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  Cefalo on Dolphins, Past and Present
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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When it comes to the Miami Dolphins, perhaps no one has a better and more balanced perspective than former Dolphin wide receiver and current radio play-by-play man Jimmy Cefalo.



During Web Weekend II, hosted by the Miami Dolphins, Cefalo shared his views on various Dolphin topics.


Q: What’s different about the 2005 Miami Dolphins front office?


Cefalo: “The organization is different top to bottom. There’s a new CEO, Joe Bailey, who’s a wonderful man. He’s a terrific management style person and a people person. Mr. (Wayne) Huizenga has done everything he can to make this a good organization. (For example) the alumni, we have a suite upstairs where they can come and watch the game. I don’t know of any other NFL team that does that. Sometimes I’m standing next to Bob Griese, sometimes its (Larry) Csonka, sometimes Mark Dennard. The organization is run the way you hope it would be run. If you had to pick the top 100 employers in America, I can’t imagine the Dolphins wouldn’t be one of them. (Nick Saban) took this job because the organization was better than any other organization that had previously offered him the position.”


Q: What’s your assessment of head coach Nick Saban?


Cefalo: “Coach Saban has more qualities that are Shula-like than anyone I’ve ever known. His practices are crisp, they’re concise. It’s the way Shula ran a practice; there was no wasted motion. He’s a disciplined man. He doesn’t smile a lot but I don’t want my football coach smiling a lot. Football is not a democracy; it’s a dictatorship. If there was one thing about the administration of the previous few years, it was a democracy. That’s not the way football programs should be run. (It should be) ‘This is what we’re doing, this is the vision, and this is how we’re going to do it’ and Nick Saban does that as well as anybody. He’s kind of a mad scientist defensively. He’ll hide whatever (personnel) problems he’s got. If he thinks he doesn’t have enough speed at the safety position he’ll hide it by blitzing linebackers or putting them in zone coverage. Will (the Dolphins) get better as the years go? You betcha. (But he won’t answer any questions as to how long it will be) because he does not want to give his players (and) his coaches an excuse for not being good this season. I like that about him.”


Q: How long do you think it will take Saban to turn the Dolphins around? Will it be three years, like what former coach Jimmy Johnson promised?


Cefalo: “As a fan, I don’t want a three year plan. I want to win now. I’m going to be happy with improvement, certainly. But I want to know that this organization is doing everything it can to be a champion and I’m not going to accept anything less than that. I like that Coach Saban says that.”


Q: How long do you think Nick Saban will stay in Miami?


Cefalo: “Coach Saban is 53 years old and signed a five year contract. He’ll be here through those five years, I have no doubt about that. At 58, does he make a different decision? I don’t know. It’s kind of early in the process to think about that. He seems to like South Florida and seems to enjoy the organization.”


Q: What is your opinion of Saban’s coaching staff?


Cefalo: “Maybe the best staff in football. You cannot predict what they’re going to do offensively. In past years, we all said ‘I know what they’re going to do’. Scott Linehan is a very good coordinator and that’s one of the big differences in the Dolphins organization (from 2004). Hudson Houck is considered the best line coach in football. The best free agent pick-up was Hudson Houck. There 22 assistant coaches for 53 players. I asked Don Shula how many he had in his first year as a coach. He had 4 assistants.”


Q: Can the Dolphins play Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams at the same time?


Cefalo: “There’s one important question (when they’re on the field at the same time): Who’s gonna block for whom? In a passing circumstance, it’s going to be an issue for a (defensive) coordinator when the two of them are in there. One thing was evident whenever you watched the Miami Dolphins play: Ricky Williams was the best football player on the field, period, on either team. They played five preseason games and he was the best player on the field.”


Q: What keeps Chris Chambers from establishing himself as an elite wide receiver?


Cefalo:  “Chris Chambers has got a lot of ability. He runs patterns extraordinarily well. He’s got terrific speed, good size, and he’s tough. I think he’s trying to be too much of a perfectionist. He’s out there trying to be so perfect that he’s not allowing his natural ability to take over.”


Q: As a former kick and punt returner, what is your assessment of the return game?


Cefalo: “The Dolphins return game is one of the best in league. Wes Welker is as good as they come. He is fast. The problem with Wes Welker is that he doesn’t have much fear and that’s a problem for a punt returner because he’s going to get himself killed. He’s a little guy who plays football like (former Dolphin linebacker) John Offerdahl did. Shula used to say ‘I’m worried about Offferdahl because he doesn’t know how to take a half step’. The Dolphins have a great advantage in average starting position over their opponents. Coach Armstrong has done a good job.”


Q: What should the Dolphins do about the problem with penalties?


Cefalo: “The biggest problem this team has had are double digit penalties. And I said to (Saban), “You’re such a disciplined coach, how does this happen?” He said ‘Well, let me tell you how I’m going to try and correct it. I’m not one that thinks a billyclub will change behavior. I simply tell the players what should be done. And if they don’t do it, I find other players.’ Shula did this all the time. We were the least penalized team in the NFL for 20 years. (He’d make) an example of someone and then nobody jumped offsides again.”


Q: As the new radio play-by-play man for the Dolphins, what’s it like working with former teammates Joe Rose and Nat Moore?


Cefalo: “Joe Rose and I have been best friends for 25 years. He’s the godfather to my youngest daughter and I’m the godfather to his oldest son. When we go into the booth I can look at Joe and say, on the air, “Joe, that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard” and it’s okay because we’re pals. Nat Moore is kind of like a big brother to all of us. He’s a wonderful man, smart as whip; he’s got more football smarts than almost anybody I know. The idea was to take knowledge and Dolphin fans and put them in the booth. You don’t want somebody in the booth who’s not a Dolphin fan.”


Q; What’s your approach to calling the games?


Cefalo: “The way I’ve decided to call this is as a fan. I think fans want to hear the positive. It doesn’t mean you won’t point out the bad. But what I told Coach Saban and what I told (Joe) Bailey is that I will always be respectful with criticism. We care about the Dolphins and what they do on the field. We also, I hope, are able to impart some knowledge that you won’t get from another play-by-play/color team because we’ve been there.”


Q: Looking back on Super Bowl XVII, do you think Don Shula handled the quarterback situation with David Woodley and Don Strock the right way?


Cefalo: “I wish Coach Shula had pulled David Woodley in the third quarter of the Super Bowl. He completed four passes that day and, truth be told, we were open a lot. Then again, that’s an unfair statement by me because, if you ask any receiver, they’re always open! But David was having a bad day in Pasedena and I think at some point that Coach Shula probably should have made a change. Remember, that was a running football team and Woodley gave us something that Don Strock didn’t; he gave us another (running) threat at the QB position. (For example), he’d hand the ball off to Tony Nathan and then run a pass pattern. So I think it was the right choice (to start Woodley).”


Q: You spent most of your career in run-oriented offenses with Joe Paterno (Penn State) and Don Shula in Miami. Then, in 1983, the Dolphins drafted Dan Marino. Looking back on it, do you regret retiring early (1984)?


Cefalo: “No. I retired to further my broadcasting career. There was no future for me in football, especially at that time when they weren’t paying a lot of money. The salaries weren’t always what they are today. I was a third round draft pick and my first year salary was $35,000. I left football to make more money and to provide for my family. Catching another hundred balls would have been okay, but not very important.”




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