When Stephen Ross announced that Joe Philbin would be back as Dolphins coach after the team’s dramatic 37-35 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the news came as a shock to many on the outside.
But within the organization, it was just the next logical progression for an owner who likes, respects and has confidence in his most important employee.
Ross had decided well before Sunday’s game that Philbin — whose team was formally eliminated from playoff contention even with Sunday’s win — would be back in 2015.
“I believe in this team, I believe in the coach, we are building something,” Ross said. “I have looked at the whole situation, as I have been looking at it all year. I think the coach has a year on his contract, we are bringing him back and, you know, what else can I tell you? I think we are building something great here. He is the right guy for this team, and we are building something.”
Ross said he was “frustrated” with the season’s outcome — the Dolphins’ slight playoff chances died when the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday — particularly since the Dolphins “have a lot of talent here.”
Still, that frustration was not enough to make a change.
Some speculated that Ross would fire Philbin if he lost to Minnesota (6-9) on Sunday, but the Miami Herald has learned that was never the case.
Furthermore, at no point in the evaluation of Philbin did Ross indicate that he had any interest in making a coaching change, sources told the Herald last week. And the Jim Harbaugh speculation?
“I didn’t put out any feelers,” Ross said. “I did not talk to Harbaugh.”
Ross has been consistently supportive of Philbin, and unless he lost confidence in his coach or his hand was forced, his inclination was always to bring him back.
Ross also values continuity. He understands how disruptive — from personnel to scheme — that a coaching change would have been to the organization.
And he knows the league’s least successful teams are usually the ones with the most turnover. So it’s safe to assume that both Philbin and general manager Dennis Hickey will together have at least one more year to fix the Dolphins.
It did not go unnoticed within the organization that the players who helped the Dolphins win Sunday — Damien Williams’ 3-yard touchdown reception tied the score with 1:11 left, and Terrence Fede’s punt-block-turned-safety won it 30 seconds later — were rookies that Hickey acquired.
Although Ross had already made up his mind that Philbin would come back, he didn’t actually inform his coach of that decision until after Sunday’s game.
“This is where I want to be,” Philbin said upon hearing the news. “I want to work for Steve Ross. I want to be the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. The reason I came to Miami was because of Steve Ross.”
Philbin added: “Coaches wanted to be with people who believe in him. I have a lot of faith in Steve. He’s been very supportive of me through some difficult times when it could have been easy not to be supportive of me.”
No matter the time line, the results of Sunday’s game gave the team a convenient way to announce the decision.
The Dolphins (8-7) rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit with touchdowns on four of their first five touchdowns of the second half.
Ryan Tannehill was spectacular, completing 35 of 47 passes for 396 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Two went to Mike Wallace, and Charles Clay had a game-high 114 receiving yards on six catches. Lamar Miller was 8 yards shy of 100 on the ground, and the Dolphins had their best all-around offensive game in a month.
But none of that seemed to matter when Jarvis Landry fumbled a kickoff at the 5 with 4:40 left with the score tied.
Minnesota’s Matt Asiata rumbled into the end zone on the very next play, giving the Vikings 14 points in 11 seconds and the lead.
“That does kind of make you crazy,” Wallace said with a chuckle, “but we knew we were going to win the entire time.”
Because they had Tannehill at his best. He completed 9 of 10 passes for 83 yards on the tying drive. And when Cameron Wake sacked Teddy Bridgewater on third-and-8 at the Vikings’ 15, Philbin turned to his assistants to discuss what they’d do with the game’s final half-minute.
So he didn’t see Fede block Jeff Locke’s punt out the back of the end zone, ensuring the Dolphins would finish at least .500 on the season. The Dolphins can secure their first winning record since 2008 with a victory over the foundering Jets in the season finale.
“Patience is a virtue, you know,” Ross said, “but I’m expecting big things next year, I’ll tell you that.”