Midway through the season, after the Dolphins lost to winless Tampa Bay and blew a 17-3 halftime lead at New England, general manager Jeff Ireland became disenchanted with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman and generally wasn’t too pleased coach Joe Philbin wasn’t doing anything to correct his offensive coordinator and close friend’s play-calling or game planning.
And although the Dolphins recovered from those hideous moments, Ireland became more upset with the coaching staff the final two weeks of the season as what seemed like a certain playoff run collapsed under the weight of losses to Buffalo and the New York Jets.
During those final two games, while the Dolphins underperformed on the field, Ireland watched from the press box or a club suite and complained about the job the coaches were doing. And executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte heard Ireland’s complaints.
And Aponte told Philbin of Ireland’s complaints word for word.
That’s how the relationship between the Dolphins coach and general manager broke. That’s why Philbin and Ireland didn’t speak much, if at all, after the season ended with the Dolphins missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year.
The disconnect between Ireland, Philbin and Aponte wasn’t known just internally at the team’s Davie practice facility, but actually got around the entire NFL. Multiple sources have told the Herald they were aware of the break.in the relationships.
Even ESPN reported Sunday there were “tensions” between Ireland and Philbin without detailing the degree of the problems.
The problems were significant and deep and could have lasting effects going forward.
The reason all this dirty drama and office politics matters is because the Dolphins now have a reputation around the NFL. Not a good one, by the way.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross started a search for a new general manager to replace Ireland on Tuesday. And the soap opera is likely to continue.
I’m told that even while Ross has good intentions and is looking for the best and brightest talent evaluator to replace Ireland, more drama almost certainly awaits.
We’re not talking drama as in the playoff-caliber variety we saw in the NFL wild-card games last weekend. We’re talking conniving instead of comebacks. We’re talking scheming for power instead of scheming to find a weakness in the opponent.
Now as Ross is looking for a new talent evaluator to replace Ireland, the people who should be at the top of his list — the stars in waiting — will have to accept a role with the Dolphins that includes not only Philbin as head coach but Aponte as his ally, assuming she doesn’t leverage a possible job with the NFL for more power in Miami.
So the same way star head coach candidates avoided the Dolphins like the plague in 2012 because Ross went looking with a general manager he wanted to force on people, now the Dolphins could lose out on a star talent evaluator because that person must accept getting aboard a ship Philbin and Aponte are already trying to navigate.
If Miami was doing this the right way, candidates such as Philadelphia’s Tom Gamble, Pittsburgh’s Omar Kahn, and Seattle’s Scot McGloughan would be candidates. People such as Green Bay’s Alonzo Highsmith would get an interview.
Gamble, in particular, would be the rising star to chase first if indeed talent evaluation is the priority.
But would these people be interested if the Dolphins continue doing Dolphins things?
If Ross tells his candidates he must work under Philbin and Aponte instead of alongside or even over them, would the best candidates still be interested?
If they’re not, we’re likely to resort to more drama and office politics.
We’re likely headed toward the possibility of Carl Peterson being hired and empowered as some sort of football czar.
Or maybe Eric Mangini could become a candidate. Ross admires Mangini for his football knowledge. Mangini is a fine defensive mind.
But he has never been a talent evaluator.
If the Dolphins are conducting their search with the right priorities, Brian Gaine should be a candidate. Oddly, Gaine is perhaps hurt by the fact he has been on the Dolphins’ payroll for six seasons as Ireland’s right-hand man and therefore is part of what has happened (or didn’t) in that time.
But Gaine is a thorough and thoughtful evaluator and, more importantly, is his own man with his own opinions on what talent is and is not about. That has earned him a good reputation around the NFL. The Dolphins shouldn’t ignore that.
But would Gaine accept the job knowing how dysfunctional the Dolphins are internally? Would he step into the hornet’s nest built by Philbin and Aponte without having power over either or both?
Ross must resist neutering the new guy before he’s even hired.
Ross painted himself into a corner when he didn’t clean house after 2011 when he decided to fire Tony Sparano but kept Ireland. That’s the corner he’s still in now that he’s keeping Philbin but parted ways with Ireland.
Only one thing can save Ross the owner from being in a similar situation next January:
The new general manager must be autonomous. And he must be such a great evaluator that Philbin won’t be able to help but get the Dolphins to the playoffs next season.