The Dolphins’ search for their next coach has already begun, and it is just as intriguing as who definitely isn’t getting the job as who might be.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl winning coach Bill Cowher? Not happening.
Former Denver Broncos Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan? Not happening.
Former New York Jets and Cleveland Browns coach Eric Mangini? No.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl winning coach Jon Gruden. Unlikely, but only because Gruden hasn’t signaled a desire to get back into coaching. If he signals that desire, then maybe.
As for whom the Dolphins’ search, led by executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum, will identify when the process transitions from vetting candidates to contacting them and setting up interviews?
The Dolphins have a profile that is important to them:
First this team is searching for a leader of men, someone who can inspire and guide a roster. Joe Philbin was not that kind. Neither was Cam Cameron. Neither was Dave Wannstedt.
The Dolphins know they cannot hire a sheep to herd alpha dogs.
Secondly, the team wants its next coach to have a great staff. The recent experience with Philbin showed the Miami staff to be weak and inexperienced. The Dolphins do not want a repeat.
The weakness of that staff led the Dolphins to pick tight end coach Dan Campbell as the interim when Philbin was fired. And Campbell checks the box on the first part of the profile. He’s a leader.
But if he is to have even a remote chance of landing the job full-time, he must come to his interview with names of a handful of outstanding and experienced assistant coaches he’s confident he can hire. And, yes, Campbell will interview.
“We are going to conduct a thorough process led by Mike Tannenbaum to select our head coach that will not be constrained by convention in our approach,” Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wrote in a letter to season-ticket holders on Friday. “This search will be thorough and we will take it wherever we need to go.
“I appreciate everything Dan Campbell has done this season, and he has earned the opportunity to be considered for head coach. We’ve also identified several promising candidates and will begin work immediately.”
The promising candidates?
Well, the Dolphins are going to initially consider candidates from two general groups:
Candidates who have never been NFL head coaches: Those include Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula; Chicago offensive coordinator Adam Gase; perhaps Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter; and others.
Those who have been NFL head coaches and were fired: Recently fired Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly; former Denver coach Josh McDaniels; former Seattle and Atlanta coach Jim L. Mora; former Oakland coach Hue Jackson; former Kansas City coach Todd Haley; and former Lions coach Jim Schwartz.
Some insight is necessary on some of these people and this is some of what I have:
Koetter was formerly represented by Tannenbaum when the Dolphins executive vice president started a coach agent business prior to being hired by the Dolphins.
Tannenbaum also is very familiar with and was impressed by Jackson when he and agent John Thornton shared representation of him.
Thornton represents Jackson exclusively now for the elite Octagon Agency.
Kelly is interesting because he was unceremoniously fired last week after failing to get the Eagles to the playoffs the past two season. Despite that record, it was Kelly’s apparent failure with personnel and an inability to forge alliances within the organization that led to his ouster.
The Dolphins know this. And Kelly remains on their candidate list nonetheless.
The team also isn’t ready to dismiss the idea of talking to Chuck Pagano if he is fired by the Indianapolis Colts, as reports have stated. Pagano also had a stormy relationship with general manager Ryan Grigson, but the Colts went to the playoffs three of his four years as coach, including the AFC title game in 2014.
Some candidates don’t fit into any particular category, and they will nonetheless be vetted. Current New Orleans coach Sean Payton is employed and under contract for two more years. That makes matters very, very complicated.
Payton would have to signal he wants to explore his options. He would then have to get permission to speak with teams. He’d also have to want to consider Miami. The Dolphins would have to be willing to give up what could be a first- or second-round pick for him.
And all this would have to happen as the Dolphins continue working on other possibilities and candidates. The team is also considering the future of general manager Dennis Hickey, who might be fired or reassigned as early as Monday.
The point is the Dolphins have a full plate, and Payton is not at the head of the candidate class because multiple unlikely things have to happen for him to get there.
Finally, there is the wild-card candidate — someone who has neither been an NFL head coach nor is currently a hot NFL assistant. A college coach perhaps.
Stanford’s David Shaw is perhaps the most impressive of those, although it is unclear if the Dolphins will try to interview him or he would be willing to jump to the NFL.