I have noticed through the years that in football, far more than in other sports, reporters love to ask coaches about their "philosophy," and coaches (always pretending to have one) love to answer.
The exchange always amuses me on the face of it — the idea that the high-minded notion of philosophy, of deep thinking associated with theology or metaphysics, would be applied to X's and O's and a bunch of grunting men trying to advance a football across a grid. Hearing a coach wax philosophical always makes me wonder what Voltaire, Plato or Aristotle — actual philosophers — might have thought listening to Lombardi posit on the importance of running the ball.
Rene Descartes: "I think, therefore I am."
Bill Belichick: "I have Brady, therefore I win."
Adam Gase was the new Dolphins head coach when asked for the first time about his coaching philosophy in early 2016. He referenced earlier stops as an assistant coach: "You know? I feel like I've changed. In Denver it was like basketball. 'How many points can we score?' In Chicago we were trying to shorten the game up. That's what the situation called for. [In Miami] I have to learn our team, whether we want to shorten the game, whether we want to play fast, whether we're going to have to hold onto the ball. ..."
I feel like philosophers tackle the meaning of life more easily than coaches explain sideline beliefs, but Gase is hardly alone in offering generics both amorphous and pliable.
At any rate what is called "philosophy" in football is really just the idea a coach has a mental map to get from here to really good. A plan. Something fundamental and not shifting with the wind or the whim.
As Gase prepares to begin his third season in Miami, I wonder if his Dolphins have a philosophy that works? From Stephen Ross to Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier to Gase, is there a cogent, same-page plan to dislodge this franchise from two decades' irrelevance and lethargy?
The team's curious offseason has underlined doubts. Last season's 6-10 record might be (partially) dismissed to the starting quarterback missing the season injured, but what has happened since is unsettling in a way less excusable. There is a sense of regression. As an example, ESPN's annual NFL offseason grades, out this week, gave Miami a C-minus, ranking 30th of 32 teams. (Only Carolina and Denver, both with D's, graded worse).
This Dolphins regime behaves as if under the illusion that it is very close to being very good and needs only a tinker and a tweak. We see that in moves that are short-term, not farsighted. We see a team inscrutably all over the map in what it is doing.
It goes all in with Ryan Tannehill, not even drafting a QB (again), even though Tannehill has seen his past two seasons cut short or obliterated by knee injuries.
It drafts a safety in the first round, even though it already has two capable safeties, including a Pro Bowl guy.
It signs a running back, Frank Gore, who is 35, and a guard, Josh Sitton, turning 32 next week.
It signs two receivers, Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson, who play the same slot position.
It trades for a defensive end, Robert Quinn, who is four years beyond his best years and has had injury issues.
It lavishes a huge contract extension on a defensive back, Bobby McCain, who is not expected to start.
Its best defensive lineman is 36.
This is on top of getting rid of the Pro Bowl trio of Jarvis Landry and Mike Pouncey and Ndamukong Suh because they did not snugly fit the apparent new sub-philosophy on the importance of locker room chemistry (even at the expense of talent).
These moves might all prove to be brilliant.
But until then, they explain that offseason grade that ranks 30th of 32 teams.
Until then, they describe a football operation with a philosophy unclear.
Until then, they are why the hope of Dolfans stands shakily on balsa-wood stilts, requiring everything to fall just right.