When former GM Jeff Ireland and the Miami Dolphins “mutually agreed to part ways” on Jan. 7, many expected owner Stephen Ross to hire a successor who would restore hope and excitement to a franchise that hasn’t seen much of either in recent years. What actually followed was a GM search that only brought embarrassment to the team.
One candidate after another turned down the job and, in many cases, even a simple interview. Ross’ insistence on a collaborative and apparently confusing power structure scared away the most qualified. Few were enthusiastic about working side-by-side with Vice President of Football Administration Dawn Aponte. Even less were willing to hook their wagon to head coach Joe Philbin.
Ross’ unwillingness to grant authority over Philbin’s fate to Ireland’s successor this offseason or next is said to be the biggest reason why so many declined to accept an interview or the actual job. While it’s quite clear that Ross believes in Philbin’s ability to eventually lead the Dolphins to the playoffs and beyond, it’s obvious that many front office executives around the league do not share that confidence in the third-year head coach.
In the end, settling for a hire who thought highly of Philbin — or coveted the title of GM and the money and notoriety that comes with it badly enough to overlook their doubts concerning the coach — became the compromise.
Dennis Hickey was that man, and was subsequently named GM on Sunday morning. Hickey previously served as director of player personnel for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; the same Buccaneers who had a GM opening of their own last week but never seriously considered promoting him.
When Hickey is introduced as the Dolphins’ new GM at a press conference this week, Ross will try to sell him to fans as the right man to build a winner. In reality, though, Ross would have said the same about anyone who took the job. The reason it will be Hickey is because he actually agreed to take it.
Essentially, Ross settled for the runt of the litter by hiring Hickey. That perception could very well prove to be unfair, and Hickey might turn out to be an apt GM.
However, there’s a reason Ross targeted several others before interviewing Hickey. There’s a reason Ross reportedly offered the job to Nick Caserio and Lake Dawson, and would have likely offered it to Ray Farmer after a second interview. There’s also a reason why the Buccaneers didn’t consider promoting Hickey. On paper, at least, Hickey wasn’t the most capable candidate. Nevertheless, he’s now the Dolphins’ GM.
By hiring Hickey, Ross confirmed that he values Philbin, the man who cooks the meal, more than the GM who buys the groceries. The owner is sticking his neck out for the head coach. He’s risking his already poor reputation on him, which is admirable in some ways.
That said, it all seems to be misguided. Has Philbin shown anything during his two-year stay in Miami that warrants the kind of trust Ross has in him? His 15-17 overall record indicates he hasn’t. The flat, uninspiring play of his team down the stretch of 2013 implies the same. While Ross is rightfully fond of the values Philbin has attempted to instill in the Dolphins, he must consider how flawed he has been at administering them.
Philbin appears to lack the strong personality that is needed to succeed as an NFL head coach. He reads speeches off of an index card in the locker room and lacks emotion on the sideline.
Still, Philbin has only been on the job for two years. While many fans undoubtedly disagree with the decision to retain him as coach, giving him one more season is understandable in some regards. What isn’t understandable, however, is risking a GM search to keep Philbin’s job security intact.
Hickey will make decisions this offseason that will shape the Dolphins’ roster for years to come in the foreseeable future. Jeopardizing those decisions with a potentially unqualified GM for Philbin’s sake could be another stain on Ross’ legacy in Miami.
If Philbin surfaces as a quality coach in year three and Hickey turns out to be an excellent GM, no harm will come about. If either doesn’t happen, though, Ross will have once again failed the Dolphins and their fans.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.