If the plan comes together just right -- and that’s not guaranteed but the Miami Dolphins are optimistic it will -- new head coach Brian Flores is about to do something important and beneficial that several of his predecessors failed to do.
Flores has, according to multiple reports, been trying to hire NFL veteran coaches Jim Caldwell and Dom Capers.
Capers, 68, was expecting to join the Dolphins if he wasn’t hired as the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, according to Sirius NFL radio. He also is on the radar for a post with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Caldwell, 64, has reportedly been offered a job with the Dolphins as an assistant head coach after taking a couple of head coach interviews in the recent hiring cycle.
And it makes sense that these veteran coaches have multiple opportunities they’re weighing because they bring experience and excellence and the benefit of wisdom.
And that would be a good addition to a staff that at the top is expected to consist of primarily young coaches stepping into roles they’ve never held before.
Flores, 37, is obviously a first-time NFL head coach. Chad O’Shea, who got a deal done with the Dolphins on Wednesday, has been a wide receivers coach with the New England Patriots but never an NFL offensive coordinator until getting that job in Miami. And defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, 40, has coached linebackers, defensive linemen, and been a run-game coordinator. But his time in Miami will be his first as an NFL defensive coordinator.
So where’s the experience?
That’s where Caldwell and Capers could be so valuable.
Forget that both are accomplished in knowing the game. That’s a given.
But both have been NFL head coaches with multiple teams -- Caldwell with the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions, Capers with the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans. That means they can impart a wealth of knowledge and experience on how to handle the job.
And it’s not just handling the job. Most coaches have an idea of how to coach.
It’s the surprises the job springs on people that can throw new coaches off.
Former coach Adam Gase, for example, often talked about how he had to “put out 15 fires every morning” when he got to the office -- none of those expected.
“And after that’s handled, then you start being the coach,” he said.
But, interestingly, Gase never brought to his staff a former head coach who could suggest to him how to handle the unexpected. Or how to navigate around players that troubled him. Or how to keep players who weren’t his favorites on his side.
Some of those things might have hurt Gase at the end of 2018.
And, yes, Gase hired former Saints assistant and father-in-law Joe Vitt. And Vitt helped Gase in multiple ways that mostly a veteran coach can help. But Vitt’s experience as an NFL head coach was limited to an interim term with New Orleans in 2012.
Gase, it sometimes seemed, could have benefitted from having a more mature voice on the staff that he respected and could lean on. Because texting Mike Martz from a distance simply wasn’t good enough.
Joe Philbin also lacked that veteran presence on his coaching staff after Mike Sherman was fired following the 2013 season.
Philbin seemed uncomfortable in some situations his job put him in. And after Sherman left, Philbin’s staff was bereft of a veteran NFL man with head coaching experience he could lean on for counsel.
Oddly, Philbin ended up turning to former executive vice president Dawn Aponte for advice and counsel. That would have been fine if Philbin needed help with the salary cap, but Aponte had zero experience on how to manage players.
Tony Sparano also lacked that veteran adviser although he had several around him.
Sparano had former San Diego Chargers head coach Dan Henning on his staff as the offensive coordinator.
But the truth is Henning was hired by Sparano after they met in Miami. It was football czar Bill Parcells who was close with Henning, not so much Sparano. So Sparano never fully tapped in to that reservoir.
And what about Parcells?
Well, he’s a Hall of Famer. He coached two teams to Super Bowl titles and made multiple other teams better. He was also Sparano’s boss and was in the building all the time.
Sparano could have used his help.
But Sparano wanted to be his own man and a couple of times let that be known. And one of the regrets Parcells has about his time in Miami is not insisting in giving Sparano advice.
“I’d see things during the week that looked to be potential problems but I wouldn’t say anything because I didn’t want to step on Tony’s toes,” Parcells said. “And then I’d see those things I had seen during the week show up in games. I should addressed it more strongly with him.”
That leads me to this: Flores deserves praise for recognizing how veteran coaches with much more experience than him could help in his new assignment.
But as you’ve just read, it’s not just about having those men around. It’s about using them as resources. It’s about not being afraid to ask for advice or admitting you need help.
We’ll see if Flores can clear that hurdle when he’s facing a dozen problems that he wasn’t expecting some day next week or next month.
But it’s good news he has at least armed himself with the ability to get that help if he wants it.