The state of the Miami Dolphins is in great hands with owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland. However, from the outside looking in, the Dolphins’ organization appears to struggle in their attempts to become a consistent winner and a respectable franchise once again.
And it’s not that the franchise’s leaders are not tying, but the Dolphins’ organization has struck out more time than they have hits.
A year ago, Dolphins’ management attempted to sign Jim Harbaugh as their new head coach to lead their young rebuilding team, despite then-head coach Tony Sparano, now the New York Jets’ offensive coordinator, being employed for that position. Instead, Harbaugh decided to remain in the Bay Area and became the San Francisco 49ers’ head man.
Jeff Fisher was on the Fins’ radar before the Rams locked their heat seekers on him and shot the former Tennessee Titans’ head coach down to St. Louis.
The Dolphins had a bit of hope to sign quarterback Peyton Manning, which would have, temporarily, put them back on the map, until he decided to join the Denver Broncos to be their signal caller. At least, Manning did let the Dolphins down easy by calling them first.
With all the recent bad news the Dolphins’ organization received, apparently, there are left with nothing and have no headliner to attract players and peak fans’ interest.
Nevertheless, the Dolphins are not in bad shape, as they have talent on both sides of the ball and have been through the fire. New head coach Joe Philbin is ready for the task of leading his young team and at the NFL Owners Meeting Monday, Ross and Ireland expressed their passion to get the Dolphins back on track and their appreciation for their fans.
In Ross and Ireland’s own words, by courtesy of the Dolphins’ press release:
Stephen Ross Opening Statement: “Good afternoon. A beautiful day. I thank you guys for coming and giving us this opportunity to talk to you and talk to our fans which I think is very important. It’s been great to know and I think we’ve all seen it in the last week or two how passionate our fans are. I think that’s the good news and the bad news. I think it’s great they are passionate. We have great fans in South Florida and we all have one thing in common, we all want to see a winning football team. I guess everybody has ideas how do you get there but I’m very excited the way things are going on. We’ve had a lot of changes as you know. We have a new football coach. I think he once said, I’ve been speaking to him…he said you know, I thought it’d be great here but it’s even better than I thought it would be. I’m really enjoying being here and I think he’s very excited about what he’s doing and the direction he feels he can take this team and the great energy he’s really brought to our whole organization. We’ve also made some changes in the business side and Mike Dee is doing a great job from that standpoint. I think we probably have the best organization that the Dolphins have had in a long time. So I’m very excited about that. It also gives us a great chance to really engage in our fans. The time is right so I’m open to any questions and Mike (Dee) and Jeff (Ireland) are here and they can chime in.”
On how he addresses the concern that the fan believe the organization is in disarray – “I don’t think all the fans feel that way. I think there probably hasn’t been enough communication with them. We’re going to engage in that a lot more. I feel that with the changes we’ve had, I mean if people look at it today and they say hey, you haven’t gone out and gotten major free agents that maybe people thought you might have had. We look it at we’re in the process. Free agency has a period to run. I don’t know if there are a lot of major names out there but there’s the draft. There’s a whole plan that we have set forth. Some things go well; some things don’t go as you would have like them to go. I think you know what I’m referring to from that standpoint with regard to Peyton Manning. We’re looking to really take this football team to a different level.”
(On the decision to call the fan) – “I’m a passionate fan as they are. And when you really realize someone’s passionate enough they are going to go out and protest that’s the kind of person I want to talk to. I asked Mike (Dee) to find out who the fans were, who I could talk to somebody who’s that passionate.”
(On if he thinks this team is a playoff team or rebuilding) – “We think we have a fine nucleus. I think we’re excited about where we’re going. Rome wasn’t built in a day. When I came in here how poor the team was performing I think it’s done better. We were all very disappointed…I was like everybody else with the start we had last year. You saw what happen; you see the nucleus of this team. They continue to fight and I think they surprised everybody. I don’t think anybody’s ever had a turn around the last part of the season with a miserable start that they had. I think it tells a lot about the team and the personnel that we have. I think certainly we know where there are some weaknesses. We are looking at that. We look to really correct that.”
(On Coach Philbin in his tenure thus far) – “He’s much better than I even thought. I was excited about him. I wanted a coach that really came from a winning organization. The energy he’s brought to that, the staff that he’s assembled and the plan that he has, I think you’re going to see a lot more energy from this organization. I think you’re going to like the offense that he has. We all talked about offense. Everybody was always asking me do I want to open it up a little bit. I think we got the guy who really put together the best offense in the NFL. I think it’s very exciting. I think we’re going to see an exciting brand of football. We certainly have pieces we need to put together.”
(On how concerned he is with the perception of his franchise right now) – “You always want to be concerned. You listen to it. That’s why I really want to engage the fans. That’s why I made the phone calls. I think it’s unfair but look winning really resolves all issues. It’s like we haven’t lost anything. We all knew where we were at the end of the season. We’ve made some major changes and we’ll continue to look to upgrade the team anyway we can.”
(On the heat his General Manager has taken) – “I think it’s unfair. I don’t like it. I don’t think Jeff (Ireland) likes it. I think it’s unfair. I think the ideas were the fact that we didn’t get Peyton Manning. I think the fact that we are right in the middle of the process. It’s an unfinished product and I think to judge him at this point in time is not the right thing to do by anybody.”
(On if he reached out to more than one fan or just the one fan so far) – “I spoke to two fans.”
(On his decision to change Tony Sparano and retain Jeff Ireland) – “I mean if you look at his past. I think he’s done a great job with the draft. He’s a great talent evaluator. He is somebody who is as hard working as anybody I’ve ever met. He’s as smart as they come with the football side. And I think the idea is what are you judging him on. I think that the team is certainly not the same team that it was when he started here. It’s a lot better. When people feel that you should be there, that’s when the greatest frustration always is. I think we’re a lot closer and you got to get the brakes but you play the game to win. I mean, I’m interested in winning football games.”
(On how to excite the fans and getting a franchise quarterback) – “Well we’re going to keep looking certainly for upgrading that. I’m very excited about Matt Moore. We got so many people that really liked what Matt Moore did last year and I think as he got more experience the team got better. That’s a good place to start with and if we could continue that, that’d be great. There’s a lot of good personnel on that team.”
(On if there a miscalculation on the interest level that Peyton Manning would have in the Dolphins) – “I felt like a lot of people, I met with his father earlier in December. We spoke about it. He loves South Florida. I think it came down to he wanted be placed where he didn’t know anybody in our house. He wanted to be comfortable. He’d been at two teams his whole life and I think he judged it based on the fact where he would feel most comfortable where he had familiar faces around him. Because that’s what he was used to. But you know we gave it a big effort. He was the only franchise quarterback out there that we saw and what he could do for that team. Look it.. I went after him. If I didn’t go after him I wouldn’t be interested in really winning. I want to win today not tomorrow. It didn’t happen.”
(On how much he has learned in the last three years about being an NFL owner) – “It’s a real experience. I’ve had more owners come up to me and say hey, I didn’t know what was going on for four or five years once you step in there. This is a different business. You can succeed in business. It’s a lot easier to do that then it is, and it’s not that easy to do that in these times, but it’s difficult to really win. You know what players you want but that doesn’t mean you can get them. And there are a lot of things that are just out of your control. We’re all competitive as hell and I haven’t lost in many things and I’m not planning on losing here.”
Jeff Ireland: (On if he should not have been as powerful in saying he was going to address the quarterback situation) – “I don’t have any second thoughts on trying to address the quarterback position. I made it very clear that quarterback position needs to play better for us to have the ultimate success. I think we have addressed the quarterback position. There was in our estimation, there was one franchise quarterback out there that became available. We took a shot at him. We didn’t sit on the sideline hoping and wishing. We went after him. We didn’t achieve that goal. Other than that I think a lot is to be said about Matt Moore and what he was able to accomplish last year with limited, no OTA’s, limited training, limited knowledge of the offseason. He finished us 6-9. I have a great respect. I have a lot of confidence in Matt Moore. The second part of the plan if we didn’t achieve the Peyton Manning aspect was to provide a competitive atmosphere at the quarterback position to raise the play of the quarterback position. We felt like we’ve done that. We weren’t going to be reckless and go after players that we didn’t definitively think can beat out Matt Moore. We weren’t going to do that. We want to provide competitive environment at the quarterback position to raise the game of either Matt Moore or the competitor and we feel like we’ve done that with a seasoned veteran. A guy that’s been started a lot of games in this profession. I feel like he’s got a lot left. So we feel good where we are at the quarterback position at this time.”
(On the scrutiny that’s been coming his way) – “Comes with the job. It’s not my first time to have a little adversity. I think adversity is the companion of a champion or the enemy of the weak. So I believe in that. With responsibility becomes visibility and you know like Steve (Ross) said we have some passionate fans, as passionate as any place I’ve ever been. They have a right to voice their opinion and we’ve got to do a better job of communicating with our fans and making sure that we’re a little bit more transparent of what we’re trying to get accomplished. Steve’s made that point as well and we’re going to try to do that. But at the end of the game it’s about finding football players and winning games. And right now we’re in the finding football process and five months from now we’ll be winning, hopefully winning games.”
(On the final plan) – “Well I am not going to get into exactly what the plans are, we’re right in the middle of free agency. We’re trying to prepare for the draft fellas. And we’re trying to attack our musts. I think we did a pretty good job of retaining Paul Soliai which was a must. Keeping the inside front for the most part intact. We felt like upgrading the secondary was a position of need for us, the cornerback position. So we addressed that need. We’re going to continue to attacking our musts whether it be from a depth perception. We needed depth at the offensive line. We needed some more special teams players. So we’re addressing some of those. Maybe not all musts. There’s several needs and wants but we’re keeping our philosophy intact and that’s going after value in free agency and continuing to build through the draft.”
(On extending players’ contracts) – “Let me tell you, money will never be an issue for us becoming a winning football team that I can tell you right now. We have to live with the limitations of the salary cap as all teams do. Sometimes, you lose players. You have to put your money where you really think it’s going to make the biggest impact. But I think we have a lot of players expiring and we got to make sure we don’t make stupid mistakes by signing players with big names, with big salary bonuses that are really going to impact the cap. So you have to take that into consideration. The one thing I’ve learned in response to your question is this is one hell of a complex business. I got to tell you (laughing). Trying to figure out how you’re going to do things and maneuver things around within this system. And I think that’s very important and certainly those players that we know that are coming up we all know we want to retain them. We have to make sure we’re in a position to do that.”
Jeff Ireland: (On having a capable right guard and right tackle starters now on the roster) – “Well, like I said, we added some depth with Artis Hicks. I think he’s started somewhere along the line of 70 games in his career. He’s certainly something we needed to address more depth at the tackle position. We got John Jerry returning. We got Nate Gardner returning. We got Ryan Cook returning. We got some other young players there that have some upside so we feel fairly good at that position. But we’re going to continue to address the offensive line needs. That’s one must that we’re going to continue to do.”
Stephen Ross: “One of the great things when we were interviewing with Coach (Joe) Philbin was his emphasize on developing players and teaching technique and I think this is important. I think you’re going to see these players develop better than they have been in the past. I really have a lot faith in his ability and his belief that we have a good nucleus that he can develop to be a winning football team.”
(On Coach Joe Philbin’s development of players impact not signing big name free agents) – “Absolutely, it’s always better to do that. I think if at examples that we all look at clearly after evaluating him with what Green Bay has done. We should only get there. Question is; it starts this year. It’s great, but certainly it’s the best way to go. The best teams are really built through the draft. We want consistency here. I don’t want to come in one year and say hey we won it and back being below a .500 team. I want to be in the playoffs every year. I want to be in the hunt and you’re going to do that with consistency. You’re going to do that in the draft. You’re going to do that by being smart and having the right people there. I think we’re building a nucleus of that.”
(On not getting your first option as far as coaches and players) – “You know what, I’ll do it again and again. I’m going to be bold and you know what you don’t lose for trying. And if I could find the right guy, I’m going to be bold and getting him. I can’t worry about losing because nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Jeff Ireland: (On not trading up for the #2 pick in the draft, were you in the conversation) – “We had early conversations with them. I don’t want to get into depth of what we were willing to give up to obtain that pick. We had some early conversations with them, yeah.”
Jeff Ireland: (On talking about the Washington Redskin trading up for the #2 draft pick) –“That’s up to them. That’s the Washington Redskins and we’re the Miami Dolphins. And we got to conduct business the way we feel that’s right way to do business.”
Stephen Ross: (On players comments about the Miami Dolphins) – “I know one player that did that. You’re always going to find somebody that’s going to say something for whatever reason. Players might say that because they were dropped. They didn’t make the team. Other players came here and we didn’t meet their salary demands. People always want to say something because they like being in the spotlight often times. I know one thing, this is probably the best place in the NFL to play football and it will never stop us from getting another player in this organization. Players will want to play for this organization. The reputation that Coach (Joe) Philbin has and what he’s going to attract here and what we’re doing. I wouldn’t go with what one or two people might say.”
A Statement to the fans from Stephen Ross
“I would just want to thank the really good fans. We’re going to be engaging with you a lot more the fans. I think you’re going to see a different organization. You saw what we did here when we visited newspapers. We’re going to be a lot more responsive and I think you’re going to see that in the future.”