Without much fanfare Adam Gase turned 40 a few weeks ago, and the symbolism and reality of that are the same. He is no longer the young wunderkind who introduced himself as an NFL head coach by going 10-6 and ending an eight-year playoff drought. Two years later, he's the guy coming off a 6-10 season, socked by low expectations and trying to rekindle himself as a stock worth investing in.
Year 3 bearing down on him is Gase's most important, because it could be his last. And if that sounds overly dramatic, the idea he could be coaching for his Dolphins future, you don't know the NFL, or the urgency of a franchise that hasn't won a playoff game in 18 years — or Gase's own risky gamble on his gut instinct over traditional thinking.
This is the coach who has jettisoned proven Pro Bowl talents in Jay Ajayi, Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey because they didn't fit his priority for team-first guys and tight-bond locker rooms. This offseason has been a talent drain for Miami. The team has lost most of what modest starpower it had.
Yet Gase is enthusiastically sold on the direction, and the promise.
This also is the coach who continues to ride with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is now coming off major knee surgery, and on Brock Osweiler of David Fales as the backup.
He better be right, about everything, as he gathers together his recent draft picks and other first-year players for a two-day rookie orientation Friday and Saturday. This ceremonially begins the 2018 season. Summer training camp will be here in a minute, and the Sept. 9 season opener a minute after that.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who reportedly was less than thrilled with the team's recent draft that produced Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick as the No. 1 pick, will be keen to see whether Gase hits big, or strikes out, with his reboot that essentially favors attitude over talent.
"We wanted to create the right fit for this locker room and this team," Gase said Thursday at the team's Davie training facility. "We like the makeup of our players. I like our locker room."
Gase stood there like a man relieved to have awakened from a nightmare, which last season was beyond the four fewer wins. That's a precipitous drop in the parity-soaked NFL.
His sophomore season began wracked by a hurricane, continued with since-departed veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons going AWOL on the eve of the season and included the embarrassing episode of since-departed offensive line coach Chris Foerster seen snorting cocaine in a video. Then there was the locker room turmoil.
Gase couldn't trust his team last season.
"A lot of things we went through last year, talk about unexpected things to know," he said. "We were trying to make sure guys were on the same page in the locker room. To see if staff members were all pointed in the same direction trying to accomplish the same goals. Are guys going to quit on you? I feel like we're more right. It feels right for us right now. We're in a good place as far as where our staff is, working in the same direction."
Gase trusts his team again. Trusts in himself for his gut-driven reboot.
Not everybody does. In fact, most don't.
Coming out of the draft most betting lines on the Dolphins have the wins over/under at 6 again, or 5 1/2. Bovada has Miami tied for the longest odds against winning the Super Bowl. Some of the latest major outlet league power rankings have the Dolphins ranked 31st of 32 teams (Bleacher report), 30th (ESPN and NFL.com) and 29th (USA Today). Highest national ranking I could find for the Fins was 23rd.
Yet Gase is a font of confidence, and if he's faking it, he's a better salesman or actor than coach.
On new receiver Danny Amendola: "The way he walks around, there's just something about him that guys gravitate to."
On Tannehill: "Very confident. He's excited to get back out there. Really smooth. It just feels smooth."
On his defense: "I really like what I'm seeing."
The dichotomy between outside expectations and internal optimism might be a wider gulf with the Dolphins than with any other team.
In the middle of it is the gambling coach who is betting big on attitude over talent, betting on Tannehill, betting on himself.
Gase is at the final table with his cards, with the hand he chose, and he's all-in because he has no choice.