Armando Salguero

Unintended consequences of stepping back (tanking) Miami Dolphins did not consider

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)

It wasn’t working. We all know that. We have all seen it fail before our eyes.

The Miami Dolphins have been on this mediocrity treadmill for nearly two decades, and there were many promises made about winning, but the team never got close to winning it all. And there seemed to be no end in sight.

So around October or November, folks within the organization started talking to owner Stephen Ross about an alternate approach. That was about taking the long view, and maybe accepting losing for a while, and perhaps getting in position to do something fabulous with a high draft pick some day.

Like drafting a great quarterback.

And although Ross resisted at first, the end of the 2018 season convinced him this was the course to take because the previous course he set wasn’t working and there were no other real options on his plate.

So here we are.

Refusing to continue doing the same thing in 2019 because, to use Ross’s word, that is “insanity.”

The Dolphins are taking the long view now.

We’re talking about tanking on social media and even here in column space, although the Dolphins and Ross will avoid using that word at all costs for business ($$$$) reasons.

Maybe you’re fine with that. Because this strategic step back has worked elsewhere.

But you should know and the Dolphins should know that this approach comes with no guarantees. And it comes with consequences.

And for the Dolphins, that includes unintended consequences.

I know, for example, the folks pushing the idea of going with the long view never intended for it to help cost coach Adam Gase his job. That wasn’t on their mind.

Those people, in fact, thought Gase part of the team’s future.

They thought Gase mostly capable as a coach, a good leader, and a good man off the field.

Warts? Sure, Gase had them. Still does, near as I can tell.

But it says something that three of the seven other teams looking for head coaches during the current interview cycle wanted to speak with Gase.

Yet the Dolphins could not keep Gase and go in this new direction because Gase was fully invested in trying to win now. And he had contractual control of the 53-man roster so he could effectively stay on the win-now course if he continued in Miami.

So he had to be fired.

And you’re thinking this new direction is really working for you so far because you didn’t like Gase. Well, I have news for you:

In two years, or around January of 2021, you’re not going to like the next head coach, either.

Because the Dolphins now are in the process of hiring their next ex-head coach.

Why am I saying this? Because he’s going to fail.

And I know this because the losses are almost baked in to his future.

Miami’s next ex-head coach is going to lose in 2019 — to what degree we don’t know — because that is the team policy at least for a year. Everyone knows this. The candidates know this.

In the past two days I’ve spoken with two sources close to two of the four candidates the Dolphins have interviewed so far. And they know the Dolphins’ job isn’t a great one. They see the problems present and those ahead.

They know.

So, I asked, why did your guy interview?

One answer: Because it’s hard for a minority head coach to be hired, and this is a chance.

Second answer: Because even the worst head coaching job in the NFL is an opportunity too good to pass up.

Well, it’s too good to pass up for some people. Not for others.

Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach Mike Munchak passed. He basically told the Dolphins he had no interest in even interviewing. That is no secret. He wanted to either get the Denver Broncos job or stay in Pittsburgh.

It’s not quite so clear to me why Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio didn’t interview, but his sights were also clearly set elsewhere. He also wants the Broncos job.

This is an understandable outgrowth of the so-called long-view approach. There will be coaches who prefer not to take on the cause of losing.

They don’t wish to bet their reputations on the idea that hopefully, possibly, maybe, someday years from now the team can be good.

So instead the Dolphins are left interviewing some candidates who bring serious questions on their resumes. They interviewed, for example, Dennis Allen. And his Miami interview was his first and only head coach interview since he posted an 8-28 record as Oakland’s head coach.

The consequences won’t stop there.

When free agency comes around, the idea of the Dolphins being a destination team, which has been on life support for some time, will officially be dead.

I remember once upon a time the Dolphins could compete with any team for any player and pretty much land that guy on most occasions.

A call from Don Shula.

Another call from Dan Marino.

A reminder Florida has no state tax.

And, voila, Bernie Kosar was on board. And Keith Byars. And Keith Jackson.

Nick Saban calls and Drew Brees wants to come.

New Orleans, where he won a Super Bowl, was his second choice.

Bill Parcells calls and Karlos Dansby is excited about being in Miami.

I know you’re saying those guys didn’t bring titles to Miami, but that misses the point.

The point is those players wanted to be in Miami over other places. And the Dolphins aren’t going to be that signature landing spot for a while. If the Dolphins want a player, they won’t be able to pitch a chance at chasing a ring.

Good, bad or indifferent, that is how it’s likely to be starting in March.

More fallout from the long-view approach the Dolphins have promised? Well, this one involves you.

I cannot tell you how many fans during the past decade have broken ties with the Dolphins for one reason or another and felt the need to codify the break by writing to me to say so. One fan went so far as to send me all of his Miami Dolphins memorabilia, accumulated through the decades, because he didn’t want it anymore.

Dolphins failures on and off the field drove these people away.

And my guess is their ranks will swell in the next couple of seasons as patience worn short by mediocrity implodes amid full-on failure.

I don’t know if the long-view advocates considered this. My hope is it was considered. But my concern is the depth of the displeasure and length of the coming desert experience was not.

And that brings me to the patience level of perhaps the most moneyed Dolphins fan.

I wonder if Stephen Ross’ patience was measured when this course was set.

He’s in it now. He’s all for going the long road. Goodness, he better be because he set the course, like, a week ago.

But how’s he going to feel in a year after all that losing?

How’s he going to feel after two years of losing? At age 80?

This is a man who has pushed his people to win, to make the playoffs. He loves to talk about having an organization that’s first-in-class, not first-in-draft.

He used expletives after the 2017 season to describe how important winning is to him.

At his news conference, Ross said he wasn’t sure how long this rebuild of sorts would take but blanched at the possibility of going “3-13.”

I wonder if Ross considered how he would feel if his team offered up that exact record -- twice?

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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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