Stephen Ross has spoken many times about how much he likes Joe Philbin and feels a strong loyalty for the coach. He repeated that for the umpteenth time Monday except this time the statement came a few hours after Ross had fired Philbin over the phone.
And while I have no argument with the message Ross might have delivered on that phone conversation, because Philbin needed to go, the manner Ross used to deliver the message bothers me because it speaks to one of the continuing problems the Dolphins face today:
Ross is an absentee owner.
And absentee owners sometimes deliver bad news on the phone without understanding it’s not the best way to do business. What was the best way for this firing to happen, aside from it coming last January instead of Monday?
Ross should have flown to South Florida and done it in person. By the way, after Philbin got Ross’ phone call, he asked for some time to inform his family. So the former coach drove home to tell his wife the bad news.
Philbin didn’t want to tell her over the phone.
The distance between himself and his team didn’t let Ross handle it the right way. Like most absentee owners, Ross connects with his $1 billion business via long distance and without a ton of interpersonal relationship and insight.
Ross relies on employees telling him what to think instead of being constantly around his team and forming his opinion based on what he sees. So it came as no surprise Ross said after he hired Dan Campbell as the interim coach that he hasn’t really spoken very much with Dan Campbell.
“While I never spent a lot of time with Dan, I’ve spoken to people,” Ross said.
Absentee owners miss things they might otherwise catch if they treated their NFL team with the same attention to detail and awareness they treat their day jobs.
It is not coincidence Ross is much more successful as a real estate mega-developer than an NFL owner. He actually goes to the office every day as a real estate developer.
(And this is about the point where Ross, who reads what I write and often dismisses it as uninformed, will throw out his newspaper or more likely click off this column and move on to something else like building a high rise or something.)
That’s too bad because maybe if he finished reading more often, he’d have known at the end of 2013 I wrote Philbin wasn’t the right coach for the Dolphins. Or maybe he would have read at the end of 2014, when the Dolphins went 1-3 their last four games, that Philbin should have been fired rather than gotten a contract extension.
Or maybe he should have finished reading the past 10 months while I’ve been saying Kevin Coyle isn’t the right man for the defensive coordinator job.
Or maybe if Ross was around more, he could simply see these things for himself.
Instead he relies on his people to give him their opinions of what is happening without seeing what is happening with his own two eyes.
So who cares? What is the tangible problem with having an absentee owner?
Well, here we are, the day after the Dolphins’ own mini-Black Monday and Coyle remains the team’s defensive coordinator.
And Ross, a weekday resident of New York and weekend resident of South Florida, is up north apparently convinced the singular move of firing Philbin gives the Dolphins a chance to save this season.
“I believe this team has a lot of opportunities,” Ross said via, what else, conference call. “My goal is still to make the playoffs. I thought this was the best opportunity we had.”
The best opportunity for making the playoffs this year was firing Philbin last season instead of giving him an extension. Ross says that’s hindsight because, again, he wasn’t around enough to see the signs in person that Philbin needed to go way back then.
And Ross, having missed that opportunity, is missing another right now because he’s keeping the same defensive coordinator players don’t like and whose scheme they increasingly lack confidence in.
I know this because, unlike Ross, I’m around the team almost every day. Even though I’m an outsider and the Dolphins keep the press at arm’s distance, people talk.
And based on what I’m told, I believe two things:
Hiring Dan Campbell as the interim coach is nice, but it probably won’t be the breakthrough cure to all that ails the Dolphins.
Campbell is a head-coach-in-the-making. He reminds me of former Dolphins defensive line coach Dan Quinn circa 2005. Quinn had “it.” He was going to be a head man some day. But he was 10 years away. Campbell is that guy.
“He’s smart, tough-minded,” Bill Parcells said of Campbell on Monday. “He’s a good man.”
I believe Campbell is still years away. He has tons to learn. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and the 12 days or so before he takes over a sideline for the first time isn’t enough time for him to fully learn.
The other thing: Campbell’s hiring will be a half measure as long as Coyle is still running the defense. Oh, Coyle’s unit might step up against a rookie quarterback in Tennessee or enjoy success against the non-starter-caliber quarterbacks the Houston Texans put on the field.
But, mark my words, the Patriots will light up Coyle’s defense this year as surely as they did last year.
And quarterbacks named Romo, Manning, Luck and Rivers aren’t going to be afraid of Coyle’s scheme, either.
Ross would probably agree with that if he knew his own team better. He’d know if he wasn’t an absentee owner.