As a Dolphins fan it is painful to think back to the 2007 season. One victory in 16 games. The Dolphins are famous for having a perfect season, and in 2007 they almost became infamous for having an un-perfect season.
So after the worst season in the history of the Dolphins, why would I say the Dolphins success in 2008 should not have been a surprise?
Bill Parcells. That is why.
Parcells may have the nickname “The Big Tuna” but he is more deserving of a nickname like “The Miracle Worker.” When the Dolphins made him Executive Vice President of Football Operations they were hoping Parcells could work some of his famous magic on a team in peril.
Parcells arrived in Miami and unceremoniously fired head coach Cam Cameron along with general manager Randy Mueller. He would replace Cameron with Tony Sparano, one of his assistants from his Dallas Cowboys days. Jeff Ireland, who also worked with Parcells in Dallas, would replace Mueller.
These moves were key for the Dolphins success in 2008. Sparano demanded respect and managed to coach a team with little playing experience together. Ireland, in conjunction with Parcells, would help make several moves necessary for the Fins’ playoff run.
However, all was not perfect at first. Parcells came to Miami and oversaw the departure of two fan favorites: Jason Taylor by trade and Zach Thomas by release. After an 0-2 start the Dolphins looked doomed to another horrible season, but as we know now that would not be the case.
I never expected the Dolphins to make the playoffs at the beginning of 2008, but knowing what I know now I probably should have.
Bill Parcells Works Miracles
Parcells arrived on the head coaching scene in 1983 with the New York Giants. The Giants were a team with one winning season in ten years, and in Parcells’ first year the story was no different. The Giants would finish 3-12-1 and University of Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger would come close to replacing him.
Imagine if Parcells had lost his job after that first season? Would he have ever become the football genius he is now?
1984 would be a different story for the cellar dwelling Giants. Parcells would take the Giants to the NFC divisional game, just as he would again in 1985. Both times the Giants would lose in the divisional game.
1986 proved to be the Giants breakout year. They would finish the season 14-2 and storm through the playoffs to their first Super Bowl victory.
Parcells had turned a perennial loser into a playoff team in just his second season. In four seasons the Giants had a Super Bowl and three straight playoff appearances, but that was about to change.
In 1987 the Giants would have their second, and last, losing season under Parcells. A 10-6 season in 1988 was impressive, but not enough to make the playoffs.
Parcells took the Giants back to the playoffs in 1989, but once again lost in the divisional game.
In 1990 the Giants would rush out to a 10-0 start. However, starter Phil Simms would go down due to injury and the Giants would finish 13-3 and head into the playoffs using a backup quarterback. Parcells would lead the Giants to their second Super Bowl victory, winning their last two playoff games by a combined three points.
The enigma that is Parcells would then retire from football. The Giants now had two championships under their belt and three division titles in the time Parcells spent there.
The First Return
Parcells would return to football in 1993 to take over the New England Patriots. When Parcells arrived the Patriots had not made the playoffs for seven straight seasons, and his first season with them would be no different. With a 5-11 record the Patriots failed to make the playoffs for an eight straight season.
In 1994 Parcells would continue his success in his second year with new teams. The Pats would make the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons but lose in their first round Wild Card game.
After a poor 1995 season the Patriots would win the AFC East in 1996. Parcells would take the Patriots to the Super Bowl but lose to the Green Bay Packers.
Parcells, still the enigma, would leave another team after a Super Bowl appearance. Believing he did not have enough input in player personnel decisions Parcells would depart the Patriots to take a head coaching job with the Jets.
When Parcells arrived in New York the Jets had been 4-28 over their last two seasons. With Bill Belichick accompanying him from New England Parcells would look to work his magic once again.
In his first year he would take the Jets from the bottom of the AFC East to a 9-7 finish, which left them just short of the playoffs.
Continuing his second year success he would take the Jets to the playoffs in 1998. They would lose in AFC Championship Game.
In 1999 the Jets would lose star quarterback Vinny Testaverde to a ruptured Achilles tendon and fail to make the playoffs. Parcells would once again retired, this time promising that he would never coach again.
Parcells Breaks His Promise
Apparently the lure of three straight 5-11 seasons could not keep Parcells away from the Dallas Cowboys. 2003 would mark Parcells second return to football.
Getting tired of second year success Parcells would lead the Cowboys to the playoffs in his first season. The Cowboys would lose in the first round, but Parcells became the first coach to make the playoffs with four different teams.
The Cowboys would finish in third the in 2004 and 2005 before making the playoffs again in 2006. The Cowboys would lose in the first round again and Parcells would retire yet again. However, this time it looks like he has finally coached his last game.
Parcells Comes to Miami
For those of us living in South Florida we all remember the chaotic scene when Shaquille O’Neal came to the Miami Heat.
The same type of hype accompanied Parcells’ arrival, but there was no parade for him as there was for Shaq. Parcells was supposed to make the Dolphins contenders again. As his football history indicates, Parcells loves a challenge.
So what did Parcells do when he got to South Florida?
He got rid of the team’s two most popular players, Taylor and Thomas, and decided to start from scratch. There were a few holdovers from the 2007 team, like Joey Porter and Channing Crowder, but the 2008 team squad that would take the field would barely resembled the 2007 one.
He brought in Ireland and Sparano as previously mentioned. Another key coaching addition made by Parcells was quarterbacks coach David Lee, who would eventually be the person to draw up the Dolphins’ Wildcat plays.
Parcells, and staff, would sign 20 free agents. The biggest free agent addition was Chad Pennington who would become the leader of the offense. It should be noted that while with the Jets Parcells was responsible for the drafting of Pennington.
Before the signing of Pennington the Dolphins quarterback choices were Josh McCown or John Beck. Imagine how that season would have went…
Other free agent signings included guard Justin Smiley, defensive end Randy Starks, and linebacker Reggie Torbor. All played a role in the Dolphins’ playoff run; Smiley probably had the biggest impact prior to a season ending injury.
While at the time it did not seem like a big trade, the trade for Anthony Fasano may have been one of the Dolphins’ biggest off-season moves. Parcells traded a fourth round pick for Fasano and Akin Ayodele; Ayodele also had a decent 2008 season.
When it came to the draft Parcells passed on the flashy players and addressed the Dolphins’ biggest problem with the first overall pick of the draft. The Dolphins drafted offensive tackle Jake Long who would go on to be selected to the Pro Bowl in his first season.
Also drafted were defensive ends Phillip Merling and Kendall Langford, along with guard Donald Thomas. All proved to be key role players in 2008.
Parcells would sign wide receiver Davone Bess and kicker Dan Carpenter after they went undrafted. Bess would emerge as one of the Dolphins most reliable receiver while Carpenter proved to be a trustworthy kicker.
Bill Parcells put the pieces together to make the 2008 season possible. Over half of these guys had never played a game together before, but Parcells has a magic touch. Somehow the team he put together would prove to be the best in the AFC East.
The Dolphins shocked me in 2008. They shocked their entire fan base. They shocked the NFL.
After seeing what Parcells has done in the past, maybe this should have been expected. Sure, he was not on the sidelines in actual form, but Tony Sparano more than did that job adequately.
It is hard to call the 2008 Dolphins Parcell’s biggest accomplishment. The guy has two Super Bowl victories while he was the man on the sidelines. In 2008 he was the general manager while his team got eliminated in the first round.
But how many people in the football world could have made a one win team an 11 win team in one year?
I only know of one guy who can do that.