The Miami Dolphins right now are in the midst of a crisis. A crisis of losing the popularity they once enjoyed in South Florida, a crisis of not acquiring top-notch free agents like they once did (both free-agent players and coaches) and a crisis of confidence.
Ask any Miami Dolphins fan why their confidence in the Miami Dolphins is so low and the answer will be as simple as either general manager Jeff Ireland or owner Stephen Ross. While Wayne Huizinga had his fair share of lack of success while he owned the Miami Dolphins, he always got his man when he pursued him (Jimmy Johnson in 1996, Nick Saban after the 2004 season and Bill Parcells after the 2007 season).
Ross, on the other hand, has been known for swinging for the fences—and missing.
His first big swing-and-miss was Jim Harbaugh after the 2010 season, followed by the decision to give Tony Sparano a contract extension. His next big swing-and-miss was Jeff Fisher earlier this offseason when Fisher decided to become the next head coach of the St. Louis Rams. This finally culminated in Miami being looked at as the front-runners in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes when he was released by the Indianapolis Colts, followed by Manning signing with Denver after meeting with Arizona, Tennessee, San Francisco and the Broncos in their facilities.
Ross was able to get the Dolphins a meeting with Manning; however, unlike the other teams, they wound up meeting Peyton in Indianapolis instead of South Florida—because it's not like Peyton Manning owns a condo down here or anything like that.
Then you have Jeff Ireland, who is a whole different story. The Parcells protege is known around NFL circles mostly for asking Dez Bryant if his mother worked the streets, and is someone who simply isn't trusted in NFL circles. But we'll get to that later.
The question is, how did we get to this point? Is it all on Ross and Ireland?
Some of it is, but the deconstruction of the Miami Dolphins from being one of the NFL's premier teams to becoming a laughingstock actually started quite a while ago. This is why Dolphins fans are so unhappy with the team's fall from grace: not the fall itself, but the fact that since their fall they have had a habit of taking one step forward in the right direction, followed by taking a few steps back.
Here's a timeline of how this all went down, starting in December of 2002.
Why start here, with two weeks left in the 2002 season?
Easy: Prior to the 2002 season, the Dolphins had gone from 1970 until 2002 with only two sub-.500 seasons, 21 playoff appearances, 10 division titles, five AFC Championships, two Super Bowl championships and a record of 20-19 in the postseason.
Miami had also been to the postseason five consecutive times.
Since then: Miami has had one division title, sub-.500 records in six out of 10 seasons and no playoff victories.
The 2002 season looked to be a season of destiny. The Dolphins had acquired Ricky Williams in the offseason and he wound up leading the NFL in rushing with 1,853 yards. Going into their final two games of the season, Miami was 9-5, needing only one win to clinch the AFC East and two wins to lock up home-field advantage.
Well everything broke against Miami. In their December 21st game against Minnesota, the Dolphins lost 20-17 in a game known for Cris Carter (signed by the Dolphins midway through the season) dropping a potential game-winning touchdown with the score tied at 17.
It's worth noting that Ricky Williams—you know, the NFL's leading rusher in 2002—only rushed the ball 15 times.
The next week, Miami still controlled their own destiny—win and they'd be in.
Despite being ahead 24-13 in the fourth quarter, Miami lost in overtime, 27-24. There were many mistakes made, but the biggest one was on a drive with 2:42 left. New England had the two-minute warning and no timeouts left, meaning Miami simply had to go three-and-out and their chances of winning the game would dramatically improve (a Ricky-run on first down would give the Dolphins a chance to run the clock until the two minute warning; a Ricky-Run on second down would wind the clock all the way down to 1:12; and a Ricky-run on third down would run the clock down to 24 seconds before the punt—and that's if Ricky failed to pick up the first down).
This was followed by a 23-yard punt by Mark Royals which put the Patriots at the Miami 34-yard line. New England would win the coin toss and score before Miami could get the ball back.
Since then, Miami has been drowning in mediocrity. The New England game started the Dave Wannstedt hot seat watch, which only heated up after a 2003 season in which the Dolphins went 10-6 but failed to make it to the playoffs while struggling with quarterback play.
This would lead to changes being made, but not the kind that Dolphins fans would want; but instead the kind that would only make things worse.
Following a 10-6 but playoff-less season in 2003, Dolphins fans wanted Wannstedt's blood; well, not literally—they just wanted him to no longer be the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
It looked like Wayne Huizinga was going to look for Wannstedt's replacement—as well as a replacement for general manager (this despite the fact that Rick Spielman was a fairly decent general manager, but was hamstrung by Wannstedt having complete control over personnel decisions; man, what I would kill to have him back instead of Jeff Ireland).
Instead, Huizinga decided that the organization would be restructured.
Spielman, whose position was listed as "Senior Vice President for Football Operations" would become Miami's general manager, while Dave Wannstedt—who was the de facto general manager, since he had full control over who Miami would draft and sign—would simply be the head coach and only the head coach.
Miami would get a new Senior Vice President for Football Operations in Dan Marino. Marino took the job in January of 2004 only to resign from it three weeks later. After the resignation, Spielman was again named Senior Vice President for Football Operations as well as General Manager; however, Wannstedt wound up with the final say on personnel.
A lot of people wondered why Marino left the job after only three weeks and before he officially started. My theory is the fact that Wannstedt and Spielman still had the final say on who the Dolphins could bring in and how they would draft. As part of it, I'd also say that Marino would have likely preferred to bring in his own people from day one.
Miami did address their quarterback issues—well, sort of, by trading a second-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles (who used the pick on wide receiver Reggie Brown in 2005).
Miami's tumultuous offseason wouldn't end there. Ricky Williams retired prior to training camp, thus throwing the Dolphins' 2004 plans completely out of whack.
The Dolphins would then trade a third-round pick in 2005 to St. Louis in exchange for running back Lamar Gordon (St. Louis would choose O.J. Atogwe with that pick, while New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck was also on the board).
Predictably, Feely would lose the starting quarterback job to the incumbent Jay Fiedler during training camp (wait, but I thought if you traded for a quarterback with the second-round pick, he should be able to beat out your former starting quarterback), while Gordon couldn't match the production of Ricky Williams.
Miami started the season 1-8 and finished with a 4-12 record, and out went Dave Wannstedt. In came Nick Saban, who turned the Dolphins around in 2005, going 9-7. Things were looking up under Saban, but then came the Spring of 2006.
This is a controversial statement in Miami, but only because emotion is thrown into facts.
Nick Saban is the best head coach in college football today.
There is no doubt about that. He competes in the toughest conference against the best teams, and wins. He could survive in the NFL if he gave it more than two seasons. However, the NFL wasn't his style.
I'd also point out that while at LSU and Alabama, he hasn't made very many mistakes. Part of that is because in college football you recruit every player and have a much larger margin of error.
In Miami, Saban made but one mistake, one that you could defend—and one that I will also tear a hole through.
The move itself was looked at as a genius move when it occurred. Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman would note:
THE REALITY Who can argue? The only thing is, Miami is thin. It's a team of stars, and if one or more of them go down—that could be disastrous.
One of them would go down—Culpepper himself. Oh, and the draft pick Minnesota received in exchange for Culpepper: center Ryan Cook. Miami did need a center that year and Cook would've worked out well. Other possibilities included wide receiver Greg Jennings, Safety Bernard Pollard and return specialist Devin Hester.
With Culpepper out, Miami had to rely on Joey Harrington—who they acquired from Detroit that offseason in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick.
All of this could have been avoided had Miami selected to sign Drew Brees. However, they decided against it because they felt his demands were too expensive (New Orleans would pay him $60 million over six seasons) and because they were leery of Brees' shoulder problems (he had a torn labrum and partially torn rotator cuff) while they felt fine about Culpepper's severe knee injury.
The only problem with that is the fact that, with Culpepper's injury, he was expected to become more of a pocket passer. However, Culpepper wasn't very accurate and the season before threw for six touchdowns and 12 interceptions before suffering his injury, while at times looking jumpy and lost in the pocket. This carried over to his first and only season in Miami.
As for Brees, despite his injured shoulder, his arm strength was never among the tops in the NFL. He was known for being deadly accurate and cerebral, something that Culpepper lacked both before and after his injury.
Also, if Miami wasn't happy, they could have back-loaded the contract so that if they chose to release Brees after the 2006 season, they wouldn't take a big cap hit.
Had Saban chosen Brees, though, both college football and the NFL would be completely different landscapes today.
The Dolphins would be in much better shape—and no bounties would be needed down here to motivate the defense either.
I was tempted at first to include this with the Culpepper over Brees decision; however, this point in Miami Dolphins history deserves it's own slide.
I guess I have to say it, I'm not going to be the Alabama coach.
I don't know how many times I've got to respond to rumor and innuendo, I have no control over that. I've stated what my intentions are and they really haven't changed, so I don't know what the issue is. And I don't know why people keep asking about it. What they talk about over there is their business. But what's happening here is my business and our business, and that's what we're focused on.
I don't control what people say. I don't control what people put on dot-com or anything else. So I'm just telling you there's no significance, in my opinion, about this, about me, about any interest that I have in anything other than being the coach here.
Since we're addressing why Dolphins fans are mad, allow me to point out to any Alabama fans that might stumble onto this piece that I'm not bashing Saban for leaving Miami. If he and his family felt more comfortable in college football or in a smaller college campus town, then that was the best choice for him and his family; and you can't argue with that because you're not him. I'm just pointing out that on December 21, 2006, those were his words.
I can't tell you how pleased and honored I am to be your coach at the University of Alabama.
Saban's departure was at the time the biggest P.R. blow for the Dolphins. They went from being a team that could lure big-name coaches (a trend that started when Joe Robbie hired Don Shula away from the Baltimore Colts in 1970) to being a team that people wanted to avoid (and I should mention this was about two years before Stephen Ross purchased the team and one year before Jeff Ireland set foot in Davie).
Miami had to find a new coach. Former Alabama head coach Mike Shula was considered; however, the Dolphins decided to go after then-Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
That in and of itself was, well, not so good.
After being spurned by Nick Saban, Miami hired Chargers offensive coordinator Cam Cameron as their new head coach.
The Dolphins hired Cameron mainly because he was an "offensive-minded" head coach and would help them score points to go along with an already stellar defense (wait a minute, could the same thing happen? Nahhh...).
After taking over, Cameron would work with general manager Randy Mueller to prepare for the Dolphins' 2007 draft. Instead of taking Brady Quinn, who many thought would be the smartest pick for Miami, they picked up Ted Ginn Jr.
Now before you get on me criticizing the Dolphins for not picking Quinn, that's not the point. Yes, Brady Quinn was a bust—but these guys (Patrick Willis, Darrelle Revis, Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Meriweather) weren't busts, all played positions needed by Miami at the time (and, not coincidentally, today as well), and were also passed on by the Dolphins in favor of Ted Ginn Jr. and the Ginn family.
The Dolphins finished 1-15, and Cameron was shown the door. Huizinga would bring in a new era, and the last big fish caught by the Miami Dolphins.
The last time the Miami Dolphins "got their man" was when Wayne Huizinga was their owner.
Bill Parcells was Miami's man after a disastrous 1-15 season. Despite Atlanta going hard at Parcells, Miami was able to seal the deal to make him their Executive Vice President of Football Operations. It was a four-year contract with a kicker that might have sealed the deal but also potentially screwed the Dolphins—Parcells would be able to leave whenever he chose to and would still be paid by the Miami Dolphins.
Parcells brought in Jeff Ireland as his general manager and Tony Sparano as his head coach. In their first season, they went 11-5 and won their first AFC East title in eight years. Things were looking up in Miami, as they thought they had their quarterback of the future in Chad Henne spending a full year on the bench learning from Chad Pennington.
My, how we were wrong, and Parcells was the first one to know he was wrong.
Parcells officially left the Dolphins in October 2010. He still had one year left on his contract, and due to the contract itself, he would continue to be paid by the Dolphins in 2011 despite spending the year in Bristol, CT working for ESPN, where he bashed the players—you know, players that he drafted.
What Parcells did was worse than what Saban did in this respect: According to Armando Salguero's story in the Miami Herald, Parcells knew that the ship was sinking:
Parcells, you see, had very little to do with the coaching of the team. Tony Sparano was extremely jealous of his spot as head football man and was vigilant not to be overshadowed by Parcells. Parcells similarly wanted to give Sparano every chance he could to succeed. So he gave Sparano space.
He didn't offer corrections. He didn't tell Sparano his opinion on things he thought the former coach was getting wrong. Parcells did this only if Sparano asked. And often times, Sparano didn't ask.
So Parcells would roam the sideline offering casual tips to players here and there. He would tweak their egos here and there. But he would not coach the Dolphins.
Then on Sundays he'd sit in his pressbox perch and call the shots on coaching flubs or miscues as they were happening or, in some instances, before they happened. On several occasions general manager Jeff Ireland sat with Parcells and I'm told asked Parcells how he knew what was about to go wrong.
"It's experience and it's part of being a good coach," Parcells said.
So Parcells just sat there, didn't offer any corrections come Monday morning and just let Sparano make the same mistakes over and over again just because he didn't want Sparano to be "overshadowed."
Weird, go to downtown Miami and there's a basketball team with a similar mentor-student relationship, where the mentor is in charge of personnel and the student coaches them, and you'll notice that tips and corrections are given all of the time in private.
But, hey, everyone is different. Except sometimes, for the good of the team, you can't cater to someone's ego and avoid "hurting their feelings." If Parcells really wanted to give Sparano the best chance to succeed, it would've been in Sparano's (and the Dolphins') best interest for Parcells to, from time to time, give Sparano some tips when he didn't ask for them.
I thought that sort of thing always happened at every job.
Only a few months after Parcells left, it looked like Sparano would be forced out of town, and it was close to happening.
Stephen Ross' first involvement with the Miami Dolphins came in 2008 when he purchased a 50 percent stake in the team as well as then-Dolphin Stadium and the land surrounding it for $550 million. A year later, Ross would purchase another 45 percent (with Huizinga remaining a 5 percent owner) of said assets for another $1 billion.
Ross would then bring in celebrity partners such as music mogul Emilio Estefan, his wife singer Gloria, fellow Latin singer Mark Anthony, Black Eyed Peas member Fergie, and tennis pros Venus and Serena Williams as celebrity co-owners.
Ross would then go about turning the Miami Dolphins into an event. He unveiled an Orange Carpet for primetime games and actively sought out celebrities. Jimmy Buffett (with whom Ross entered into a one-year marketing deal that included naming Sun Life Stadium "Land Shark Stadium") remade his hit song "Fins" into a song about the Miami Dolphins, while rapper T-Pain remade the famous Miami Dolphins fight song (and autotuned the bejesus out of it because, hey, it's T-Pain).
Yet on the field, the Dolphins fell flat. After an 0-3 start and an injury to Chad Pennington, Chad Henne started at quarterback for the Dolphins. After winning fans over the fans by going 7-3 in his first 10 starts (including two victories over the New York Jets, as well as a come-from-behind victory over New England) and putting the Dolphins in playoff contention with a 7-6 record, Miami would lose their last three games and miss the playoffs with a 7-9 record.
The 2010 off-season showed a lot of promise with Miami picking up wide receiver Brandon Marshall via trade that sent a second round pick in 2010 and 2011 to Denver, and many considered the Dolphins to be a playoff threat.
This would not be the case. Despite starting 2-0, Miami would finish the season 7-9, going 2-4 in the AFC East and a still incredibly perplexing 1-7 at home (they would finish with a 6-2 road record).
Once again Dolphins fans felt that changes must be made, and Ross and Ireland seemed to agree when they flew to Palo Alto, California in January of 2010 to interview Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh. After rumors swirled that Harbaugh was going to accept the Dolphins job, Ross and Ireland wound up flying back to Miami without their preferred head coach. Harbaugh would instead choose the San Francisco 49ers, while Ross and Ireland forgot one key fact before pursuing Harbaugh--they still had Sparano as their head coach.
Ross would then offer Sparano a two year extension.
Sparano would then start the season 0-7 before leading the Dolphins on a stretch where they went 4-2 over their final six games. However after an embarrassing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Ross felt it was time to fire Sparano, so he did and inserted Todd Bowles as Miami's interim head coach.
Bowles would finish out the year at 2-1, with all three of his final games against division opponents. Then the Dolphins went after Jeff Fisher to become their next head coach.
Fisher interviewed with both the Miami Dolphins and the St. Louis Rams. After 10 days of waiting, Miami would get their answer: Jeff Fisher would take over as the head coach of the Rams. This left Miami scrambling to find a new head coach, and they would find him in Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.
Ross would go 0-2 when it came to luring big names, however the Philbin hiring was praised by many, mainly because it was thought that Miami would have the inside track for former Packers backup quarterback Matt Moore.
There was also the issue of Peyton Manning--it was assumed that the Colts would release him, and many felt that Miami would be his first choice.
Despite losing out on Jeff Fisher, Miami could still redeem itself as an organization if they were able to find a quarterback.
And what a year to do it. Coming out in the draft were Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. While Luck to the Colts has been the expectation since last season, when Indianapolis figured out they had no shot at competing and decided to tank, that No. 2 pick held by St. Louis still provided a shot for Miami to land Robert Griffin III.
However, Washington managed to get the deal done to St. Louis' liking (can't blame the Dolphins for staying away there—St. Louis wanted way too much, but yet I still feel like a deal could've been made and I'll get to that in a minute). So Miami focused on getting Peyton Manning.
Miami was the favorite to land Manning, but they eventually lost out to the Denver Broncos. The Dolphins were also the only team on Manning's list whose facilities he didn't visit. Instead, they met with Manning in Indianapolis. They were also the first team eliminated from his list alongside the Arizona Cardinals.
Miami then shifted its attention to Matt Flynn, and it seemed like a great fit. Flynn had worked with Philbin for his entire career in Green Bay. However, Flynn instead went to Seattle, where he offered this quote during a radio interview on Seattle radio station KIRO 710 ESPN:
I am close with Joe, I think a lot of him. I think he's gonna do a great job in Miami. I think he's gonna be a really successful head coach in the league. So when it came down to it, I just felt like it was a better situation for me—I felt it's a program that's really on the rise, doing the right thing, is being led by the right type of people. And you look at it, I think it's the second youngest team in the NFL, and so there's a lot of talent everywhere and I think it's a team that in the very near future has a chance to be special.
Wait, if he liked Joe Philbin so much and thought so highly of him, then why did he say that Seattle was a better situation for him and then went out of his way to point out that Seattle was on the rise and "being led by the right type of people"?
Maybe it wasn't Joe that he had issue with; maybe, and more likely, it was someone else high in the Dolphins organization.
Flynn's comments sound like they were directed toward general manager Jeff Ireland. It would make sense. The funny thing is, they weren't even the worst comments made about Jeff Ireland that week.
Steelers Safety Ryan Clark, who visited with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent in 2010, stated this:
After Clark congratulated quarterback Matt Flynn on joining the Seahawks via Twitter, one of Clark’s followers writes that “NO ONE wants to go to the Dolphins!” Clark responds by saying, “No one! To believe I almost went there but it was easy decision not to.”
“It’s my honest opinion. Not a good guy making decisions.”
It is believed that Ireland is one of the worst interviewers in an NFL front office. His most infamous moment came prior to the 2010 draft when he asked Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. That reputation seemed to come back to haunt him during the 2012 offseason.
Of course, the perception of the Dolphins' front office wasn't improved in the Brandon Marshall trade. Remember in the last slide when I brought up that the Redskins wound up getting St. Louis' No. 2 pick by trumping any offer possible? Well, with Miami apparently wanting to get rid of Marshall (even Stephen Ross had said that had Miami not found a willing trade partner, Marshall would have been released), then why not include him in a package for the No. 2 pick in the draft that would've also included their 2012 and 2013 first-round picks and their 2012 second-round pick?
Marshall was worth two third-round picks to the Bears, so why wouldn't he be worth more than an additional draft pick to the Rams, who need a receiver and will likely draft Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, allowing St. Louis to use the No. 8 pick to acquire Iowa's Riley Reiff, USC's Matt Kalil or Stanford's David DeCastro to solidify their offensive line and provide protection for Sam Bradford?
I'm not saying St. Louis would have taken the deal. However, it would have been a worthy package; after all, Marshall has made two Pro Bowls in his career.
As for Flynn, in that same phone call Ross made to a season-ticket holder, he acknowledged that the reason the Dolphins didn't sign Matt Flynn was because they didn't really want him.
Yet that's contradicted by Joe Philbin himself when he spoke to the media on 3/27/12:
I think we made an aggressive push. We got him in here relatively quickly. Again, we had a great meeting. Matt and I had some conversations, a number of conversations prior to his arrival to Miami. We had some subsequent ones after. He’d probably be able to give you better answer as to why he chose to go elsewhere.
So Stephen Ross claims the Dolphins chose not to sign Flynn, while his head coach is saying that Flynn could give the media a better answer as to why HE chose to go elsewhere.
Sounds like there's some dissension with the Dolphins; sounds like an organization that doesn't know where it's going at all.
I have problems trying to figure out who to believe because you have two people who are supposed to work in concert with each other in making decisions for the football team saying two completely different things about the same player.
I have a headache.
The Dolphins' 2012 offseason is already a failure, and we're not even at the draft yet. How can they turn things around? What do they have to do? Already, fans have protested for the removal of Jeff Ireland, and even a video was made that's titled "Ireland 2012".
The Dolphins still have the draft as well as the 2012 regular season to get to before we can call this 2012 offseason a failure.
How many times have you seen teams "win the offseason" only to fail in the regular season? Countless times. So it stands to reason that there's a chance that the Dolphins could do the opposite.
While I have little faith in Jeff Ireland, I do have faith in Joe Philbin. He's a great offensive mind who will implement a great offensive scheme in the West Coast offense. In his first year, he won't have all of the players to run said offense. However, he does have Reggie Bush, who is a WCO running back that can catch passes out of the backfield well. Also don't be too surprised if Daniel Thomas winds up making the leap.
The Dolphins also still have a strong defense that will keep them in games.
Their quarterback competition between incumbent Matt Moore and former Jaguar David Garrard does leave a lot to be desired. However, it would be smart for Miami to draft a quarterback.
Drafting Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill early would be a mistake. He's only projected as a Top 10 pick because after Luck and RG3, the quarterback position is thin, and teams like Cleveland and Miami still need a quarterback. Had Matt Barkley skipped his senior year and entered the draft this season, he would have been a Top Five pick that Miami would have had to trade up to get.
Instead, Miami should look into the later rounds for a quarterback to groom under Moore/Garrard. They should spend their first- and second-round picks on other needs like offensive line, a second pass-rusher, and wide receiver. If Oklahoma State's Blackmon somehow slips to the Dolphins at No. 8, they should grab him.
Either way, at best Miami looks like a 6-10 team. Unfortunately, that will be enough for Ireland to keep his job as long as they show progress. If the Dolphins surprise, then this offseason will be forgotten.
However, if their 2012 draft doesn't pan out and the Dolphins are horrible, Ireland has to get the boot. As for Philbin, since it's his first year, I would give him the benefit of the doubt and watch to see how he does with a different general manager getting players for him.
Either way, things don't look good for Miami. But this isn't a new thing. The Miami Dolphins have been dogged by bad luck for the last decade—bad luck that started under Huizinga, and continued under Ross.
This hasn't been bad luck alone, but also incompetence. Something must be done to fix that. The fans are already angry and are either actively protesting or not renewing their season tickets.
Meanwhile, 2012 looks like it could be the first year in which three out of four South Florida sports teams make the playoffs, with the Dolphins being the odd team out.
How the mighty have fallen.
Will this change? What will happen in the future? Time will tell, but if you're someone who supports the Dolphins and never questions them, or you're not a Dolphins fan, then I hope this timeline and analysis give you insight as to why Miami Dolphins fans are upset.
It's one thing when your favorite team flounders, but it's quite another thing when it becomes a consistent and vicious cycle of hiring new coaches, new personnel, and even new owners, and the results don't change.