How do you prepare for the NFL Draft when you don’t know who will be running the war room?
Very quietly. You show up to the big events, but keep a low profile.
That’s precisely what the GM-less Dolphins did here Monday, as practices began ahead of this weekend’s Senior Bowl. While other teams came with a small army of coaches and front-office types, the Dolphins left a far smaller footprint.
Of course, they have no general manager. But their coach, Joe Philbin, isn’t in town either. That means no Dolphin employee will speak on the record here this week.
Assistant GM Brian Gaine is the highest-ranking Dolphins official on the ground. He is also one of seven candidates vying to replace Jeff Ireland, who was fired on Jan. 6. The others: Ray Farmer (Browns), Lake Dawson (Titans), Omar Khan (Steelers), Brian Xanders (Lions), Jason Licht (Cardinals) and Dennis Hickey (Buccaneers).
What’s more, the Dolphins plan to interview additional applicants before narrowing the field down to a handful of finalists, who will get a final interview.
Both the quantity and quality of candidates have league insiders at the Senior Bowl scratching their heads — to put it kindly. The Dolphins’ search — and their bizarre 2013 season in general — is the talk of the town.
Coaches and personnel types alike privately marvel at the situation in Miami, and several are doubtful that some of the names rumored as potential finalists — particularly Xanders and Farmer — are up to the job.
“Oooof,” is how one source, who has been a scout for multiple teams, put it.
Plus, there are questions about the scope of executive vice president Dawn Aponte’s influence, now that Ireland has gone.
But more than anything, there’s simple curiosity about what owner Stephen Ross’ actual plan is. Ross’ search has been all over the map. He has interviewed both contract negotiators/cap managers (Xanders and Khan) and personnel evaluators (Farmer and Gaine).
And now he’s going to sit down with more?
One former GM, who wished not to be named, said the way the Dolphins’ organization is structured adds to their perceived chaos.
Because Ross’ attention is diverted between his real estate business and the franchise, many believe he doesn’t have a great feel for his own team, and had to go to the outside for help. Friend and confidant Carl Peterson is aiding with the search.
It’s made for a long slog. The GM decision almost certainly won’t be made before the end of the week, which presumably would put the Dolphins behind the rest of the league in preparing for the draft.
While others have been anointed front-runners, Gaine hasn’t been a name heard often. Perhaps that’s by design: Some close to the situation believe he has a good chance to be a surprise finalist.
Gaine is a quiet workhorse with a strong reputation. He has been part of two turnaround jobs already — with the Jets and Cowboys — and if the Dolphins hadn’t collapsed in the last two weeks, he would have had a third on his résumé.
The only person who knows for sure — Ross — isn’t talking to the media. He’s currently overseas on business.
Right or wrong, that again feeds into the narrative that his attention is diverted. The team’s response to criticism that they’re dithering: The goal is to hire the right man, rather than a right-now man.
• The Dolphins hired Mark Duffner as their new linebackers coach, replacing George Edwards — who is now the defensive coordinator of the Vikings. Duffner coached the Jaguars’ linebackers the past eight seasons.
Duffner’s relationship with defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle stretches back to the 1980s, when both were on staff at Holy Cross. He also worked with Philbin in Green Bay.
“It’s a unique situation for him,” said Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, who is coaching the South squad at the Senior Bowl “We both talked about it. We’re sad to see him go, but I know, ultimately, he’s happy.”
Miami Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero contributed to this report.