Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin stepped up to the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine on Thursday morning, attempting to do the impossible: Say something, anything to appease a caviling media and nation in regards to the infamous “Bullygate” saga that occurred on his watch.
Philbin was fighting a lose-lose battle from the beginning. When news broke that he wasn’t originally scheduled to speak, he was criticized. When he realized he probably needed to address the situation, criticism was still inevitable.
With a somewhat angry tone, Philbin attempted to exemplify accountability and assurance that nothing like this would ever happen again in Miami. If he was really responsible for the workplace environment of his team, like he claimed in the presser, the media began asking why he was still employed.
And when he attempted to exonerate himself from placing Richie Incognito in a leadership position with the Dolphins, citing that the country’s most notorious bully was voted to the council by his peers (including Jonathan Martin), the media was appalled that Philbin didn’t accept the onus for such an inexplicable allowance.
What became obvious on Thursday is that Philbin will be subjected to a negative narrative from now until his tenure in Miami concludes. That might be warranted in many regards. The Dolphins have oftentimes appeared unprepared on the field and the epitome of dysfunction off of it. But there is one way to reverse that trend: Win football games.
Is it really that simple?
What happened in the bullying controversy has nothing to do with on-field performance, after all. The criticism that has been aimed at Philbin has centered around incompetence and a lack of institutional control, not the ability to game plan and develop talent. But in football, like in many sports and aspects of life, perception can outweigh reality.
The truth is, had Philbin led the Dolphins to a successful season in 2013, had he already established himself as a proven head coach, Dolphins fans everywhere would have defended him and his comments on Thursday. Just like when New England Patriots fans defended Bill Belichick in the wake of “Spygate,” just like when New Orleans Saints fans stood up for Sean Payton during “Bountygate,” many Dolphins fans would have tailored their respective perceptions and arguments to vindicate Philbin — had he led the Dolphins to more wins in 2012 and 2013.
What is the difference between what happened in New England and New Orleans and what is happening in Miami? Belichick and Payton were proven winners with Super Bowl rings already in the fold while Philbin’s Dolphins have yet to earn a playoff berth.
Fair or foul, the pile-on negativity that Philbin has been subjected to over the past few months has been intensified by the poor performance of his team. Philbin would still be facing criticism for what happened in the Incognito/Martin fiasco had the Dolphins won more games this past season or the year before, but his path to atonement wouldn’t be as seemingly insurmountable.
As cliche as it may sound, “winning cures all” applies to Philbin and the Dolphins now more than ever. The old saying should be at the center of Philbin’s mindset moving forward. There’s nothing he can say or do between now and when the Dolphins take the field again to lessen the flak he’s taken and will continue to take from the media and Miami fans alike. Winning is the only antidote.
This isn’t about whether or not Philbin deserves the condemnation he’s received. It’s not about whether he should have been aware of what allegedly transpired inside the Dolphins’ locker room. It’s not about what he should have done; it’s merely a matter of what he can do now.
Obviously, preventing similar embarrassment from ever leaking out of Miami again is imperative. Another national controversy would make it undeniable that Philbin is in over his head as an NFL coach. But he still must accompany monitoring his players more intently with winning.
Every member of the organization could become model citizens from this point on, but if Philbin doesn’t win in 2014 it won’t matter — at least not in regards to his job security.
Philbin is set to enter a win or go home season with the Dolphins. I suppose that makes him like many other NFL head coaches — some normalcy despite the franchise’s current predicament being anything but.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.