INDIANAPOLIS — Joe Philbin had his fallback line. Any time there seemed to be some doubt in his voice as he addressed the media at the scouting combine, he said something along the lines of: "I'm the one that's in charge of the workplace."
It's not a surprise that he took so much accountability for what went wrong in the Miami Dolphins locker room; he had done so before, when the reports first broke of Richie Incognito's harassment (or "bullying") of Jonathan Martin. Unfortunately, the accountability tour skipped a stop along the way.
That stop: How, exactly, did he allow Incognito to be a member of the leadership council?
"I didn't necessarily name [Incognito] a leader," he said. "There's a leadership council we have in place. The process is that the players elect the players that they want to be on the leadership council. Out of respect to the process, that's how the votes came in, and he was on the leadership council."
He's right—to an extent. The decision was out of his control—in a way. The players voted him a leader, and that was that. But that didn't have to be that.
If Philbin had identified Incognito as anything short of a leader before the fact, he had a duty to prevent Incognito from being handed a role that could not only empower him even more, but could also send a potentially cancerous message to young players that his kind of behavior is acceptable as long as it comes from a talented player.
Joe Philbin loudly proclaims he's responsible for workplace environment and yet - unlike others - he hasn't been held accountable.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) February 20, 2014
As it always has, the buck ultimately stops with Philbin. It's not as if he was completely blind to Incognito's personality and potential for abrasive behavior.
Incognito was involved in two incidents of alcohol-fueled inappropriate behavior at a charity golf tournament in May 2012, as cited on page 62 of the report filed by independent investigator Ted Wells. Not only did he and several other players commandeer someone else's golf cart and subsequently damage that person's luggage, but he also allegedly molested a female volunteer at the tournament.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported in December that Philbin wanted to cut Incognito at the time, but according to the Wells report, the team opted for a $50,000 fine instead.
"When I was made aware of that situation that you're referencing, I took immediate action in the form of player discipline," Philbin said. "Obviously, there's many options. We discussed, as an organization, what the best course would be, and that's what we came up with, so I'm not going to pass the buck to anybody else. I was part of it. That was the decision we made."
Philbin isn't solely responsible. If he had gone with his own gut, as reported by Schefter, this entire incident may not have happened. Without Incognito, there would have been no harassment of Martin. If his underlings had followed the appropriate channels to communicate these issues, there would be no firestorm of controversy around the Dolphins right now.
Should Joe Philbin have taken more responsibility for Richie Incognito being on the leadership council?
Ultimately, there were a number of opportunities for Philbin to stop the harassment. How it went undetected by the head coach for so long remains a mystery.
"Look, I'm the head football coach, so the team, the performance of the team, the 8-8 record, that falls on my shoulders," he said. "And so I'm going to be more vigilant, I'm going to be more diligent, I'm going to be more visible and I'm going to have a better pulse."
Philbin made a good gesture in at least trying to take accountability for what went wrong in his locker room, but his hands were not completely tied in this situation, and as the head coach, there is more he could have done to prevent this saga from unfolding.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.