Jeff Fisher has decided to go to the St. Louis Rams. No great surprise there and, in my view, no great loss either. Today Dave Toub, my favorite head coach candidate, was rejected and Mike Zimmer is no longer in the running to be head coach of the Miami Dolphins. The latter is a bit of a surprise considering Zimmer's personal history with Jeff Ireland. Columnists, pundits, and bloggers have been speculating while simultaneously creating and feeding all types of rumors. The reality is that the Dolphin coaching search is top secret and nobody besides the participants really knows why some candidates are still in the running for the job and why most others have disappeared. Many observers are promoting specific candidates for reasons of personal self-interest. My only interest is to have the Miami Dolphins win games. I would love to be a "fly on the wall" at these interviews but, of course, I am not. Therefore, I will not speculate on the inner workings of the Dolphin hiring process.
A head coach is very different from a coordinator. The latter requires technical, detailed knowledge of a specific aspect of football. A head coach should, ideally, know everything his coordinators know plus have administrative skill, a keen overview of the entire team situation, an ability to motivate highly-paid individuals, a degree of charisma, and an eye towards the future. The vast majority of coordinators fail as head coaches because they lack one or more of these characteristics. There are potential disadvantages to hiring either successful coordinators or those with prior professional head coaching experience. The former may not be able to successfully translate their success as coordinators to the head coaching arena. The latter may not have learned to correct their errors from previous jobs. In essence, it is a bit of a crapshoot. College coaches are another option but, historically, most have failed at the NFL level. Jimmy Johnson and, now, Jim Harbaugh are two notable exceptions.
I prefer that the Dolphins hire an offensive-minded head coach. The team has been so offensively-challenged for so long that fans are starved for some semblance of consistent scoring. The two top rumored candidates, Mike McCoy and Joe Philbin, are offensive-minded. Both appear to be excellent prospects. I tend to favor McCoy because of his history with Matt Moore but Philbin is highly respected as well. Todd Bowles, a defensive-minded person, is still in the running and has the huge advantage of being a known quantity with detailed familiarity with the Dolphins situation. As time progresses and the Senior Bowl nears, Bowles application strengthens for this reason.
What are some take-home lessons from this difficult search for a Dolphins head coach? (1) The Dolphin organization is not highly respected any longer. This is gut-wrenching for any Dolfan who remembers the glory days of the 1970's when the team was the model NFL franchise (2) Stephen Ross is not regarded as a good owner and his failed pursuit of Jim Harbaugh last year was very costly in terms of organizational reputation (3) The Dolphins are regarded as a semi-permanent 9-7, 8-8, 7-9, 6-10 mediocre team that isn't bad enough to get a top draft choice nor good enough to make the playoffs (4) The burning Dolphin desire to obtain a franchise QB may be "too little too late" for most potential head coaches (5) Floridians' view of southern Florida as a tropical paradise that would help to attract the best head coach talent is not shared by most others in the NFL (6) Jeff Ireland may be disliked by Dolfans but is very highly respected in NFL circles (7) A quality QB may not be everything but head coach applicants very much prefer to start to construct a team at that position (8) Personal relationships are important but not a guarantee that the applicant will be hired (Ireland/Zimmer, Ireland/Fisher) (9) The ability to hire a quality staff quickly is an asset for a potential new head coach but not an absolute requirement (McCoy, Zimmer, Philbin) (10) The days of one single person running an NFL franchise a la Belichick and Shanahan may be coming to an end because of the complexity involved and (11) Teams must show good judgment and balance between keeping a failed head coach too long (Waanstedt) and the too rapid turnover of head coaches (Saban, Cameron, Sparano), the latter hurting the Dolphins presently.
I am still convinced that better days are ahead for the Miami Dolphins.