Joe Philbin was aware of the situation he was entering when he beat out interim head coach Todd Bowles and Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy for the head coaching position with the Miami Dolphins.
He was inheriting a team that had become quite comfortable in the bottom half of the AFC East in the past few years and a team that had recorded losing seasons in six of its last eight seasons.
The Dolphins, in the Dan Marino era (1983-1999), compiled 16 seasons of a .500 record or better (the only losing season coming in 1988). The 2000s started off well for the Dolphins too, recording winning records from 2000-2003. The franchise has commanded little respect since.
Taking the reigns of the Tony Sparano-crafted team, Philbin has been working methodically this preseason to mold the Miami team into a diligent and faster-paced force.
Philbin's tactics have been televised to the world via the HBO original series, Hard Knocks, a sports reality documentary that follows an NFL team through its training camp and preseason. The show gives an in-depth perspective to the team's workings and divulges the personal lives of players, coaches, and staff.
For Philbin, the show wasn't an issue, stating, "That wouldn't bother me" to Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel if Hard Knocks filmed a play that opponents saw.
Hyde also reported that Philbin doesn't believe in the typical X's and O's coaching strategy to win games. He never completely disregards it, but instead believes that talent wins games, specifically talent developed by coaches.
That route to development is something Philbin has been focusing on during training camp and preseason. It culminated last week when rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill was named the starter for the Dolphins' Week 1 match against the Houston Texans.
Having a competition as unpredictable as a quarterback race televised to the public can be rough going for a head coach.
The Dolphins entered the preseason with newcomer David Garrard as the favorite to replace Matt Moore as the No. 1 quarterback in the depth chart. But after an injury and arthroscopic knee surgery, Garrard is now hoping to simply make the cut onto the 53-man roster.
Tannehill has apparently done enough to impress Philbin and will be behind center on September 9.
In an interview with Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald, Philbin made it clear that the popular HBO show would not have an impact on his team's performance:
Do I think this will help us win games? Probably not. Do I think this is going to cause us to lose games? I don’t think so. Again, my focus is on the development of the team and not necessarily the TV show.
Hard Knocks, if anything, has opened up the world to Philbin as a coach. We, as the audience, are able to delve into the mind of the, often times, quirky head coach.
In his article, Hyde cites Philbin's use of (dry) humor to "refresh the workplace."
However, the purpose of his jokes is not to elicit laughs from his players and coaches. It is to use "that light humor to ensure everyone paid attention to his coaching."
Some may argue that this tactic lacks the aggressive drive that head football coaches require.
Philbin counters that claim with his uniqueness. After all, there is no playbook to coaching.
He has had his fair share of difficult decisions already this season, displaying his leadership and problem-solving in risky situations.
When Chad Johnson was arrested for head-butting his wife, Philbin made the call to cut him. When a decision needed to be made on a starting quarterback, he put his faith in Tannehill, over the safer option of Moore. And when cornerback Vontae Davis was underperforming and lacking professionalism, he decided to trade him away.
Keeping all that in mind, the 2012 Miami Dolphins still have a ton of work to do this season. Still likely to be a rebuilding year, Philbin and the Dolphins will attempt to improve upon an offense that ranked 23rd in passing yards per game (193.2) and a defense that allowed nearly 250 passing yards per game (249.5) for 25th overall.
Their strength of schedule is in the middle of the pack, with an opponents combined 2011 winning percentage of .496, but is the strongest among AFC East teams.
Philbin may have won over some fans with the high-profile preseason, yet he still has much to prove on the field in the regular season.
A 6-10 record last year is clearly disappointing; don't expect much more in 2012.
Then again, who knows what Philbin can accomplish.
Humor me, Joe.
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