Insiders

Miami Dolphins Organization Shows Maturation

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In speaking about NFL franchises, so much focus is on the production of players on the field and the leaders of men coaching to propel their team to the next level. Expectancy from fans and pundits of ownership to keep churning and burning until the right blend of players, coaches, and front office men are found; sometimes focus is lost on the importance of ownership.

Seldom is it spoken about how ownership is where it all begins for a franchise, how the owner truly holds all the keys to their team’s success. They cut the checks, they speak to the consultants, they hire and fire as they see fit while demanding a winning product displayed on the field.

This past Sunday, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross seemed to take a step in his own development.

When Ross proclaimed, “He’s coming back!,” in the locker room after Sunday’s home victory over the Minnesota Vikings for Joe Philbin returning as head coach, Ross illustrated his maturation as an owner.

“Things are happening as an organization. I think everyone feels the buzz that things are changing around here,” Ross explained. “They say patience is a virtue, you know. But I’m expecting big things next year — I will tell you that.”

Since taking over as owner of the Miami Dolphins, Ross is not unlike any other player, coach, or general manager he’s employed. Exposed to a new position with a new team, development was needed on his behalf upon taking over ownership status from Wayne Huizenga.

Yes, Ross is one of the most savvy business men in the country, but this is his first rodeo as an owner of a sports franchise and just like doing anything else for the first time, there are growing pains to be endured.

Heading into the 2010 season, Ross endured a valuable life lesson; the NFL, while similar in some respects, is not like corporate America. With former head coach Tony Sparano coming off his second consecutive losing season, Ross reached out to fellow Michigan alumnus Jim Harbaugh about the prospect of coaching the Dolphins and created a media storm along with it.

Eventually spurned by Harbaugh and forced to give his lame duck coach an extension in order to save face, Ross learned decisions in the NFL have too many social and community implications to make them hastily.

In the business world, Ross’ actions would have been viewed as a killer whale making moves in shark infested waters; a shrewd and cut throat decision that is normally commended by taking that initiative. In the NFL, all this does is start the rumor mill, begin fan panic, ramp up unnecessary negative media coverage and eventually lead to the media storm it became.

A stain that remained like a skid mark lingering around well after general manager Jeff Ireland’s firing. Joe Philbin was hired as head coach after being spurned by Jeff Fisher because of what happened with Sparano, then multiple candidates were given hesitation about accepting offers for the open GM position, eventually turning down the ‘Fins as well, and leading to the hiring of current GM Dennis Hickey who was not the team’s first choice.

When speaking about the Miami Dolphins, it must be taken into account that this is a franchise which has missed the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year, a team which has only one playoff berth in the past 13 seasons, and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2000 when they beat Peyton Manning’s Colts in an overtime Wild Card game in Miami.

So the uproar for change after missing the playoffs is understandable when soaking in that perspective. This year, after a third straight season of missing the playoffs under Joe Philbin and the falling out Jim Harbaugh is having with the San Francisco 49ers, it seemed as if the writing was on the wall. With fans and media pundits alike knowing the ties between Ross and Harbaugh, speculation was running rampant.

But Ross has matured now as an owner, instead of getting rattled by not making the playoffs again under his watchful eye, he analyzed the team and saw improvement. He sees a young quarterback starting to develop at a faster rate, sees a team with an abundance of talent, and sees a team playing every game tough to the finish. This was factored in and led to his ultimate decision of practicing patience and allowing continuity to develop.

Ross didn’t have to look far for examples of patience working out as all he had to do was look at the career of a coach he had targeted once before.

St. Louis Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher went 7-9 followed by three consecutive 8-8 seasons in his first four full seasons as head coach with the Tennessee Titans. During that time he developed as a head coach and kept at it while his young quarterback, Steve McNair, made the leap in his development that carried them all the way to the Super Bowl in his fifth full season as coach.

Nowadays the leash is much shorter in letting coaches and players build chemistry. It’s almost as if there’s a three year rule being enforced to defecate or get off the pot when it comes to team success. There’s no reason to churn and burn so hastily after three seasons that saw positive progression. Ross was right to not jump the gun with Philbin, as he and a young Ryan Tannehill only need to continue their development, make bigger strides each year til they reach the level of consistency they need to fulfill their potential and become the consistent winner Miami has longed for.


About Tony Lopez

Tony Lopez

Tony Lopez is a Part-Time Jedi and Full-Time Football Insider who has used the force to cover the NFL since 2009. Formerly a radio intern for "The Fabulous Sports Babe" and then co-host to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, Lopez took his talents to South Beach where he's contributed to the FanSided Network and Bleacher Report over the years.