Miami Dolphins’ owner, Stephen Ross, discusses the firing of Head Coach Adam Gase
The Miami Dolphins announced Monday morning that they “reassigned” executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum within the organization but never explained what exactly that meant. Later that morning at a news conference to announce head coach Adam Gase being “relieved of his duties,” and general manager Chris Grier being crowned king of everything football within the organization, reporters didn’t ask for clarity about Tannenbaum’s new duties.
So the Dolphins reassigned one guy and relieved another guy and what that actually means is both were fired.
Tannenbaum, with the team since 2015, asked for and received something of a quiet sendoff, according to a Dolphins source. He will not be working for the team again. By the time the draft comes in April, it will be obvious he is no longer with the organization, the source said.
Owner Stephen Ross will continue to pay Tannenbaum’s salary for another two years because that’s the amount of time remaining on his contract.
This is not a new course for the Dolphins under Ross.
When general manager Dennis Hickey was fired the day before the last game of the 2015 season, he was offered a reassignment for public relations purposes. Hickey refused.
When assistant general manager Eric Stokes was fired in January 2016, he was offered a reassignment, which he accepted for a month and then the team announced Stokes and the team “part ways” on the back end of a press release announcing the hiring of an assistant defensive backs coach.
When the newly minted management team of Gase-Tannenbaum-Grier decided in September 2016 that executive vice president Dawn Aponte had to go, she was “transitioned” to a job working in New York for RSE Ventures, which Ross co-founded.
Within nine months, Aponte was gone from under the Ross umbrella altogether and working for the NFL.
This is the Dolphins playbook, folks.
And like many opposing coordinators have done the past two decades with Miami’s plays, this is not that hard to figure out.
The Tannenbaum firing had been in the offing for several weeks. And it feels creepy that Ross allowed his employee to hang by a thread — attending games, sitting right beside him in the Hard Rock Stadium suite — without telling the man his fate.
The Gase firing was another matter altogether.
That was not certain for weeks. That was not pre-planned. That was not even going to happen if one of any number of things had happened.
And yet here we are.
For some context: Remember that Ross in the middle of the Dolphins playoff run in 2016 announced Gase was the coach he had been searching for all along.
“I have the right guy now,” Ross said then. “I have the guy I wanted. Adam has already changed the culture of the Miami Dolphins … The organization is working well together now. That’s the first time that’s happened. Everybody is on the same page for the first time.”
And you know what Gase’s reaction to that was? He was livid the team’s owner was talking to the media in the middle of a playoff run because he wanted no distractions or compliments for his 5-4 team which had basically accomplished nothing.
That kind of illustrates the relationship Gase and Ross enjoyed and endured the past three years.
The coach felt empowered by that ‘16 success that included a playoff berth — albeit a one-and-done appearance.
And the owner fed into the Gase power trip because he had given the 40-year-old first-time coach the power to tear down and rebuild the roster if he wanted and done so in writing in his contract.
Gase, no doubt feeding off the early success, sometimes joked about being able to blow up the entire organization if he wanted.
He didn’t, of course.
Gase reported to work every day with the goal of making the Miami Dolphins a winner. But because he had so much power and no one to tell him “no,” he made mistakes.
He reached back into his history and added former players such as tight end Julius Thomas. He needed leadership in the worst way so he signed old players, many of which ended up on injured reserve.
He considered his time as the offensive coordinator in Denver, a time in which Peyton Manning broke the season touchdown pass record, and decided guards were really a luxury the Dolphins didn’t need. Because Manning could get rid of the football so fast, guards basically had nothing to do on many plays anyway and Gase thought things could work the same in Miami.
That’s an interesting one, by the way.
After the 2016 season when the Dolphins needed a serious upgrade to their defense, Gase decided he could make the offense operate on the cheap while the defense added players. So the coach practically ignored the need for guards.
And Ross challenged him about that.
And Gase yelled at the owner about knowing more about football than he did. Multiple sources say a high-ranking club official had to intervene and tell Gase he could not speak to the owner — his boss — that way.
Gase and Ross spoke every week during the season. And Gase kept those exchanges private as did Ross. But it’s clear there were awkward moments and even sometimes friction.
Gase sometimes was stunned and even annoyed by Ross’ ideas that often didn’t make a ton of sense to him.
By early December of 2018, each was seeing flaws in the other. Gase saw Ross as something less than a football man, according to one source familiar with the coach’s thinking.
Regardless, neither side expected a change. Change was certainly nowhere on the radar after the Miami Miracle against New England on Dec. 9. The Dolphins were 7-6 and in the hunt for a playoff spot after beating the best team in the division.
Gase told Ross his team was in the hunt for a playoff spot despite missing a significant portion of his roster to injuries.
Then the Minnesota loss happened. That was tough. But even then, Gase dismissed advice to speak to Ross as if he was interviewing for a job. He arrogantly thought himself safe.
Then the Jacksonville Jaguars loss happened. And now the pressure began to build and Gase knew he had to finish strong to assure himself of his post.
It didn’t happen.
The blowout loss to Buffalo in the season finale was a major blow. That Sunday night when his beaten team arrived back in South Florida, Gase told several people he was going to get fired.
He was right. Following the finale Ross arrived at his final call on the coach.
“I’d like to say all you guys were wrong because I didn’t make a decision until probably last night, after that game, thinking about it,” he told reporters Monday morning.
(Look, I don’t know if anyone reported Ross had already made up his mind to fire Gase or not before Buffalo, which would have been wrong. But a man who has been wrong time and time again chiding other people about being wrong is really tone deaf.)
And what was the final straw that sealed Gase’s fate?
For several weeks, people within the Dolphins organization had been telling Ross the current football philosophy was simply wrong.
The idea that the Dolphins were just a handful of players from being a playoff team appealed to Ross early in his ownership tenure because he took full ownership the season after the team won the AFC East in 2008.
But Ross seemed to forget 2008 was a decade and five head coaches ago. And he was still setting a postseason appearance as the annual team goal while apparently never thinking about how to win a Super Bowl.
So, let’s be clear, Ross himself instituted the philosophy the team operated under since 2009 and empowered people such as Tannenbaum who agreed with the approach.
But after the franchise’s failure upon failure upon failure, and an obvious inability to leap off the mediocrity treadmill, the message to change course finally hit home with the owner. The people advising Ross to correct course prevailed.
The owner decided to set a new arc for the Dolphins’ upcoming fortunes.
That arc, however, did not match Gase’s career arc.
Both he and Ross understood and agreed that if Gase remained, he would continue to try to win. Now.
That’s how it is for a fourth-year coach. You must win or you’re fired because fans aren’t going to be patient.
Gase had already planned to fire defensive coordinator Matt Burke and had a plan for replacing him. He also had decided that he would move on from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and sign a bridge quarterback and probably draft a rookie for the future — assuming he could identify the right draft pick.
And that’s a solid plan for a team trying to win.
But the Dolphins are going in an opposite direction now because that’s what Ross has been convinced is best.
So Gase no longer made sense for the Dolphins. And the Dolphins no longer made sense for Gase.
It was interesting that even as Ross and King Grier were having a news conference outlining the new direction, and even amid reports Gase lost the attention or respect of certain players the final few weeks, the coach was in his office on the second floor of the Dolphins’ Davie facility.
And outside his door were players lined up to privately thank him and bid him farewell. One of those was Tannehill, who later posted his thoughts on Instagram.
“Grateful for the last three years with Coach Gase,” Tannehill wrote, “...one of the best I’ve ever worked with, and I know he’ll be successful wherever he lands. Thank you for everything, coach!”