It doesn’t matter what Joe Philbin was thinking. The damage is done.
Perhaps at some point the Miami Dolphins coach will take someone into his confidence and explain why, offered numerous opportunities to say Ryan Tannehill is his starting quarterback against the Oakland Raiders, he declined to do so throughout the past week, playing a game of cat and mouse with the media that he had no chance of winning.
Perhaps at some point Philbin will come up with a logical reason that right-thinking people can accept as brilliant so we can start considering him some sort of evil mastermind who hatched a plot that was so twisted it worked to perfection.
But what is more likely to happen is we will see the continued erosion of the respect Ryan Tannehill has for his coach.
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We’re more likely to see evidence of the disappointment Philbin has privately felt about Tannehill.
And, ultimately, what could come into focus is more evidence of Philbin’s coaching demise.
That’s what is at stake now after Philbin chose to walk the curious path he did last week.
To recap and for the uninitiated, Tannehill has not been playing well so far this year. Although he is not the reason for all of Miami’s offensive problems, he has been part of those problems and definitely not their solution.
So after three subpar games, Philbin and his staff apparently put benching Tannehill on the list of possible options they might choose to correct course. The benching was on that list a very short time Monday.
And during that tense time, Philbin was asked during a news conference whether Tannehill would continue to be his starter. Philbin declined to endorse Tannehill by dodging the question multiple times.
But by Tuesday, the coach had already told Tannehill he was starting. Tannehill took practically all the first-team snaps in practice like he always does. And every player in the locker room with an interest knew Tannehill would be Sunday’s starter.
Yet Philbin stuck to his original approach Tuesday and Wednesday, refusing to publicly say Tannehill was the starter, unknowingly or carelessly fanning flames of a quarterback controversy that didn’t even exist.
Tannehill put out the false flames Wednesday when he told everyone he’s starting. And he told everyone he was bothered by Philbin’s approach because he and the players had to “deal with all the distractions” that had been created by it.
The distractions, I remind you, were created by Philbin’s refusal to answer the most fundamental question in football: “Who is your starting quarterback?”
Well, Philbin allowing the issue to fester publicly roiled Tannehill so much that he openly disagreed with the coach’s approach publicly, effectively throwing Philbin under the proverbial bus.
Remember, Joe Philbin is Ryan Tannehill’s boss. And Tannehill was peeved enough to take a figurative poke in his boss’s eye.
You think Tannehill loves Philbin for this? Tannehill is insulated by the team and almost always tows the company line. But multiple people who speak to Tannehill say the quarterback is disenchanted with Philbin in a somewhat similar fashion to how he soured on offensive coordinator Mike Sherman last season.
The two men might present a united front publicly — well, not even that last week — but there is a crack between them now.
And it is not just one-sided because Philbin was left shaking his head at how Tannehill reacted publicly to his approach.
Philbin, sources say, is comfortable that he was communicative and honest with Tannehill and expected no issues from the quarterback because he heard no complaint and got no resistance during their talks.
But Philbin was surprised to hear Tannehill complaining about the coach’s approach in a news conference. Philbin would have preferred to hear it from Tannehill himself.
If Tannehill tells his coach he’s not happy, Philbin might have changed course.
Sorry, too late now.
Both the coach and the quarterback have been damaged by this drama. Philbin’s reputation around the league, tarnished last season during the harassment scandal, is taking another hit.
“What is he thinking?” one former player texted me.
“Malpractice,” is the word a personnel man on another team used to describe Philbin’s handling of the situation.
And where does that leave the Dolphins and more importantly the coach and quarterback? If the Dolphins beat the Raiders, everyone will put on a happy face and all will seem well for the moment.
But if the Dolphins lose while Tannehill continues to struggle, a quarterback-coach relationship already suffering a rough patch is headed for bigger obstacles.