The mistakes Huizenga has made
During a 40-minute meeting with South Florida reporters Friday he uttered the words, "I take the blame," and "The buck stops here," and "I take that one," too many times to count. It was encouraging and sad at the same time to see Mr. H take the blame so often when not all of the Dolphins problems are his doing.
As he said, "I can't win from the owner's box."
But then I read a column in the Sun-Sentinel by my friend Dave Hyde who wrote, in part, that Huizenga has really only made ONE mistake -- that being the hiring of Dave Wannstedt. And while I like both Mr. H's (Huizenga and Hyde) I feel compelled to make the record clear.
Huizenga has done a million things correct for the Dolphins. But he has made multiple bad moves that have led the franchise to its current difficult state. These are those missteps:
*He cannot be blamed for hiring Jimmy Johnson the first time. But the second time? Absolutely. After J.J. quit for 24 hours following the 1998 season, Huizenga rushed over, ignored the obvious signs Jimmy didn't want to coach anymore, and convinced Jimmy to return. The owner offered to have J.J. coach only home games if he wanted, encouraged him to make more time for his family, and generally forced Jimmy to do something he didn't want to do.
Jimmy responded by staying another year in which he missed meetings, had the WORST DRAFT OF HIS CAREER in the spring of 1999, feuded with Dan Marino, melted down after every loss, and bullied Kippy Brown into running a dumbed-down offense. It was a joke. And it was Huizenga's doing for forcing Johnson to stay.
*Huizenga himself blamed himself for hiring Dave. That was one mistake I assume everyone blames Huizenga for. But it was actually three mistakes rolled into one. First, Huizenga allowed JJ, who had just failed in every way imaginable, to convince him to hire Dave. That's failing to recognize you have the wrong people giving you bad advice, which is one mistake.
Then he hired Wannstedt knowing the guy had just failed with the Chicago Bears, an undertaking he would soon continue with the Dolphins. Two mistakes. Then after the 2003 season, upon realizing Wannstedt had lost all resonance in the locker room, upon realizing Wannstedt was inept at drafting talent, he demoted Wannstedt, taking away his GM powers, but kept him as coach. Kept him! Even after he knew Wannstedt wasn't the right guy.
Huizenga has told me he looked around but couldn't bring himself to ditching Wannstedt because the guy had won 10 games in 2003. Another mistake. The Dolphins started out 2004 winless in six games and Huizenga basically fired Wannstedt after that.
*Huizenga also conducted a long-winded, wide-ranging search for a GM in 2003. He interviewed Phil Savage, who helped build Baltimore and is now doing good work in Cleveland. He interviewed Ted Thompson, who has rebuilt Green Bay. He interviewed and got advice from Ron Wolf, who built Green Bay's Super Bowl teams of the late '90s.
Having done all this legwork, Huizenga hired .... Rick Spielman. That's a HUGE mistake that cost the Dolphins an entire draft.
*Finally, Huizenga realized sometime before the 2004 season how disconnected he was from the team. He realized how little he knows about football. So he decided to go get a football man that was also a man he could trust to be his liaison with the team, his eyes and ears so to speak. The guy would go to meetings, watch film and, as Don Shula has famously said, "evaluate the evaluators."
Huizenga realized all these flaws within himself and the organization and to correct them he decided Dan Marino was the right man for the position. He got a "yes" from Marino after talking to him for only two hours. And instead of letting Marino sleep on the decision, maybe talk to Claire Marino about it, Huizenga hurriedly called a press conference to announce the hiring. (Remember Spielman saying he didn't know anything had happened until he was told to go home and put on a suit for a press conference?)
So Marino is introduced and a week later, after thinking about it, he quits, giving the organization another black eye. The execution of that drama was a MAJOR mistake.
And that's not the worst part of that mistake. Having had this epiphany that a football man was needed near the top of the organization, a man who would report directly to Huizenga, the owner never went back to the idea after Marino walked away. What, Marino was the only guy who could do that job?
Now the team is about to embark on this self-analysis in which everyone will be evaluated. Except who's doing the analysis? The football people will be evaluated by folks whose expertise is not in football. The evaluators are fine head-hunters and great lawyers and contract men, but by their own admission, they can't evaluate the Xs and Os.
Huizenga needs that football guy he longed for all those years ago -- that guy he never really tried to find after Marino walked away. And failing to return to that specialist it seems to me, is just another mistake.