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)
The Miami Dolphins' organizational dysfunction shows no signs of ending. Where did it all go wrong?
The Miami Dolphins really should think about changing their fight song. The lyrics are downright laughable at this point.
"Miami has the Dolphins, the greatest football team". They're not even the greatest team in their own state anymore.
"We take the ball from goal to goal like no one's ever seen". More like from 20 to 20 and then maybe kick a field goal.
"And when you say Miami, you're talking Super Bowl". Well, maybe if the city is hosting it, but the Dolphins surely won't be playing in one anytime soon.
It's sad to say, but the Dolphins have fallen a long way from their glorious past. Due to horrendous management and the inability to find a franchise quarterback since the departure of Dan Marino, the Dolphins, once South Florida's most prominent franchise, are in shambles. This offseason, with their inability to draw any premier free agents and classless personnel decisions, has displayed the full extent of the Dolphins dysfunction. Yet, the worse part for the Fins is not even that South Floridians are angry about their decisions, it's that they've started to become apathetic because it's expected with this franchise.
When Bill Parcells was hired to become the Czar of Dolphins football operations in December of 2007, there was finally some hope around the listless franchise that had just gone 1-15. The team had only been to the playoffs twice in the seven years since Marino retired (losing in the second round to Oakland in 2000 and in the first round to Baltimore in 2001) after previously making the playoffs 10 times in Marino's 17 seasons. Parcells had a proven track record and he started by cleaning house, firing GM Randy Mueller and head coach Cam Cameron. He replaced them with Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano, respectively. Finally, the Dolphins were expected to regain their rightful place as Super Bowl contenders with Parcells at the helm.
However, Parcells' football philosophy was old and outdated. On offense, Parcells and head coach Tony Sparano favored a run heavy offense, when the teams that were clearly succeeding in the NFL (think Saints, Colts, Patriots and Packers) had moved on to a philosophy centered around a dynamic passing attack. The team became fixated on acquiring Dallas Cowboy's castoffs, because, you know, if they're not good enough in Dallas they'll definitely be great in Miami.
Parcells and Ireland repeatedly said they would build through the draft, which is the only way to build a quality NFL team, but missed with picks all too frequently. With the 32nd pick in the 2008 draft the Dolphins selected Phillip Merling, passing on players like Matt Forte, DeSean Jackson and Ray Rice. With the 57th pick in the same draft they took Chad Henne and passed on Jamaal Charles and Carl Nicks. Now it's easy to sit here and criticize in hindsight, but some of the picks were downright baffling. Pat White in the 2nd round in 2009? They passed on guys like LeSean McCoy and Mike Wallace. While there's still time for some of these prospects to pan out, Parcells decided he wasn't going to stick around to find out and left the Dolphins organization in March of 2011 for the cozy confines of ESPN. Somehow, Parcells has largely managed to escape the blame for the Dolphins doldrums from both the media and the fans.
After Tony Sparano was shown the door at the end of last season, the only one remaining from the so-called "Trifecta" is current GM Jeff Ireland. Ireland has drawn the most ire from South Florida fans, who at one point last season hired a plane to fly above Sun Life Stadium carrying a banner calling for his firing. And rightly so. If there is one person that represents the dysfunction going on with the Dolphins, it is Jeff Ireland.
Ireland has been the man in charge of a series of miscues that have embarrassed the once proud franchise and turned it into the laughingstock of the NFL. During an interview with then Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant before the 2010 NFL Draft, Ireland had the gall to ask him if his mother was "a prostitute". Ireland quickly apologized for his lack of judgment but the damage was already done.
Before the 2011 season, owner Stephen Ross and Ireland tried to woo then Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh into becoming head coach for the Fins, even though Sparano was still the current head coach. However, the plan quickly backfired when Harbaugh turned down the Dolphins to coach the San Francisco 49ers. Ireland and Ross returned to South Florida with their tails between their legs and sheepishly offered Sparano a two- year contract extension. Yet, everyone knew Sparano was a lame duck coach and the team responded in kind with an 0-7 start, leading to his firing at the end of the season. You can't make this stuff up.
During the current offseason, things have continued to spiral downward for the Dolphins. First, the Fins swung and missed on landing Jeff Fisher as head coach, settling for former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. The Dolphins then failed to land Peyton Manning, someone who instantly could have restored credibility to the downtrodden franchise. To make matters worse, the Dolphins missed out on signing Matt Flynn, who spurned the Fins for the Seattle Seahawks, and settled for David Garrard, a 34 year old QB coming off back surgery. Putting the cherry on top of the bizarre offseason sundae, the Dolphins traded their best wide receiver, Brandon Marshall, to the Chicago Bears for two third round picks (leaving them with a receiving corps of Brian Hartline and Davone Bess) and cut defensive captain Yeremiah Bell, after initially telling Bell's camp he would remain with the team. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.
The Dolphins and Ireland have become such a joke that current NFL players, including Steeler's safety Ryan Clark, have started to take pot shots at them on twitter accounts. Former Dolphins Joey Porter and Channing Crowder recently blasted them in the press. Disgruntled fans even protested in front of team headquarters on Tuesday, but these people are sadly in the minority right now. If you ask someone from South Florida about the Dolphins these days, most will respond with shoulder shrugs and looks of what do you expect?
Yet, the Dolphins biggest problem of all may be the current sports scene in South Florida. Since the signing of the "Big Three", the Miami Heat has become the region's number one team. The Miami Marlins created a huge buzz in the offseason by signing Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and bringing in Ozzie Guillen as manager to go along with the opening of a new stadium. Even the Florida Panthers, a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2000, are poised to not only make the playoffs, but also win their division and secure a top three seed in the Eastern Conference, after overhauling their roster in the offseason. As most people are aware of, South Floridians are largely a front running crowd, and with the success of the other major pro teams of the area, people will simply find other things to do.
Unless the Dolphins can figure things out fast, they'll continue to lose local support. Sun Life Stadium will once again look like the Florida Marlins are playing there. However, with Jeff Ireland and Stephen Ross at the helm, don't expect the Dolphins to right the ship anytime soon. Like Alice's trip down the rabbit hole, the saga of the Fins will only become stranger and more surreal. As things get weirder, the only consistency will be in the mediocrity of the team.
Maybe they will change that fight song though. Something like, "Miami Dolphins, Miami Dolphins, Miami Dolphins number...17...23...28?" Ah, who cares?