Despite Extension, The Heat Is Still On Philbin In Miami


At every job in every profession, there is some level of immediate performance expected, but few jobs are as heavily or publicly scrutinized as that of an NFL head coach. While teams hope for immediate success when bringing in a head coach, new hires are typically given three or four years to put their stamp on a team. For Miami Dolphins’ head coach Joe Philbin, who is getting ready for his fourth season at the helm in Miami, the expectations for 2015 are clear: It’s time for Philbin to win, or it will likely be time for the Dolphins to move on.

While some may view Philbin’s one year extension as a sign of the team’s dedication to making it work, a one year extension in football is a pretty clear message. Unless you’re a Super Bowl winning head coach who’s nearing the end of an illustrious career like Tom Coughlin, the one year extension typically says, “Get it done, or you’re out.” That’s clearly not the way Dolphins owner Stephen Ross sees it, as Ross believes the proverbial vote of confidence can only help Philbin.

“I really believe you don’t get the best out of somebody when they’re operating with a gun to their head,” Ross said Monday at the NFL meetings in Phoenix.

The Dolphins clearly had a long way to go when they hired Philbin to lead the team in 2012, but as is the case for any new head coach, the goal is to change the direction of the franchise, and to do so in short order. For Miami, the direction has been all too familiar, and that direction has often been heading to nowhere, fast. If there’s one thing you can say about the Dolphins, they’ve been consistent. Unfortunately for Dolphins fans, they’ve been consistently mediocre.

The team that was once the standard for greatness has become the standard for average in the new millennium. With the exception of four seasons, the Dolphins have been average or below average since 2000. The turn of the century started well for the Dolphins, who won 11 games in both 2000 and 2001, but Miami has won nine games or less nine times since. When a team has been average for so long, a new head coaches’ first job is to end the streak of mediocrity.

Dolphins’ fans have become far too accustomed to seeing average, and Philbin knew his Dolphins had to break the string of almost-good-enough seasons if he was going to stay in Miami. Unfortunately for Philbin, it’s been just more of the same under his watch, as Miami has won between six and eight games every season since the team’s last playoff appearance in 2008. To Philbin’s defense, the Dolphins haven’t been bad during his three seasons as head coach in Miami, but remaining average just isn’t enough to hold onto a head coaching gig in the NFL.

The Dolphins have swung for the fences during Philbin’s time, signing big name free agents like Mike Wallace and Dannell Ellerbe to massive contracts. This year Miami didn’t hesitate to throw money around again, as Miami reeled in the big whale of NFL free agency, making former Lions’ defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh the highest paid defensive player in NFL history. Suh is the kind of signing that says, “We’re ready to win now,” and for Philbin’s sake, the Dolphins better be.

Ross has shown a propensity and desire to make a splash, and if making a splash in free agency doesn’t work, it’s likely the next round of money tossing may involve tossing a chunk of change to make a splash on a head coach.

A year ago, the Dolphins looked like they were on the cusp of something special some weeks, and just the same old Dolphins in others. Miami’s season started with a commanding victory over the New England Patriots, included a 38-0 bludgeoning of the San Diego Chargers, and a 27-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers which took a last-second, touchdown pass by Aaron Rodgers to pull off. While those games proved the Dolphins were talented enough to hang with some of the best teams in football, Miami’s games against teams like the Jets, and their blowout losses to New England, Buffalo and Kansas City showed why Miami was again an inconsistent, mediocre football team.

This year’s offense may take some time to gel as well, after Miami traded Mike Wallace, released Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, and saw tight end Charles Clay leave via free agency. Miami addressed the losses by trading Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round draft pick for Saints receiver Kenny Stills, and by signing tight end Jordan Cameron.

While some might be surprised the Dolphins would overhaul the offense so drastically, many of the changes will likely be good for Tannehill. The play of Wallace and Gibson was very inconsistent, and their departure opens up the door for last year’s leading receiver, rookie Jarvis Landry, to step into a starring role in his sophomore campaign. The Dolphins won’t settle with only Landry, Stills and Jordan Cameron, as the team still looks determined to add talent at the receiver position, as evidenced by their recent talks with Michael Crabtree.

Despite the roster overhaul, Philbin doesn’t have the luxury of treating this like a rebuilding year. Philbin can’t approach this season as one where the new guys can get comfortable to set them up for a run next year. If Philbin’s Dolphins don’t at least finish second in the AFC East, you’d have to assume there won’t be a next year for him in Miami.

While it looks like the Dolphins have progressed under Philbin, it’s time for that progress to get them over the hump. Philbin has now had three seasons to implement his plan and to put his stamp on the Dolphins. The Bills who finished just above Miami at 9-7 were very aggressive in addressing their offensive deficiencies this off-season, and the Jets who may have had the best off-season of any team in football, won’t make a Miami ascension easy, but they will make it necessary.

Philbin just can’t allow two first year head coaches to turn things around quicker than his Dolphins.

Miami is flashy, and it’s clear the Dolphins want to be as well. Philbin is anything but flashy, but that won’t matter if he can prove that he can take advantage of an AFC East with two new head coaches, and a Patriots team that’s lost a lot of talent.  If the Jets, who are coming off of a dreadful season, or the Bills who had their head coach skip town on them, can finish above Philbin’s Dolphins who have had a ton of resources spent to make him and the team successful, it’s hard to see how he keeps his job after 2015.

About Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan has covered the NFL for almost a decade and is a host and producer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio flagship 620WDAE/95.3FM. Pat covers the NFC South and NFC East for Football Insiders. Follow him on Twitter, @PatDonovanNFL.