After firing general manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, the Dolphins are once again dipping their toe into the uncertain waters of a rebuild. The question is, would they be better off just jumping in with both feet?
Six years ago, the Miami Dolphins went 1-15. They fired then-head coach Cam Cameron and GM Randy Mueller. It's been a long time since they've been that bad, but it's been even longer since they've been competitive.
The Dolphins have made front office or coaching changes in four of those six years, but never both at the same time. The results are what we have seen over the past few years: a team that floats right around .500 and just can't get over the hump.
One thing i don't understand is why Ross keeps firing his HC and keeping the GM, and vice versa. Sends huge mixed signals— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) January 7, 2014
Head coach Joe Philbin wasn't blameless in the demise of the Dolphins from 8-6 with their playoff fates in their hands to 8-8 and watching from home yet again in January. Still, he was the least to blame of the trio (Philbin, Ireland, Sherman) and deserved another chance.
That being said, this needs to be the Dolphins' last try to make things work by piecing them together. A team simply cannot be successful with prominent people who share different visions. It appears that was exactly the case, according to Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey:
The source with knowledge of the situation said that Ireland and head coach Joe Philbin were "barely on speaking terms." Ireland and the front office spent an incredible amount of money this offseason in backloaded contracts for top free agents. This meant that the Dolphins were in win-now mode. The coaching staff, however, didn't always play along with that and didn't always give playing time to those highly paid acquisitions.
Multiple sources also pointed to the playing time of first-round draft pick defensive end Dion Jordan as being a reason for the friction. The front office brought Jordan in to be a dynamic playmaker but felt he wasn't given a chance to shine on the team this season.
In terms of finding a shared vision, the Dolphins may be trying to keep things going relatively the same direction as before.
Some names being floated as potential replacements for Ireland are Brian Gaine and Dawn Aponte, who both currently work for the Dolphins. Gaine was promoted to assistant GM in June 2012 and is part of the crew that came over from the Dallas Cowboys in 2008 with former football czar Bill Parcells and former head coach Tony Sparano.
One tangible reason Brian Gaine is respected in Dolphins’ facility: He found Cam Wake in CFL (and began courtship) long before other teams.— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) January 7, 2014
Gaine has a lot of experience as a pro personnel director and scout, spending six year with the New York Jets from 1999-2004 and three years with the Cowboys from 2005-2007.
Aponte has risen through the ranks over the past few years and played a hand in strong-arming Ireland out of the picture, as detailed in Schottey's article. Her expertise is primarily in budgeting, contract negotiations, league matters, legal matters and public relations.
An internal hire would help avoid the friction that can sometimes come with a new GM not getting to hire their own head coach, which can lead to a coach being seen as a "lame duck" with no real power.
However, as it turns out, Ireland would have been a lame duck GM, according to Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald:
The bottom line is now Philbin and Aponte—fresh off a victory over the last general manager—want to make sure the next general manager is not truly empowered. The last thing they want is for Ross to hire a guy who will have the power to hire and perhaps fire Philbin and/or Aponte. They want a
puppetperson who will merely evaluate talent and handle the draft and keep his mouth shut and business to himself.
The Dolphins' intentions are good; they don't want to blow everything up when they were so close to their first playoff berth in the past five years.
Hiring externally would be a strange decision, as it would leave Philbin's long-term future in doubt. Who knows how long a new GM would be willing to hang onto Philbin before pushing the reset button.
It may seem crazy, but there is a precedent of success for such a move; the Panthers moved on from GM Marty Hurney and brought in Dave Gettleman without firing Ron Rivera, and the team has been successful in earning a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. The Jets are trying their hand at the process, as well, after firing GM Mike Tannenbaum and hiring John Idzik while retaining Rex Ryan through the 2013 season, and now beyond.
Did the Dolphins make the right move in firing Jeff Ireland and retaining Joe Philbin?
By making only a couple moves, instead of gutting the whole operation, Ross seems to be indicating he thinks this team can be competitive and win in the short term.
If the plan is unsuccessful, Ross will hopefully learn his lesson—or at that point, he never will.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.