Armando Salguero

Cold, hard facts about the Miami Dolphins’ coaching search

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross: ‘I f---ing hate losing’

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross says he's disappointed with the season after the Fins' loss to the Buffalo Bills. (Video contains graphic language)
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Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross says he's disappointed with the season after the Fins' loss to the Buffalo Bills. (Video contains graphic language)

The Miami Dolphins turned in at least five interview requests for head coach candidates within hours of Adam Gase’s firing on Monday, which means either new football overseer Chris Grier is already running an amazingly efficient search (good thing) or he was compiling a list of candidates well before the head coach with whom he shared power the last three years was ousted (not so good).

Whatever the answer it’s what is likely to happen next in this search that begs your greatest attention because the quality of this coach will speak to how well or unprepared the Dolphins look on the field in the next year or so.

(For instance, the Dolphins have New England defense coach Brian Flores on their list. My first question: Why did you put Rob Gronkowski on the field for the Miami Miracle or is it that you’re not really in charge of the New England defense, in which case, why are we interviewing you for a head coach job?)

And even before closely studying Miami’s list I know the Dolphins aren’t going to dazzle with names for multiple reasons:

Firstly, there is no Andy Reid in this year’s crop of candidates and even if there is, depending on how you feel about Mike McCarthy, the Dolphins aren’t likely to be his first choice.

Secondly, because the Dolphins job is not the best job available.

“Not even close,” one NFL agent who represents dozens of coaches said Tuesday on condition of anonymity. “Obviously, it’s one of 32 so it’s a good job. Any NFL team’s head coaching position is a good job. But is it the best job of the eight? Absolutely not.”

Longtime NFL reporter John Clayton in the Washington Post ranked the Dolphins’ opening seventh of eight. USA Today ranked it sixth.

And I agree with those assessments because the variables head coach candidates weigh when deciding their preference for jobs do not favor the Dolphins to any great degree.

The variables?

Head coach candidates weigh ownership, the quarterback situation and the likelihood of getting a good one, the general manager, and obviously the roster’s other strengths, with particular focus on edge rushers, a left tackle, and cornerbacks.

All of these give potential coach candidates a snapshot of the organization and its likelihood for success. And, sadly, the Dolphins have serious issues at most of those.

Start with ownership. Stephen Ross does one thing exceedingly well as the Dolphins owner and that is provide an open checkbook. But beyond that, he should give prospective candidates pause.

Because the man is an enigma.

He has always been about winning and trying to make the playoffs but on Monday announced a 180-degree change in philosophy toward building for the future. And he actually said that his primary reason for ultimately firing Gase was that the former coach wanted to win now.

That’s what he said!

“I think Adam wants to win and win now,” Ross said. “He’s going into his fourth year and I think he wants to win. Every coach, in your fourth year, you have to win.”

So are the Dolphins looking for a guy that doesn’t want to win now? They want a guy who’ll accept being a loser in the short-term?

How is that interview question going to go? Do you (insert name of coach candidate here) accept our grand plan to lose in 2019 while we build for the future?

What great coach answers, “Yes?”

What great coach, knowing the situation, even takes the interview?

Great coaches want to win all the time, every game. And they want to do it as quickly as possible because they understand they have a limited shelf life if they don’t accomplish good things fairly quickly.

Just ask Steve Wilks, who was hired by Arizona last January to help rebuild that team and was fired in December after one season, if it’s a great idea to accept losing.

Ross might argue he’s been a patient man with his football people in the past so no one should worry about some initial failure. Except his track record thinks that’s a joke.

He interviewed a potential replacement to Tony Sparano after two seasons.

He fired Sparano after two years and 13 games.

He fired Joe Philbin after three years and four games.

He fired Gase after three years.

He replaced Mike Tannenbaum after four years.

He hired Dennis Hickey to be the general manager in 2014, placed Tannenbaum over him in 2015, and then fired him at the end of 2015.

Jeff Ireland had three seasons as general manager with full say over the roster under Ross and then he was fired.

And during that entire time, the Pittsburgh Steelers had one coach and one general manager. As did New England. And the Baltimore Ravens.

You know, the class of the AFC.

Every coach candidate with any sense and an agent understands this about Ross. And any coach candidate is going to understand that he is tying himself to Grier when several things about Grier are irrefutable:

Grier just completed his 19th season with the Dolphins but somehow has borne little responsibility for the failure of those two lost decades. Quite a feat.

He was part of a triumvirate with Gase and Tannebaum for three seasons but was the only one to survive the purge of that leadership team.

So Grier is a survivor but tying oneself to him professionally does not mean you’ll survive.

We don’t know what Grier got wrong and what he got right over the years because it wasn’t out there for all to see. And even the last three years when the draft and free agency was on his watch, we don’t know exactly how much Gase or Tannenbaum affected decisions.

That serves Grier in that he has plausible deniability over Miami’s recent mistakes. But it hurts in that he cannot claim sole responsibility for any success.

Now, after 24 years in the NFL, Chris Grier will show his mettle in the public arena. He is armed with the sword of power but no longer has a shield to disavow what is about to happen.

That’s a grand opportunity for an unproven general manager.

But it also makes the Dolphins head coaching job less attractive because no coach knows what he’s getting himself into.

Armando Salguero has covered the Miami Dolphins and the NFL since 1990, so longer than many players on the current roster have been alive and since many coaches on the team were in middle school. He was a 2016 APSE Top 3 columnist nationwide. He is one of 48 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters. He is an Associated Press All-Pro and awards voter. He’s covered Dolphins games in London, Berlin, Mexico City and Tokyo. He has covered 25 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, and the Olympics.


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