Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Miami’s top sports teams testing fans’ patience, but there’s reason for hope

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks to pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks to pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, in Miami Gardens, Fla. AP

Sometime around 1977, Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley (a personal hero who happened to have died in Miami) wrote a sweet and optimistic song called Three Little Birds. In it he sings, Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be alright.

But he doesn’t say when.

A cynic or pessimist – and I’d say that describes many Miami sports fans – might hear those lyrics and demand to know the projected date when everything is finally going to be OK. Because waiting for “someday” gets tiring. “Eventually” can stretch to infinity.

Inspired by Three Little Birds, I aim here to look at the state of Miami’s Five Big Teams and offer for each a brief status report and an estimation of when every little thing gonna be alright.

I figure the timing is right for two reasons.

First, October is the great intersection of sports, the only time on the calendar when football, baseball, basketball and hockey are running simultaneously.

Second, these are unsettled times at the top of local sports. Every little thing is not alright.

The Dolphins, coming off Sunday’s heartbreak loss to Green Bay, are 2-3 and appear to be in the midst of another season of better-than-bad-but-not-good-enough mediocrity.

The Heat gears up for the coming season adjusting to the downsized, humbling reality and diminished expectations of Life After LeBron.

The Panthers, already winless, continue trying to earn back relevance and faith after a downward skate that has now stretched almost 20 years.

The Marlins just finished an improved season but no playoffs is no playoffs, and now major questions lie ahead.

And, finally, the football Hurricanes are 4-3 after a big win, and yet fan unrest is mirrored in a “Fire Al Golden” banner flying over a home game.

Let’s take stock of our five biggest teams and see where each seems to be headed:

DOLPHINS

Dolfans would be cartwheeling-thrilled today, thinking playoffs and affirmed of Ryan Tannehill’s future, had Miami batted down that last-second Aaron Rodgers pass and won 24-20. A big “if,” yes. But should the mindset plunge to utter despair for the lack of one play, even one that important?

This team is exactly what I thought it would be: On the fine line between wild-card-playoff-good and letting you down yet again. What disturbs is the unreliability, the inconsistency. Tannehill was abysmal in Sunday’s first half, brilliant in the second. The defense was solid … except when it mattered most.

Miami’s roster isn’t bad. This team will be trending right if the Tannehill we saw in London and in Sunday’s second half is who he is – steadily, though, not just occasionally.

But Joe Philbin; man, I don’t know. His late decisions related to play-calling and timeouts really backfired Sunday. He admitted it. On his timeout with six seconds to play: “It certainly didn’t turn out to be the right decision.” I’m not sure if Jim Harbaugh is the coaching solution, but Philbin is inviting fans to wonder if he is. Owner Stephen Ross should be starting to wonder that, too.

Bottom line: Have patience with Tannehill and trust in the overall direction – neither of those in unlimited abundance, but both warranted for now – but expect a head-coaching change if this season doesn’t end the club’s five-year playoff drought.

HEAT

Four straight NBA Finals appearances and two championships with LeBron James spoiled us but those days instantly seem a long time ago, with Miami now judged the third-best team in the East (at best) and not a title contender. That Chris Bosh is now counted on as the go-to centerpiece and Dwyane Wade turns 33 in January adds to the feeling of a franchise in flux.

By aggressively adding Luol Deng and others the Heat admirably have not conceded lean times on the bridge to the future. Pat Riley already has an eye on the summer of 2016, when free agents will include Kevin Durant and Joakim Noah. Meantime, the Heat should be competitive.

Bottom line: LeBron and the national spotlight have departed, but owner Micky Arison, architect Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra remain a triumvirate that should inspire trust and optimism. It’s earned.

PANTHERS

Florida’s prospects last week were ranked No. 4 in the NHL by ESPN. Emerging stars Aaron Ekblad (age 18), Aleksander Barkov (19), Jonathan Huberdeau (21), Erik Gudbranson (22) and Nick Bjugstad (22) mean general manager Dale Tallon is accruing talent.

But the Cats must prove Tallon has assembled the right mix of veterans and youth to win now, and that the GM made a smart hire in new coach Gerard Gallant, who hadn’t led an NHL team since 2006 and who is winless (0-6 preseason, 0-3 regular season) with the Cats.

Bottom line: The future could be bright, but it needs to get here fast. The onus is on Tallon. Gallant enjoys no honeymoon. When your club hasn’t won a postseason series since 1996 and your fan base has eroded to Monday’s smallest crowd in franchise history, impatience is beyond understandable.

MARLINS

Miami was improved and competitive this season but there’s no escaping that the Marlins haven’t made the playoffs since winning it all in 2003, or that owner Jeffrey Loria still has an image problem that turns off many would-be fans even as some of his cost-cutting trades have proved smart.

Pitcher Jose Fernandez and slugger Giancarlo Stanton give the club an under-25 arm/bat duo as good as any in MLB, but spending enough to sign Stanton long-term is a Litmus test of sorts for Loria’s financial commitment. And if you can’t re-sign Stanton, you’d better spend to replace him. Miami’s payroll this year still was only half that of the Royals, who spent the least of the four teams still alive.

Bottom line: Loria has not yet won back the trust of fans. He can do that by locking down Stanton long-term, continuing to significantly increase payrolls, and fielding a playoff team. (How about two out of three?) Despite the owner’s unpopularity, the Marlins are headed right.

HURRICANES

Anything can happen, even an upset of No. 2 Florida State on Nov. 15, but, right now, UM seems headed to a ninth straight season of four-plus losses and a fifth straight year not in the final poll rankings.

Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya is a neon bright spot; with him and Duke Johnson leading the way, offense is not the Canes’ problem. Defense is. That may be a recruiting/talent/development issue or it may fall squarely on defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. In either case, this team has an offense that might have UM thinking College Football Playoff if not for an albatross of a D.

Bottom line: Golden can’t have a blind spot for his friend running the defense and must judge him dispassionately. But forget the silly, knee-jerk “Fire Al Golden” clamor. Hamstrung by the NCAA mess he inherited, Golden deserves more than one season free of it to get this thing picking up speed. Kaaya looks like UM’s best QB since Ken Dorsey in 2000-02. If he proves to be, and if Golden is as good as I think, UM should be back on the national stage within two years.

Remember, it’s like Bob Marley said: Every little thing gonna be alright.

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