A few weeks ago when he and his family took some vacation time before the start of training camp, Adam Gase flew out of Fort Lauderdale’s airport. And, like the rest of us, he went to a ticket counter, then through a security line and eventually loitered at the gate waiting for his flight.
And at a busy airport a few miles from Hard Rock Stadium, where Gase guided his team to its first playoff season since 2008, no one recognized the Miami Dolphins head coach.
Surprised? Gase wasn’t.
Earlier this offseason he and his wife Jennifer were shopping at a local Wal-Mart. (Can you imagine Don Shula or Bill Belichick shopping at Wal-Mart?)
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Anyway, Gase was wearing a Dolphins T-shirt. He might as well have been wearing a glowing neon sign that read “I’m the Miami Dolphins’ coach.”
But no stopped him. No one stared. He doesn’t think anyone even glanced at him.
“Mind?” Gase asked rhetorically, “I love it.”
Adam Gase was the most successful professional coach in South Florida last year. He’s the only one who had a winning record. He’s the only one who took his team to the postseason. And he’s also one the town has not quite embraced yet because...well, I don’t know why.
Maybe it’s the fact Dolphins fans are wary of early success because they’ve been burned by its fleeting nature in the past.
Remember that Tony Sparano was 11-5 and won the AFC East in his first season -- and didn’t manage another winning season after that. Remember, if you will, that Nick Saban ralled his team to a 9-7 record his first season and amid a Sports Illustrated prediction of a Super Bowl appearance the next year, the Dolphins fell back to 6-10 and Saban quit soon after.
So, yes, Dolphins fans can be forgiven for being a little guarded.
But coming from someone who covered Sparano and Saban -- and every Dolphins coach before and since, except for George Wilson -- I’m thinking many of the pitfalls and obstacles that befell those other guys won’t factor with Gase.
Start with the fact Gase has the complete confidence of his boss. Stephen Ross. Ross loves Gase. I can tell you he didn’t love Tony Sparano and indeed didn’t much talk to his first coach. I can tell you he didn’t love second coach Joe Philbin by the time the 2015 season began.
“I really believe in Adam,” Ross said the first day of this training camp. “ I spent a lot of time -- I told you it was my decision last time. I wasn’t enlisting consultants. We didn’t have any consultants in the room when we hired him. It was something that I went with my gut. I did a lot of homework.
“I’m thrilled. I think maybe you [reporters] were a lot more skeptical. You had to see it yourself. The proof in the pudding is in the eating. I think today and when you talk to people, when you read the papers, everybody is talking about what a great, young coach Miami has.”
The papers spent part of the spring collecting quotes from Dolphins players about how much they appreciate and admire their coach. I always feel torn about such praise because, of course subordinates are likely to offer praise for their boss if given a public forum to do that.
But what these guys do is more important. So it bears noting Kenny Stills re-signed with the Dolphins for less money than he could have gotten somewhere else because he wanted to play for Gase. Tight end Julius Thomas came to the Dolphins because Gase is the head coach.
What players say privately, knowing their identity will be protected, is also telling.
“The guy is crazy and he messes with your head a lot,” said one player speaking about Gase, “but I would love to play for him the rest of my career.”
Grase tries to keep the players feeling like they’re part of something bigger than a professional football team -- even if that means employing hokey motivational ploys like printing T-shirts for everybody.
Everyone now is wearing T-shirts with “University of Davie” stamped on them. By the way, there is no University of Davie. It does not exist.
“We were talking about the culture we want to create and a lot of players were agreeing with what we were saying,” Gase said. “We felt like kind of a college team. Sometimes nobody seems to know we’re down here. That’s where it started.”
Gase says players came up with the idea, but he stoked the kindling and turned it into fire. He embraced the idea to give players a collegial sense of belonging. And, by the way, he added a bit of “us against them” feel to it because he often mentions to players that most people -- pundits and oddsmakers in particular-- believe last year’s success was more a happy accident than the start of a tradition.
“He’s mentioned that nobody believes in us a few times,” a player said. “Speaking for myself, I know that gets me riled up. So I guess he’s doing his job.”
Well, if Gase does his job as well this year as last year, maybe somebody around town will start recognizing him.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero