Let’s start with this fact: The Dolphins have been known to turn good intentions into significant embarrassments in the past.
There’s no denying that.
If you require examples of such moments, simply consider that Wayne Huizenga once offered to let Jimmy Johnson coach only home games because Johnson felt so burned out he actually quit and started cleaning out his office after the 1998 season. The owner wanted the coach back for ’99 so badly he offered to have Johnson rest when the Dolphins went on the road.
This is the franchise that was so desperate to hire a big-name football boss during 2007’s humiliating run to 1-15, it guaranteed Bill Parcells the full sum of his four-year contract even if he decided he didn’t want to work after two years. Anything, the idea went, to get Parcells to sign on the dotted line.
This is the franchise whose current owner tried to hire Jim Harbaugh early in 2011 because he thought it would make the team better (probably would have) but didn’t know anyone would find out and didn’t consider the problems it would cause if they did.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross failed to close the Harbaugh deal and the ensuing soap opera between him and Tony Sparano and Sparano and Jeff Ireland became a yearlong saga until the coach was fired during the ’11 season.
This is the franchise that last year had one player harassing another player while actually believing he was the guy’s good friend.
Good intentions gone horribly awry.
That’s why my initial reaction this week when I heard Dan Marino is routinely breaking down tape with quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill and Matt Moore, giving them advise both privately and in the presence of coaches — presumably the quarterback coach or offensive coordinator — caused me to cringe.
This revelation, volunteered by Tannehill himself, could be a harmless and even productive thing if it’s handled exactly right. It can be as simple as a former great quarterback sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience with Miami’s current quarterbacks so that this team’s most important players would improve.
But the Dolphins being the Dolphins, the concern is the good intentions could get sideways.
Coaches on board
What if coaches feel undermined?
What if Miami quarterbacks, listening to Marino and coaches, now have too many voices in their heads?
What if this is evidence Marino is using the time to evaluate Tannehill and coach Joe Philbin and his staff because, after all, we also learned the Hall of Famer has been sitting in on coaching meetings and watches tape with coaches as well, including the defensive coaches.
“He has sat in on some of our post-Monday morning film sessions, just to watch the tape with us and listen to things that we are doing,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said of the Dolphins’ special advisor to the owner. “I think he likes the strategy of defense, and he likes to kind of see the different things that teams might be doing in the league now.”
None of this, by the way, is standard operating practice in the NFL. Most teams don’t have former players sitting in on meetings with coaches and players or watching every practice unless they are running the show as coaches or general managers or team executives. Most teams don’t have official special advisors, either, by the way.
So unless handled exactly the right way, unless understood by all parties exactly as intended, this could become a slow moving train headed for a wreck.
But it is not.
Unless these guys are convincing liars and great actors, which they are not, particularly Philbin, who is quite easy to read, Dolphins coaches are not offended or feel undermined by Marino’s presence.
Publicly, Philbin has numerous times embraced the idea of Marino being around. The door is open, Philbin has said.
Sure, what’s he supposed to say, right?
Well, privately, two assistants — one on offense, one on defense — say they don’t see evidence among their peers that there is resentment toward Marino. They believe Marino is simply trying to help this team succeed.
The story is the same publicly.
“He’s been involved, but he’s not given us blitzes he would like to run or anything like that,” Coyle said. “His presence is welcomed around here. Any time you have got a guy of that caliber, a Hall of Fame guy that has seen so many things, he can certainly help in every phase.”
Not a ‘spy’
Marino, by the way, is very, highly, extremely sensitive that his presence is perceived as meaning he’s spying on the coaching staff or secretly evaluating the quarterbacks. He insists his is filling an auxiliary role — trying to help coaches, players, the front office and the business side of the organization any way he can.
He vehemently denies his role is to fact find and report to Ross on whether a coaching change or quarterback change should be made.
And despite being a franchise that sometimes finds it hard to plug holes in its organizational narrative, the Dolphins are unequivocal and in agreement on this topic.
“That’s not what he’s doing,” club president and CEO Tom Garfinkel said categorically.
Well, if Marino is not setting himself up for giving Ross a thumbs up or down on coaches and players after the season, what is he doing?
“I’m going to be around and be supportive and help any way I can,” he told me last month.
That means giving advice but not orders. Being a supplemental resource. Helping while not hindering.
In short, Marino is trying not to let his best intentions get sideways.
“Dan is not punching a time clock. He doesn’t have an office. He doesn’t have a formal role,” Garfinkel said. “Zac Taylor is the quarterback coach, and Bill Lazor is the offensive coordinator. Everyone knows that. Dan better than anyone understands and respects the coach-player relationship because he lived it, and he is not getting in the way of that.
“Everyone I’ve talked to in football operations is happy to have him around. And if that wasn’t the case, trust me, I’d hear about it.”
So maybe this is the Dolphins’ shining moment when good intentions turn out … good.