Joe Philbin never wants to get too high or too low and this year, despite triumph and tragedy in the death of his father, the Miami Dolphins coach has stayed the course. He believes his team reflects that consistency, as he tells the Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero:
“This year, from my chair, the last eight weeks we’ve been four plays from being 8-0. I know we won one game 37-0 and there have been some other games, but your job as a coach is to put your team in a position to win games. And I think the last eight weeks we’ve done that.
“Now, I’m not happy about losing by three, four and three points. But clearly, we were two plays away from being 7-0. That was clear [against Green Bay and Detroit]. And then one more play, one way or the other [against Denver], and that changes that game. I’m not disputing, I’m not saying we’ve been the model of consistency my whole time here but the last eight weeks we’ve been pretty, fairly consistent.
“Consistency is important to me. And for the most part, yeah, I definitely believe the team should take on the personality of the coach. They’re a reflection of you. I wouldn’t call myself a flat line. That’s not good. I do get upset. I’m almost more [upset] on a Monday than I am on a Sunday, I don’t know why. A loss is never a good thing. But after I watch the film I’m more upset than at the game or at the press conference afterward, to be honest with you. It’s usually what happens with me.
“You see things I could have done better, our staff could have coached better, and the players could have done better. Where at the game, things are happening fast. There are 165 plays. You’re watching and doing your job and you have a pretty good idea what’s going on but every once in a while we’re like, ‘Oh, we didn’t check three match and this guy is playing two deep and he’s playing three deep so how dumb can we be?’ Because the game is moving and you’re staying on top of whatever unit is out there and you’re doing other things.
“So typically for me it’s almost worse the day after. And that’s not always a good thing because maybe it would be better if I could get the frustration out earlier and get moving on faster.
“I always try to keep things in perspective. A win is great. But in my brain, I’m walking into the locker room after we win and thinking what’s next. What I was thinking [days before last Sunday’s game at Denver] was what am I going to tell the team after we beat Denver, which I know we can do? Well, tell them we have our biggest challenge because everybody thinks we’re good now and we still have to go play the Jets. I was thinking about that for three or four days because everyone was going to say, ‘Well, they beat a team that doesn’t lose at home so they must be good.’ So my brain’s working and sometimes I’m already thinking about the next thing.
“But I do try to keep it all level as best I can. It’s kind of me a little bit, anyway. I was 15 years old and read my first book about coaching and I thought you kind of have to be yourself. That’s a bit the way I am, keep things level.
“I was lucky. I grew up in a marvelous home with two phenomenal parents. I didn’t have any unresolved issues with my dad. There’s never a good time to lose a parent, as I’ve learned. But I was able to see him during the bye week. He and my mom were married 60 years in the summer and we were able to have a reunion of the whole family on Cape Cod [Massachusetts]. He was bound and determined to make that. He passed away exactly the way he wanted to — with his children at his side in his own home.
“It was a beautiful funeral for him. I was in the receiving line and one time I shook hands with the congressman from our district. The next guy was the mailman who had tears in his eyes. The next guy was a kid that played Little League baseball for him 40 years ago that flew up from South Carolina.
“My dad, I miss him a lot. I used to call him often. I miss him especially on Saturday nights. I used to call him all the time and we’d talk about the game. I miss him a lot. But as I told the team, he grew up during the depression. He fought in World War II. His dad was a little bit of a drinker. I told the team this story: One time it was New Year’s Eve and he came home and had way too much to drink. I was nine or 10, so I didn’t know what being drunk was. The next day he woke up and never took a drink the rest of his life. He was a mentally tough guy. Whatever he put his mind to doing, he did.
“It’s not good or fun he died. But it has only inspired me to coach better. I’m not talking about working extra hours but I believe in what I’m doing. This didn’t have any negative impact on me that [made me question] what I’m doing. There was never anything I didn’t say to him that I felt I needed to say. It was great for me to be there when he passed. I was there with my siblings. We brought him home that morning and told him, ‘Dad, you’re home.’ And he passed away that night. He knew exactly what he wanted to do.
“We tried to move him out of the house a number of times and he’d make up some excuse. It’s funny when I went home at the bye week to be with him, we’d have a visiting nurse come in and she’d ask, “Paul, you drinking enough water and Gatorade? He’d go, ‘Yeah.’ Paul you eating enough? He’d go, ‘Yeah.’ Are you doing your little exercises? He’d go, ‘Yeah.’ When the nurse left I said, ‘Dad, you’re not doing any of that stuff.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ You get to be 93 you can kind of call your own shots. He wasn’t built to sit in a chair. In a lot of ways it was a powerful moment for me to be with him.
“I did miss the team while I was away. In this business, and I’ve tried to do this in a positive way my whole career, you have your family, which is No.1. And you have your football family. As a college coach, Diane, my wife, would have the whole offensive line over to the house and she’d cook stuff. We had six kids running around. You have to believe that you got into coaching to make an impact on younger people, just like coaches did for me. That’s always been the way I’ve done it. It’s a little different in pro ball but there’s still a lot out there you can do. Some of these guys still need some guidance and help. It is a little different but I’ve always viewed it that way.
“I love coming to work every day. In the old days, I was in college for 19 years and the first 15 years I didn’t have a cellphone. So imagine you’re out recruiting and your driving from high school to high school, in your brain, what are you thinking about? I was at some Division III schools and then I was at some I-AA schools and then at a [Mid-American Conference] school and then at Iowa in the Big Ten. As I was doing that, you’re by yourself driving for hours and hours. You’re by yourself and you’re always thinking about how would I do this or God, it would be great if I could be a head coach in Division I-A or the NFL. So this is great. Are you kidding me?
“And there’s been a couple of those days it wasn’t good. Sure, there have been a few of those. No doubt about it. But it has never deterred me from getting up the next day and wanting to come to work.”