About this Page
  Search Here
  Team Info
  News Wire
  Training Camp
  On Porpoise
  Recent Game
  Depth Chart
  Free Agents
  Places To Watch
  Chat Board
  Mailing Lists
  Other Links
  Team History
  News Archive
  Past Games
  Past Transactions
  Past Rosters
On Porpoise 1-99
    News Wire | Roster | Last/Next Game | Schedule | Links  
Last Update:

Game Info
Players Info
Fan Res.
Phins Info
NFL Info

On Porpoise 1-99: The End of 1998...

(twangy sound of Hawaiian guitars...sun sinking behind palm trees...)

As the 1998 season sets slowly in the west, we bid a fond farewell and say "Aloha" to the excitement and drama of another NFL season.

(Cheesy music up.... fade to black...)

Well, maybe not so fond... but at least it's over and we can now get down to the business of looking forward to next year.

And as we say goodbye to last year, we greet the start of the 1999 season with another issue of "On Porpoise", my personal commentary on the Miami Dolphins. I do this every so often and it is many things, but one thing it is not is just the news. Oh, there is some news here, but the real reason I write this is to give me a chance to give you my opinion, unclouded by such mundane things as facts.

This is a good time to start talking about the coming year, because, in many ways, this is the most hopeful time of the football season. The 2x4 of harsh reality has yet to bash us in the forehead and everything is still possible - even a running game. And this coming year should be especially interesting, what with the "new" Cleveland Browns and all the free agent changes that we're going to see in the next few weeks.

And it all starts tomorrow, with opening of the free agency period. The salary cap is going up again this year and that should make the bidding wars for the big free agents even more exciting than last year. This year the Dolphins have a few free agents of their own to bid on, as well as being in the running for at least a few of the big name free agents from other teams.

So we certainly do have a lot to talk about, but before we get around to handicapping the free agent derby, I think it's important to take a short look back at this past year to get some perspective on what to look for in next few weeks.

1998 st arted with big hopes for the team, some big changes and some old rhetoric. At the beginning of last season, the Dolphins scrapped the old offense with the firing of Gary Stevens and the designation of Kippy Brown as offensive coordinator. With the changes in offense, the team promised us that they would run more last year and have more conservative play calling.

And, at the beginning of the year, that is exactly what we got - more running, more conservative play calling and a whole lot more defense. Unfortunately, as the year progressed, it became obvious that while the running game had improved somewhat, it hadn't improved nearly enough to dominate opposing defenses.

As a result, by the end of the year, the Dolphins were back to being 24th in rushing offense, but 10th in passing offense - a familiar split for us Dolphins fans. This was not due to a lack of trying so much as it was due to a lack of real talent where it counted most. And when the game was on the line, relying on Dan Marino was better than relying on the running game.

The defense, for their part, really came together this year in a way they hadn't since the days of the Killer B's. With the addition of Robert Jones, the maturing of Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and Sam Madison and the changing of the defensive schemes to a more aggressive style, the defense became one of the best in the league.

But, without a serious running game or a game-breaking wide receiver, the Dolphins couldn't win enough games to win the division and the lack of a bye week, combined with having to travel to Denver, spelled disaster in their final game of the year.

Still, I think it would be fair to give the Dolphins an overall grade of B for their performance in 1998. They made several important improvements last year - the defense was terrific, of course, but the team as a whole beat the Bills in the first round of the playoffs (something they had never done before) and the Dolphins didn't lose to a poor team all year long. No 41-0 disasters to the Colts last year.

While I empathize with those who will never be satisfied with anything less than a SuperBowl win, I think that the Dolphins 1998 season was a qualified success.

But wait a minute, Curt - I hear you cry - if the 1998 season was a success, how do you explain the almost-but-not-quite resignation of Jimmy Johnson?

Why, I can explain it very simply, I respond. You see, since I've been living in New York, I've become an expert at explaining things simply.

The reason JJ almost resigned was because he felt guilty.

He felt guilty about not getting the Dolphins to the SuperBowl in his third year; he felt guilty about not having married Rhonda, he felt guilty about not spending time with his sick father, and, most of all, he felt guilty about missing his mother's funeral. He may even have felt guilty about Dave Wannestedt getting fired in Chicago, even though he had nothing to do with it. Guilt doesn't stop at the limits of rationality.

Guilt is a powerful motivator - especially where mothers are concerned. You mothers out there know what I'm talking about, don't you?

And despite some theories to the contrary, Jimmy Johnson is human being - a very passionate human being. We think of a head coach as a guy who is not ruled by his emotions, but you can't put in as much work under as much stress as they do and not be driven by some pretty intense passion.

So I think that JJ felt guilty and that that pushed him into a hasty decision. If there's one thing about JJ that has remained constant since he's been in Miami, it's that he makes quick decisions. So, while sitting on his deck of his boat, drinking a Pina Colada, feeling guilty about his family and thinking about the work that still remained to be done to get the Dolphins to the SuperBowl, he decided to quit. He didn't really want to quit, but he was torn, guilt-ridden and depressed and he didn't see any other way out.

Now, psychiatrists will tell you that people rarely do things as significant as changing jobs for just one reason. Usually they have many different reasons for doing things. The clinical term for it is "over-determined". And I'm sure that JJ's reasons for quitting were over-determined. But I believe that the biggest motivator in JJ's quitting was guilt.

Fortunately for the Dolphins, Wayne Huizenga is a master manipulator of people. I believe that he manipulated Don Shula into resigning in1996 and I think that he manipulated JJ into staying with the Dolphins.

Not that it took much manipulating, you understand. I'm sure that all JJ needed was a little validation and some good rationalizations and his old ego kicked right in and drove him forward to a renewed dedication to taking the Dolphins to the SuperBowl. Huizenga presented him with a way to eliminate all the guilt he felt with just one proposal - the hiring of Dave Wannestedt.

With the hiring of Wannested, all of JJ's guilt was addressed. Suddenly, he didn't have to feel guilty about quitting, or about the firing of Wannestedt or about not having time with his family. It was all cured with just one action.

It was the perfect solution.

Now, to those who say that JJ manipulated the whole thing in order to get Wannestedt hired, I have just one question for you - why would he bother? Why not just hire Wannestedt and be done with it? Huizenga is the only man with enough power to keep JJ from making such a decision and so far as I know, he has never interfered with any of JJ's personnel decisions.

If all JJ really wanted was to hire Wannestedt, he would have just hired him. No one would have objected to that. In fact, most people would have applauded him for it. He wouldn't have gone through all these manipulations just for that. It makes no sense.

But the speculation about Wannestedt was not as ridiculous as the rumor floating around that JJ was leaving because he didn't want Dan Marino to get a contract extension. JJ has had total control over this team from day one. If JJ didn't want Dan Marino to have a contract extension, Dan Marino would not get a contract extension.

And JJ wouldn't have stated publicly, back in December, that the Dolphins were working on a contract extension for Dan. At the very least, he would have kept his mouth shut. He certainly wouldn't have said that he hoped they could keep Marino around for several more years.

And let's not forget Dan Marino's contribution to keeping JJ. For all the reports that JJ and Dan don't get along, it was Dan Marino who was the first person in JJ's office the morning after the news broke that JJ was leaving. And Dan spent the next hour trying to talk JJ out of leaving. He may or may not have much use for JJ on a personal level, but his respect for JJ as a coach is clear. You don't try and talk the man into staying if you don't respect him.

And you don't try and talk him into staying if you know he's trying to sabotage your contract - which Marino would certainly have known.

No, the conspiracy theories just don't hold any water in this case. JJ was just reacting in a normal way for a man ridden with guilt and depressed about the recent events in his life.

But that's all moot now. JJ is staying for at least one more year and probably the two remaining in his contract. At least, that's my belief.

It's also more than likely that JJ will remain associated with the team in some kind of personnel management capacity, even after he retires or resigns as head coach. His favorite part of the coaching process (and the part that he's best at) is in analyzing and choosing new players. It would surprise me if he gave that up entirely when he stopped coaching.

So, the bottom line for the team is that JJ will continue to bring his passion, intensity and personnel skills to the team. To my way of thinking, that's a good thing.

As to the addition of Dave Wannestedt, I can't help but believe that he's going to be a great influence on the team. Don Shula never went to a SuperBowl without Bill Arnsparger on his coaching staff. Bill Parcells has never gone to a SuperBowl without Bill Belicheck on his coaching staff and JJ has never taken a team to a championship without Dave Wannestedt on his staff.

Wannestedt and JJ compliment each other. Together, they make a great head coach. Separately, JJ is a very good head coach and Wannestedt is not so good as a head coach, but they're much better together than they are apart.

So, that's about all I have to say about the recent fuss in South Florida. The next issue of "On Porpoise" will take on the great game show that free agency has become. At this point, the Dolphins have already done most of the damage that they are going to do in free agency (at least, before the draft) and I'll be more than happy to add my own comments to the free agent acquisitions that have already taken place.

And you can be sure that my comments will not be done idly. They will definitely be done...

... On Porpoise.

Home TOP
Curt Fennell
DOLFAN in New Rochelle


Home TOP
Curt Fennell
DOLFAN in New England