Greg Cote

Greg Cote: Fired Dolphins coach Joe Philbin proves sometimes nice guys do finish last

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, left, and head coach Joe Philbin chat during warm-up before the NFL football game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins at Wembley stadium in London. Philbin was fired Monday, Oct. 5, 2015.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, left, and head coach Joe Philbin chat during warm-up before the NFL football game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins at Wembley stadium in London. Philbin was fired Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. AP

Joe Philbin is a good man. He might even be a good football coach. But he did not do enough to offer proof of the latter and to keep his job leading the Miami Dolphins.

His firing on Monday was not unexpected, not unjustified and not premature. He had three and a quarter seasons — 52 games — to move the Dolphins forward and set them right. He did not. The franchise celebrating its 50th anniversary season is today stuck in neutral, again, mired in mediocrity, again, just like when he took over.

The NFL has become a worst-to-first, fast-forward league, one where slow rebuilding is as out of favor as the Statue of Liberty play. Impatience is all the rage. You cannot be an unproven first-time head coach, like Philbin, and take this long to produce. For him that was especially so in the context of high expectations, and of recent dismaying, dispiriting performances that mocked those hopes.

Philbin’s 24-28 record with Miami doesn’t explain his ouster as much as a 41-14 home-opening loss to division rival Buffalo does, followed by Sunday’s 27-14 London loss to the division rival New York Jets, a clobbering not as close as the final score suggests.

“I’ve seen the same old, same old,” owner Stephen Ross said Monday in explaining his move — echoing a phrase oft-used by frustrated Dolfans.

Miami played under Philbin this season like a team that had quit on its coach and was all but involved in a mutiny. Miami was outscored 70-27 in the first half of the four games that find the team 1-3 after three straight defeats entering this bye week.

Philbin’s troops seemed to mirror his outward lack of fire, seeming complacent and uninspired in situations that demanded the opposite.

The new interim head coach, promoted tights ends coach Dan Campbell, alluded to that complacency Monday in saying he would challenge players, even prominent starters, to prove they deserve their playing time. He mentioned a lack of intensity that was obvious even to casual fans. He alluded to clear underachievement in calling this the most talented roster in his six years with the club.

I think the coaching change is called for and well-timed, and I like the promotion of Campbell, who, at 39, becomes the NFL’s youngest head coach. He’s a holdover from Tony Sparano’s staff and counts himself as a no-nonsense Bill Parcells disciple who also played under Sean Payton as a 10-year veteran tight end in the league.

Campbell is seen as a rising young talent on a staff with too little of that. Now, he’ll have a big chance, a dozen games, to rally Miami into playoff contention and prove he’s the man for the job beyond this interim shot. And his youth and playing experience will play very well in the lockerrooom, which had grown detached from Philbin.

Campbell said Monday, “I don’t want guys to just do their job. I want them to dominate.” And even something as simple as that attitude was a little gust of bravado seldom heard under Philbin, the vanilla of coaching flavors.

The fact the braintrust led by Ross and VP of football ops Mike Tannenbaum promoted Campbell over higher-positioned assistants is telling. Part of Philbin’s downfall was the staff he assembled, reflected in the fact neither offensive coordinator Bill Lazor nor defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was entrusted with the interim role.

Sacking Philbin should not be the end of the staff upheaval and upgrade. Everyone should know they are fighting for their jobs now — and none more so than Coyle.

This staff (not just Philbin) somehow managed to oversee a team that has neither run the ball well nor stopped the run adequately, the fundamentals that must be a starting point. Ross’ frustration and impatience was plain to see, considering the club spent more than $200 million during the offseason to sign defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and then extend the contract of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

In exchange for that investment all Ross saw, in lieu of winning, was Suh frustrated to the point of snapping “next question” when reporters inquired about his lack of productivity, and Tannehill frustrated to the point of reported heated exchanges with practice-squad players during mid-week practices.

This was a team, a locker room, with simmering frustration threatening to reach a full boil.

A good man was sacrificed, but for the good of the Miami Dolphins, this anniversary season and fans who deserve better.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

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