Mike Tannenbaum, as the Dolphins announced this week, is the team’s new executive vice president of football operations.
But, many have wondered, what exactly does that mean?
The explanation? It’s complicated.
Tannenbaum is Stephen Ross’ proxy in Davie, making sure his vision is executed within team headquarters while the team owner and real estate mogul is away from South Florida — as is often the case.
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First and foremost, Ross wants his franchise to find a competitive advantage through innovation that extends far beyond the basic nuts and bolts of constructing a roster and calling plays.
And after a year of doing that job on a part-time basis — Tannenbaum quietly traveled to Europe to scout out the inner-workings of some of the world’s best soccer franchises and also helped hire a full-time nutritionist — the former Jets general manager is now a full-time Dolphins employee.
Tannenbaum’s arrival has had no impact on coach Joe Philbin’s job status. Ross said last month that Philbin would be back for 2015, and the team plans to offer him a contract extension beyond this coming season.
The move should come as no surprise. Ross as a rule doesn’t want his top employees working as lame ducks, and shouldn’t be seen as a guarantee that Philbin will coach the team beyond 2015.
Tannenbaum’s No. 1 responsibility isn’t scouting players or negotiating contracts. It’s ensuring that Ross’ culture of innovation is implemented throughout the franchise.
Furthermore, Tannenbaum is GM Dennis Hickey’s boss. Except when he’s not.
It’s a unique, and potentially explosive, distribution of powers. Hickey will answer directly to Ross on the construction of the 53-man roster and the draft.
But on all other matters, he reports to Tannenbaum, who has been given the power to fire Hickey if he’s not satisfied with his performance. Granted, it would be difficult to envision such a move without Ross’ blessing.
The distribution of powers has already led to confusion — so much so that the NFL sent out a clarification Wednesday.
In a statement released to reporters, the league said that after discussions with Ross, Hickey will “continue to report to report to Mr. Ross” on draft and personnel matters.
The league added: “Any public statement to the contrary is erroneous and does not accurately reflect the reporting structure at the Dolphins.”
Those statements to the contrary? They in part came from the team itself.
When the Dolphins announced the hire Tuesday, they explicitly stipulated that “Hickey will report directly to Tannenbaum and will continue to lead the personnel and scouting departments and have control of the 53-man roster.”
And in his conference call with reporters a short time later, Tannenbaum said: “Coach Philbin will continue to report to Steve Ross, and everybody else will report to me.”
Some took that to mean that the Dolphins reversed course after being alerted to a possible violation of the Rooney Rule — which stipulates that all teams must interview a minority candidate for top personnel and coaching positions.
But Tannenbaum’s precise role with the team was cleared with the league well before Tuesday’s announcement, the Miami Herald has learned.
Essentially, Tannenbaum has been charged with putting Hickey and Philbin in the best position to succeed.
That’s easier said than done. Many have rightly wondered how the football side’s three most powerful men — Tannenbaum, Hickey and Philbin — can coexist. But the organization believes they will, largely because they have, harmoniously — for the most part — for the past year.
Throughout the past season, Tannenbaum spoke regularly with both Philbin and Hickey, and the three men have developed what is seen within the franchise as a productive, working relationship.
It better stay that way. Philbin and former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland had an acrimonious relationship that poisoned the 2013 season. Ross fired Ireland largely because of it.
And the Dolphins owner would have never introduced Tannenbaum into the mix if he didn’t believe the chemistry among the three men would work, according to multiple people close to the situation.
The world will soon see if he is correct.
▪ The Dolphins signed two players to futures contracts Wednesday: kicker Zach Hocker and wide receiver Michael Preston.
Miami Herald sportswriter Armando Salguero contributed to this report.