
Despite the offseason spending spree, season-ticket sales reportedly aren’t substantially above 40,000. Last season, the Dolphins sold just 40,192 season tickets — the lowest total since 1982 and down from 61,121 in 2006.
“Miami has a reputation as a tough sports town,” Ross said. “You’ve got to win. I know we’ll get the proper response from there. You see what happened last week — over 22,000 showing up to the night scrimmage.”
Asked how much the Heat has siphoned money and attention away from the Dolphins, Ross said: “They’ve been successful, and I applaud them for that. But there’s enough out there for both of us if we’re winning.”
Ross was noncommittal about whether he would continue purchasing unsold tickets to avoid TV blackouts of home games: “I’d like to believe I’m not going to have to address that question.”
Ross addressed other issues:
• He said he hopes to hire a CEO to succeed Mike Dee by late August or early September and suggested that person would not have much involvement on the football side.
With Dee leaving to become president of the San Diego Padres, Ross said he hopes to have four CEO finalists by the end of the week.
“I’ve started a lot of companies, and every company we have is probably best in class,” Ross said. “That’s what I’m looking for in a leader here, to take us to a level where we can become the best in class as an organization in every aspect of it.”
Prior NFL experience isn’t required, but “someone to run an organization that’s been involved in sports is paramount.”
• Ross said Sun Life Stadium “is the most advanced technology stadium probably in the country. We have the best Internet system that will work in a stadium in the United States.”
• He said he does not “condone” center Mike Pouncey’s decision to wear a “Free Hernandez” hat a few weeks ago — a reference to Pouncey’s former University of Florida roommate, Aaron Hernandez, who faces a murder charge.
“I have total faith in Coach and how they handled the situation,” Ross said.
• Ross, who hasn’t had a winning season in his first four years as majority owner, was asked if he is surprised his team hasn’t won more yet.
“Sure, I would have liked to have won,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot. It’s not as easy as business. You know talent but it doesn’t mean you can attract the talent. … We’ll attract the best players. We’ll be the best in class.”