(twangy sound of Hawaiian guitars...sun sinking behind palm
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
(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
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
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
Guilt is a powerful motivator - especially where mothers are
concerned. You mothers out there know what I'm talking about, don't
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
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
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
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
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
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
And you can be sure that my comments will not be done idly.
They will definitely be done...
... On Porpoise.
DOLFAN in New Rochelle