I have a hot news flash for you - this has not been one of the best
seasons the Dolphins have ever had.
Now, before I get flayed alive by the know-it-alls for being a
master of the obvious, I have a reason for starting this way. You see,
the problem with the Dolphins not having a great season is that they *do*
have great talent. And with the great talent that they have, they
should be having one of their best seasons ever.
But they're not performing like a great team. Even the perennial
Pro-Bowlers like Richmond Webb are playing like third string backups
instead of the dominating starters that they should be. Against the
Colts, Webb gave up 3 (count 'em, 3) sacks when he should have been
dominating the line.
As a result, the question on everyone's lips is "why?". Why are the
Dolphins playing like a bunch of grade-school kids drawing up plays in
the dirt behind the barn?
Actually, that's unfair to grade-school kids, because most 12 years
olds actually want to win their games, and the Dolphins don't seem to
have that much emotion in them.
Now, anyone with a brain and eyes can see why the Dolphins are
losing games. It isn't so much that they don't have the talent or that
the coaches are calling the wrong plays, although that's been a problem
It also isn't because they don't care about the games or can't get
fired up. Why else would Bryan Cox throw his helmet or Dan Marino yell
at the players or Atkins get in a shouting match with Olivadotti? It's
because they are fired up and they *do* care. They care very much.
They are losing because they are not executing the fundamentals -
they are dropping passes, committing penalties, not tackling and not
But why are they not executing the fundamentals? Each and every
professional football player in the NFL has been taught the fundamentals
of football since they were in high school (or even before); they
practice them every week, and it should be second nature to them.
Nevertheless, this team is not executing the fundamentals.
So why aren't they? Why are the Dolphins not playing good basic
Sometimes, in my spare time, I do some amateur acting with community
theater groups. And one thing that actors talk about a lot is
concentration. The need to maintain concentration on stage, the need to
have total concentration while playing a part.
In acting, concentration means exactly what it sounds like - it
means paying attention to what's going on around you. You have to
concentrate in order to say your lines at the right time and to be where
you're supposed to be on stage.
In other words, concentration is necessary to execute the fundamentals
Well, the same applies in football. Concentration on the ball is
what keeps you from dropping passes and concentration on the count is
what keeps offensive lineman from false starts. Concentration on
tackling is how you wrap up an opposing running back at the line of
scrimmage, instead of bouncing off him. It's also how you hold on to
the ball instead of fumbling.
But concentration is really just another symptom of what's at the
root of this team's problems. What's really wrong with this team is a
lack of discipline.
With it, teams play tough, mistake-free football and win games -
like the Kansas City Chiefs. They are not exceptionally talented, but
they are disciplined. And they are 10-2.
Without discipline, they fumble, miss tackles, block poorly, commit a
lot of penalties.... and lose a lot. Kind of like the Dolphins.
Now discipline comes from a lot of places. In some cases, players
have enough self-discipline to take care of themselves - like Dan
Marino, Jerry Rice and Bruce Smith. However, most players (particularly
the younger ones), need a good dose of healthy external discipline to
keep them focused on their responsibilities.
There are a lot of ways to instill discipline. You can be very
tough and have a lot of rules, like Dan Reeves or Tom Coughlin. But you
don't have to be a super tough guy - you can also instill discipline
through respect, admiration and trust, like George Seifert or Joe Gibbs.
No matter how it's done, though, it has to be done.
And it's the head coach's job to ensure that it gets done. He
doesn't have to give the orders, but he at least has to be sure that
they are given. He is ultimately responsible for discipline on his
team, however he achieves it, but achieve it he must or the team will
never be a winning team.
This may also involve getting rid of players who are disruptive to
discipline. Being disruptive to overall discipline has a much more far
reaching effect than just missing a tackle or dropping a pass. And
players that are disruptive to team discipline must either be knocked
into line or gotten rid of.
So after a lot of long winded arguments, I have finally come to the
point. And the point is this: the Dolphins obviously lack discipline and
I, despite my immense respect and admiration for the man, have to pin the
blame on Don Shula.
You can point fingers at individual players or at assistant coaches
all you want, but if they lack discipline, it's up to the head coach to
do something about it. And Don Shula has not done anything about it
Now, I have been a Shula supporter for all of the 25 years that
Shula has been the head coach in Miami. That is, up until now. The
failures of this team ultimately stem from a lack of basic discipline
and the responsibility for that lack of discipline rests squarely on Don
In the past, the Dolphins were always among the least penalized teams
in the league. This year, they have set a record for the most
penalties ever in a single game (14 against New England) are in the top
5 in most penalized teams in the league. This comes from a lack of
The dropped passes, the bad tackling, the poor blocking and the
losses all come from a lack of discipline. Discipline that should come
from Don Shula.
Why has Coach Shula lost his ability to instill discipline on his
team (and make no mistake about it, the Dolphins are his team)?
I don't know. I have a lot of theories, depending on my mood, but
the most logical seems to be that he lacks the energy necessary. Either
his attention is directed elsewhere or he is not as energetic as he
used to be. But he clearly doesn't have the necessary energy anymore.
Having said that, I have to say that I don't believe for a minute that
Don Shula has lost his grasp of the technical aspects of the game. I believe
that his ability to create game plans and design schemes to defeat opposing
teams is as strong as it ever was.
But his ability to instill the necessary discipline on this team is
clearly waning. Whether this comes from age, from the change in his
life after the death of his wife and his subsequent remarriage or just
from burnout, I don't know. But I have finally come to the painful
conclusion that Don Shula is just not the coach that he used to be.
Fortunately for me, I don't have to figure out what to do about
this situation. That's up to Wayne Huizenga and his staff. And,
unlike some others who seem to know exactly what would be best for this
team, I cannot claim to know how this problem should be resolved.
But resolved it will be, one way or another. And, I believe it will
be resolved at the end of this season.
In fact, I believe that the only thing that will prevent this from
being the last year of the reign of Don Shula would be a SuperBowl
appearance by the Dolphins. And while that is still a possibility, it
will involve a level of consistent play from now to the end of the
season that the Dolphins haven't shown this year.
Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong
Personally, I sincerely hope that Don Shula is allowed to retire on
his own terms at the end of this year. Because if he doesn't, I'm
pretty sure that businessman Wayne Huizenga will fire him, friendship or
And, if nothing else, Don Shula deserves to be given the chance to
retain his dignity.
As to who should take Don Shula's place, I have no answers. I
believe that is was Clarence Darrow who said "I do not pretend to know
where so many ignorant men are sure".
So that about does it, I guess. Hopefully, the season will end on
an up note and the team can go through all the changes that will take
place during the off-season in a good, positive spirit. But you can
bet, that no matter what happens, the results will be because someone
... On Porpoise