So many beaten-down Miami Dolphins fans have come to regard their team the way the TSA asks us to regard unattended baggage at the airport. Warily. Like something we can’t quite trust.
Adam Gase might prove to be a great hire. Inspired, even.
The question is whether you trust the Dolphins and owner Stephen Ross to make one of those, to finally hit big against a track record of falling short.
This franchise, out of the NFL playoffs a seventh consecutive season, has now played 15 seasons since its last postseason victory, 23 since its last AFC Championship Game, 31 since its last time in a Super Bowl, and 42 since its last Super Bowl win.
That is an astonishing, sustained run of irrelevance. To many fans, this club’s glory days might as well be a rumor. A generation only knows its Dolphins as slogging in mediocrity, a marginalized local team fallen off the national grid.
It is through this lens that we must view the hiring of Gase as the club’s new head coach, announced Saturday.
We must be skeptical. That isn’t your fault, young Mr. Gase. Don’t take it personally. That is the Dolphins’ fault. That is the parade of bad decisions forming the calloused buildup of mistrust and doubt.
Welcome to Miami, sir!
Prove you can fix all of this, and you’ll be a conquering hero.
But prove it first, please, because we have been here before, seen this, done this. Another news conference proclaiming another culture. Another declaration how they got the right coach this time.
The Dolphins hope Gase, 37, most recently the Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator after six seasons in Denver, will be the Next Big Thing in his profession, the quarterbacks guru who lifts Ryan Tannehill to another level. And he might be! He’s young. Bright. Highly regarded. He worked under Nick Saban. Peyton Manning loves him. There’s a lot to like.
But so little benefit of doubt remains for this franchise that the prevailing reaction instead is, “Here they go again. Taking another shot in the dark. Rolling the dice again.”
Yes, here comes another Dolphins head coach riding in with training wheels.
Distant Dave Wannstedt was the last Miami hire who had been an NFL head coach before. He also happens to be the last Miami coach who has led a playoff victory. Gase becomes the club’s eighth head-coach hire in a row (including three interims) with no NFL experience at the job he was hired to do.
You’d have thought the Dolphins might have given experience a shot this time, just for something different. Coaches such as Tom Coughlin, Mike Shanahan, Mike Smith, Doug Marrone and Lovie Smith were out there. So was Sean Payton, for a time, if they’d have gone smartly after him early and hard.
Instead they are opting for promise over experience.
With Gase, they had better be right this time.
This beleaguered franchise has to hit big with this coach. Do something right. End all of those droughts quantified above. And earn back the legions of disenchanted fans who have strayed in anger or indifference.
It also is in a broader context that the pressure is on Ross and football operations guy Mike Tannenbaum to be right in thinking Gase will lead to sustained winning, and prove (against some doubts) that this franchise is being steered competently.
All they need to do is to look around. Their closest neighbors, South Florida’s other biggest sports teams, all are in more positive shape than the flagship Dolphins.
The division-leading Florida Panthers are the darlings of hockey, stocked with rising young talent and carrying a club-record, 11-game win streak into Sunday’s game.
The Heat was third in the East and playoff bound again behind the market’s best owner/executive/coach troika in Micky Arison, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra.
University of Miami football, basking in the popular, smart hire of Mark Richt, has its fans optimistic again (no small task) and seems poised to make a move.
Hurricanes men’s basketball was 12-1 and ranked No. 12 in the nation entering Saturday’s game against Florida State — the Sweet 16 (or better) dancing in fans’ heads
Even the Marlins, though forever dragged down by a massively unpopular owner, have young stars and made a strong managerial hire in Don Mattingly.
And then there’s that other team:
The Dolphins, whose best days are associated with a coach, Don Shula, who just turned 86, and whose last days as an exciting, national team are associated with a quarterback, Dan Marino, who is now 54.
What has befallen this once-proud franchise spawns black humor like the “Miami Dolphins Fan Credo” you may have seen shared to viral proportions on the Internet. It begins:
“I am a Miami Dolphins fan. I will devote at least three hours every Sunday to my general unhappiness. I will forever remain depressed …”
This is what you step into, Adam Gase. What you must make right.
So many fans have distanced themselves emotionally from the team rather than be disappointed or hurt again.
To them, the theme song is no longer that cloyingly cheerful and oh-so-untruthful, “Miami has the Dolphins, the greatest football team …” To them, the theme song is closer now to The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again.
It’s like, “Don’t tell me [again] how it’s different this time. How this is the right coach and the winning is at hand. Do it first. Win. Then talk to me.”
Fans are weary. They wait warily for Gase to prove that Ross and Tannenbaum got it right this time.
Surely many Dolfans won’t be thrilled by this hire. In a Miami Herald online poll, Gase finished seventh of 12 candidates with 6.7 percent support. Many preferred a proven veteran coach such as Shanahan. Others are disappointed the club did not seriously consider Mike Shula.
This is the hard lot of the Dolphins’ decision-makers.
Benefit of doubt left with this franchise’s relevance, and it must be earned back.
Same with trust; so many Dolfans simply have none left to give.
There should be no doubt Ross is convinced Gase is the right man.
But there also is no doubt that it says more about Ross’ track record than it does about Gase that we will wait to be convinced.
Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow @gregcote.