No one likes to see a 6-6
record. No one likes to see the latest starting QB struggle. No one enjoys
seeing the New England Patriots and the New York Jets defeating the Dolphins at
I get it. Really, I do.
But what’s important for the
critics and, most importantly, owner Stephen Ross to understand is that the
Miami Dolphins don’t need another housecleaning. They need coherence. They need
perseverance. They need continuity in leadership and
organizational philosophy. That’s how championships are built and
winning sustained over a long period of time.
The gold standard for this
tried and true formula is our own Don Shula. He coached the Dolphins for 25
years and did a lot of winning.
This was no accident. Shula
brought his own coaching ability and added it to the considerable talent he
inherited. He then parlayed it into three straight Super Bowl appearances on
his way to making the Dolphins the winningest team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
But what really made Shula the winningest coach in the NFL history was his
ability to leverage that tradition and culture of winning, veteran to rookie,
over the years in a consistent, almost unbroken fashion. Even when Shula was
changing his offensive and defensive philosophies to suit his players’ talents,
his leadership and organizational philosophy remained the same.
This is the formula the
Dolphins need to return to. It’s the formula that the Patriots have successfully
adopted and the one the Steelers have followed since Chuck Noll ran that show.
Maybe Ross gets this. I
certainly hope so.
As for the critics, how
about some fairness here? Current Dolphins coach Tony Sparano has a harder road
than Shula did. A lot harder. Sparano essentially inherited an expansion level
team when he arrived in 2008. In other words, the cupboards were bare. Even the
strong culture of winning that Shula built up had been squandered. Add to it
the fact that the Dolphins have missed on a decent number of major free agents
and draft picks, and you quickly understand why the progress has been slower
Yet one thing we shouldn’t
worry about is Sparano’s coaching prowess. This is a man who knows how to run a
team and lead men, which is what a coach is supposed to do. “Perseverance”, the
adjective most used in a positive sense when discussing his Dolphins, doesn’t
happen unless the man at the top commands respect and credibility. This he does
as well as anyone in the NFL.
Of course Sparano isn’t
perfect. No one among us is. But having met and interviewed Sparano multiple
times, toured the facility, soaked in his philosophy over the course of his
tenure, and talked to his coaches and players, I understand why some have
compared him with Shula. And I’m convinced that Sparano is the right man to
lead the Dolphins.
Want more proof?
Sparano’s first season is
all you really need, the one that should have convinced you that he has the
goods. He’s the coach who he led the Dolphins to the biggest single season
turnaround in NFL history, winning the AFC East. Sparano proved his ability given
a good QB (Chad Pennington) running the show.
Sparano and offensive
coordinator Dan Henning don’t have that luxury now. Haven’t had it really for
two seasons now. For all the withering criticism that Henning has absorbed with
how he conducts the offense, he remains understandably focused on trying to
keep QB Chad Henne within the limits of his current capabilities.
Make no mistake: this task
has been the single biggest worry for Henning and Sparano this season. By far.
Their successes, and failures, have been almost a mirror image of Henne’s
It is still uncertain
whether or not Henne will work out. I, for one, do not agree with assertions
that the Henne era is over; we’ve seen too much goodness to make that
declaration. And maybe that’s a part of the overall consistency-over-time
equation. We all understand how difficult it is to find or develop a good QB,
one talented enough to lead a team to a championship. The miss on Drew Brees reminded
us how much luck really plays into this thing. That’s why I think it is OK for
them to start over in that regard if it comes down to that. Hopefully it won’t,
but this is clearly is a possibility now.
Can we trust Sparano and GM
Jeff Ireland to get it right? After all, these are the same guys who drafted
Henne and Pat White. Then again, they also get credit for signing Chad Pennington
(2008 NFL MVP runner up and Comeback Player) and getting Tyler Thigpen, a good
young prospect, for a mere 7th rounder.
I believe they deserve our
trust because the core of the roster is strong evidence that they know what
they’re doing and get it right most of the time. A re-built defense is now ranked
in the Top 5, with every starter but two a newcomer under the current regime. And
though the offense is still a work in process, the side has been strengthened
in the offensive backfield, at tackle, tight end, and significantly at wide
This is all good work,
perhaps not progressing as fast as we would like, but good nonetheless. While
they may be two drafts away from becoming a regular postseason contender, they
are clearly headed in the right direction…assuming they solve the all-important
So put down the torches and pitchforks,
people. Firings are not what the Miami Dolphins need right now. What they need
is stability, starting at the top of the organization. The rest will come in
due time, as long as they stay the course.