Stephen Ross' Loyalty To Jeff Ireland: Stroke Of Genius Or Serious Error Of Judgment?

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 01: A banner plane with a message to owner Stephen Ross and General Manager Jeff Ireland of the Miami Dolphins fly's over Sun Life Stadium prior to taking on the New York Jets on January 1, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Owner Stephen Ross refused to restructure the Dolphins organization to accommodate Jeff Fisher. Was it worth it?

The week-long saga of where Jeff Fisher would be coaching next season came to an end on Friday when he chose the St. Louis Rams over the Miami Dolphins. The reported reason for his decision was that Miami Dolphins owner, Stephen Ross, wouldn't take any team control away from general manager, Jeff Ireland. Fisher supposedly wanted some personnel control, but Ross was unwilling to give Fisher what he wanted.

So the Dolphins' search for a head coach will continue as Fisher gets settled in St. Louis. It is clear that the search should, and most likely will, only include candidates who are willing to cede final personnel decisions to Ireland. Ireland's power is a hotly debated topic, since his credentials are rather limited.

Ireland came to Miami as a part of the Bill Parcells regime. Both Parcells and his hand-selected head coach, Tony Sparano, are no longer with the team. It stands to reason that the Dolphins would want to go in another direction, especially since the team has suffered through three straight losing seasons. However, Ireland has been retained and given full authority over personnel by Ross. There are diverging opinions about Ireland and his worth as a general manager. If you look at the body of work since Bill Parcells arrived, you can say that Ireland's tenure has been mostly a failure. However, if you look at the team's past offseason - Ireland's first with full control over personnel decisions - it was relatively successful, especially given the small window of time created by the lock out.

Take a look back at the 2011 NFL Draft. The Dolphins had six picks and used those to select C Mike Pouncey, RB Daniel Thomas, WR Clyde Gates, FB Charles Clay, DE Frank Kearse, and CB Jimmy Wilson. It may not look like the sexiest draft of all time, but Pouncey was named an alternate for the AFC Pro Bowl squad, Gates was serviceable as a return man, Clay showed some play-making ability late in the season, and Wilson had his moments and is more talented than most seventh rounders. Thomas has shown skills, but was hampered by hamstring injuries this year. If he can get and stay healthy, he can be a successful running back. Gates needs to improve his routes, but he is the fastest receiver on the team. Kearse is currently on the Carolina Panthers. Overall, it was a successful draft and it was Ireland's first.

I have already discussed some of Ireland's off-season successes and failures here, but some things are worth reiterating. RB Reggie Bush, who at the time of the previous article had rushed for 667 yards in 12 games, proceeded to rush for 419 yards in his final three games for the first 1,000 yard season in his career. He is signed next year for a mere $5 million. LB Kevin Burnett was second on the team with 105 tackles and also recorded two and a half sacks, one interception, and eight tackles for a loss. There was also the signing of QB Matt Moore, but I'm still skeptical of how much that signing was meant to challenge QB Chad Henne at the beginning of the season, so I will abstain from praising Ireland too much about that signing.

T Marc Colombo was a mistake, and there is no other way to say that. Ireland also cut CB Will Allen only to have New England Patriots QB Tom Brady torch him in Week 1. Allen was promptly resigned. These mistakes don't worry me too much, since all executives make mistakes. Hopefully Ireland will learn from his in future evaluations.

As you can see, Ireland is off to a pretty good start on his own. His hits have certainly helped the team more than his misses have hurt. Most of the major mistakes while he has been general manager occurred when Bill Parcells was the "football czar," from free agent busts (C Jake Grove, C Joe Berger, S Gibril Wilson, WR Ernest Wilford) to draft picks gone awry (QB Pat White, WR Patrick Turner, QB Pat White, DE Phillip Merling...QB Pat White). But is it worth keeping Ireland and missing out on a great, experienced coach like Jeff Fisher?

That is the million dollar question and this decision can either catapult the Dolphins into the group of elite teams or serve as a reminder how bad ownership decisions can mire a team in mediocrity. Ross has made his choice and, for better or worse, is married to Ireland as general manager. Dolphins fans just have to hope there isn't a messy divorce in a year or two.

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