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3 posts from January 6, 2014

January 06, 2014

Philbin (safe according to source) fires Mike Sherman

The Dolphins have announced offensive coordinator Mike Sherman has been fired. I am also reporting that coach Joe Philbin is "definitely safe," according to a club source and will return for his third season with the Dolphins.

 “I would like to thank Mike for his contributions to the Miami Dolphins,” Philbin said in a statement released by the club. “Mike has been a mentor to me throughout my coaching career, dating back to 1979. He is a man of great integrity, dedicated to his family, his team, his players and his profession. On behalf of the entire Miami Dolphins organization I want to wish Mike and his family the very best in the future.”

Interesingly, Philbin did not wish to fire his "mentor." The coach had previously defended Sherman as an "excellent" football coach. But owner Stephen Ross wanted Sherman out after the Dolphins scored only one touchdown in the season's final two games when the playoffs were on the line.

Ross, however, could not actually fire Sherman as he had signed over hiring and firing power to Philbin in his contract. But obviously, rather than defy his boss, Philbin did as the owner wished.

In fulfilling his owner's desire to "relieve Sherman" of his duties, Philbin accomplished something very important: He solidified his own job status.

Ross had no desire to get rid of Philbin but might have been forced to do just that if the coach had refused to comply with his wishes. In complying, however, Philbin remains safe.

It is unclear if this is the one and only change to the Dolphins this offseason. There is still a chance the team may add a football czar. General Manager Jeff Ireland's status also has yet to be cemented by the team.

I reported in early December that Ross had assured Ireland of returning next season. Obviously, the collapse at the end of the season with the playoffs beckoning made that very less certain.


The football czar approach might be Ross answer

So what does an NFL owner do when he's got a lot of money?

When he needs to make changes to a stagnant NFL franchise but doesn't want to actually fire anyone?

When his general manager and head coach are not BFFs and he wants to keep both?

When he needs to make a splash announcement to sell tickets and try to save his reputation?

Well, that's the situation facing Dolphins owner Stephen Ross. And his answer might just include throwing money and resources at the problem by hiring another football czar.

A football czar is not an official title. It's a term I use to describe that person who reigns over the entire football organization. He's over the coach. He's over the GM. He reports to the owner and is the owner's eyes and ears. He's like a king of football.

For the Dolphins, the football czar should be somebody with name recognition that fans will eagerly receive. It should be someone with football acumen. It should be someone who can get in the gap between Philbin and Ireland (assuming they both stay) and bring them together. It should be someone without an agenda for being power hungry. It should be someone who can report back to Ross -- an absentee owner living primarily in New York -- and let him know what he thinks about what is really going on down here in South Florida.

Those necessary qualifications means there's not a long list of candidates, folks.

Dan Marino is a possibility.

Tony Dungy is a possibility.

Carl Peterson is a possibility.

Eric Mangini is a possibility.

Don Shula is a possibility.

Scott Pioli is a possibility.

Bill Polian is a possibility.

Now, those are just the names. Let's whittle those down.

Shula is a great name, knows football and commands respect of the football people. But he just celebrated his 80th birthday. He's been living a great life for quite a while and managing the health issues that most men his age manage. I don't believe he's want to take on this day-to-day job.

Marino is the biggest name on the board. The Dolphins have discussed him having a role (again) with the organization as recently as last year. Marino never dismissed the idea and indeed embraced it as a future possibility.

But is the future here?

Is he ready to leave TV -- a cushy gig that requires only 25 weeks of work or so per year -- to do a 52-week a year grind? He had a taste of that work a decade ago when then-owner Wayne Huizenga hired him and Marino lasted only a few days before he realized he didn't want to do it.

Has anything changed?

Marino would be roundly received as a coup for Ross. It's a PR win. And he is so secure in his own skin and identity that he wouldn't be playing any political games with Ireland and Philbin to gain power. Moreoever, both those men respect Marino as a football guy for obvious reasons.

Mangini? Ross loves him. Ross wanted to hire him before -- before the 2011 season -- but Ireland and then-coach Tony Sparano presented a united front against the idea.

Now, neither Ireland nor Philbin have the accomplishment capital to keep Ross from bringing him if the owner wants. Mangini knows football. But he has no South Florida ties. Fans would look at him as a failed New York Jets and Cleveland Browns coach.

Dungy? He'd be great. He's a winner with multiple Super Bowl rings. I suggested him as the answer months ago. Ross tried to bring him on board last year -- Ross has been trying and failing to hire a lot of people it seems -- and Dungy declined. Despite this, Dungy has remained as something of an advisor to Ross.

But is he ready to leave his cushy TV job? Is he willing to move to South Florida? Does he want to take on a role as peacemaker for men (Ireland and Philbin) who aren't his guys?

Polian? He'd probably love the job. My sense is Dolphins fans respect his body of work. The problem is he would come in with predisposed ideas about the principals involved. Polian is not a big Ireland fan. And he's 72 years old so there's a question about his desire to do this for a significant length of time.

Peterson? Ross has resisted the idea so far. Maybe he's desperate enough to do it this time. Ross trusts Peterson. Peterson has the experience and credentials to do the job. But he's not a popular answer among Dolphins fans.

Pioli? Makes sense. Knows what a winning organization looks like. His family would probably like it as he is married to Bill Parcells' daughter and Parcells lives half the year in Stuart, Fl. Would he be a PR boon? Probably not. But he's young, he's energetic and if he's empowered he could be a resource.


Dolphins state over the weekend: Limbo


That's where club owner Stephen Ross left the Dolphins when he boarded his helicopter (feel free to give it a name in the comments section) last Thursday evening. That's where the Dolphins were late Sunday night.

No one knows 100 percent what will happen next.

No one believes they are 100 percent certain of coming back for 2014. No one believes they are 100 percent certain of being dismissed by Ross. Everyone is walking on egg shells and worried about their status.

This will be an interesting week as it will likely bring answers.

Below I list for you the primary players in this evolving soap opera and give you their current situation best as sources are handicapping:

Coach Joe Philbin: He is likely safe. Ross likes his head coach and, moreover, must understand that having hired him only two years ago (over San Diego coach Mike McCoy, by the way) his own personal reputation for hiring and firing is riding on this one. As Ross's reputation isn't at an all-time high right now, it could be the owner doesn't want to hurt that further by admitting he made a mistake on Philbin. But one reason Philbin cannot be considered 100 percent safe is because it is believed Ross wants changes on the coaching staff and Philbin does not. So does the owner blink and let the coach have his way? Or does the coach blink? Or do neither blink, in which case Philbin is gone.

General Manager Jeff Ireland: I reported Dec. 9 that Ross had told Ireland he was safe. But then the collapse of 2013 happened. And while that collapse probably is Philbin's responsibility, it is possible the owner could sacrifice Ireland as a scapegoat. Fans want this. But fans don't get a vote. The fact is Ireland put more talent on the Dolphins 2013 roster than he had in his previous seasons as general manager. 

(There is an interesting dynamic at work here between Philbin and Ireland. I told you last week that in evaluating the personnel department and coaching staff, Ross may have inadvertently been forcing his football operation to face off against itself. Well, ESPN reported Sunday there is "tension" between Philbin and Ireland. I checked around on Sunday. No one denied the report. So how do these two men overcome their "tension" if they're to stay together?)

Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman: As of Sunday afternoon, he had not been told anything -- not whether he is safe or out -- by Philbin or anyone else. It is quite possible Philbin, told to fire Sherman, would keep this from his OC knowing that if he tells him, Sherman might resign to make sure his friend doesn't go the way of former Tennessee coach Mike Munchak.

Executive Vice President of Football Administration Dawn Aponte: She seems safe but, interestingly, she wants badly to get out. Aponte is a candidate for vice president of football operations at the NFL office in New York. She wants the job badly. Having served 15 years at the NFL office, having club experience and, yes, being a woman, she is a capable diversity candidate. But the field of candidates is considered strong and also includes former Chiefs GM and Patriots personnel man Scott Pioli. NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash adores Aponte.

Bottom line? Ross typically resists change. He doesn't want to fire anyone. (Remember, Philbin is the person I reported has authority to hire and fire assistants). And as you read above, Ross told people at different points last season they're safe, and he probably doesn't want to go back on that word.

What does that mean to you and me?

We should find out this week.