So here’s one way to endear yourself to your players: Give up your first-class seat on a transatlantic flight.
After a week of strained relations between Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin and his quarterback, both were in considerably better spirits Friday, fatigue aside.
A possible reason: Ryan Tannehill stretched out in first class during the nine-hour flight, while Philbin was back in economy.
In fact, the entire coaching staff surrendered their comfy chairs and extra legroom, a concession not lost on the beneficiaries.
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“The players are the ones who have to play the game,” Philbin explained.
Tannehill, who earlier in the week criticized his coach’s handling of the quarterback situation, appreciated the gesture.
And despite the British media’s hopes to again stir the pot, Tannehill on Friday was far more diplomatic when asked about Philbin’s refusal to name him the starter this week. Tannehill will indeed start Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
“It’s done,” Tannehill said. “It was something we faced earlier in the week but it’s done. Now we’re just getting ready to play.”
They’ll do so without defensive tackle Randy Starks, who did not make the trip due to a back injury. That means Starks will miss his first game Sunday since signing with the Dolphins in 2008.
It also means that Jared Odrick and Earl Mitchell likely will start Sunday against the Raiders, and more snaps for Anthony Johnson and Derrick Shelby.
“The guys have to step up,” Philbin said. “That’s just the way it is. It’s part of football. We’ll be fine.”
Rookie linebacker Chris McCain (personal) also did not travel to London and will not play.
Meanwhile, it appears another week will go by without linebacker Koa Misi on the field. The inside linebacker, who hasn’t played since injuring his ankle in the opener, watched the walk-through wearing a baseball cap. The Dolphins listed him doubtful for Sunday’s game.
The same goes for Mike Pouncey, and all signs point to Samson Satele starting at center for the fourth straight week. Pouncey had previously said he hoped his surgically repaired hip would heal in time to play in London, calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
And for most players it is. But it is an exhausting one.
When asked what he was most excited to see this weekend, Philbin jokingly said his bed. Few got much sleep on the red-eye flight, and yet the Dolphins held a light practice at Allianz Park, home of the Saracens rugby team, just a few hours after landing. There were surprisingly few mental errors Friday, Tannehill said.
The embattled quarterback appeared much looser Friday than the last time he addressed the media. On Wednesday, he flatly acknowledged that Philbin’s public non-support hurt him and was a “distraction” for the team.
On Friday, he began his press briefing by saying “Hello” in his best British accent.
Tannehill has met with his coach since his revealing comments Wednesday, saying “We’re good; we’re on the same page.”
Still, there’s little doubt that Philbin’s actions this week won’t be quickly forgotten.
“I’d say it’s been probably the most challenging week [of my career],” Tannehill said. “I’m excited to go play. I’m excited to be out there with my teammates again and just have a shot at playing like we can play.”
As for Philbin, he has spoken to owner Stephen Ross several times throughout this tumultuous week, but didn’t provide any details on the nature of those conversations.
Philbin’s actions suggest that he knows he could have handled the situation better. He announced Friday that he has tweaked his policy on announcing starters, which has essentially been don’t say anything to reporters.
Instead, he will use the weekly depth chart as a true (or, more accurately, truer) reflection of who will start, and that should be the assumption unless he announces differently.
Of course, the team’s performance this season will more than anything determine whether Philbin will remain coach of the Miami Dolphins.
And though the extra sleep he bought his players with his seat switch probably won’t make the difference Sunday, it could only have helped his popularity among the rank and file.
“We spent more time together than we usually do in the past,” Tannehill said. “It was a fun trip.”
▪ In other injury news, offensive lineman Shelley Smith (knee) is doubtful to play after missing practice Friday. LB Jelani Jenkins (abdomen) and running back Damien Williams (ankle) are questionable.
The prospects for all other Dolphins players are no worse than probable.