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Thursday, January 25, 2007

The coach free agency period

The month following the end of the NFL regular season is both a sad and exciting time for coaches. Some coaches are fired and find themselves in uncertain financial straits, while others are hired and secure their financial futures.

Others still are fired to get hired.

What is truly incredible is the diversity of opinion on some of the decisions that are made.

Let's see ... Cam Cameron impressed the Dolphins enough to get the head coaching job -- perhaps one of the best jobs in the NFL given the quality ownership and the caliber of people on the team's executive side.

Yet Cameron was not very impressive as far as the Rams, Falcons, Vikings and Cardinals were concerned. All four teams interviewed him the last two years and hired someone else.

Mike Tomlin, by all accounts a rising star, didn't rate a second interview with the Dolphins. He was hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ken Whisenhunt wasn't a finalist in Miami. He got the job in Arizona.

Jason Garrett didn't get an interview with the Dolphins for their head coaching job. He got one with the Dallas Cowboys. Norv Turner, a former Dolphins assistant, didn't get a sniff from the Dolphins but is highly regarded in Dallas.

Chan Gailey wasn't interviewed anywhere but Miami and Pittsburgh and was only a finalist in Miami, some say the second choice behind Cameron.

Dom Capers hasn't really been a popular interview around the league this year, ostensibly based on his past firings in Houston and Carolina. Well, the Dolphins thought enough of him to interviewed him.

The reason for such a difference of opinions on so many coaches is that this year there was no superstar candidate out there. There was no Bill Parcells, no Mike Holmgren.

Next year might be a different story. Next season Jeff Fischer may be out there. Next year Bill Cowher will be available. Next year there will be a consensus that these two guys are the best candidates going.

This year, any team hiring a coach, including the Dolphins, was making an informed guess on their coach. No doubt somebody will hit a home run -- I think Tomlin is one such choice.

But some teams have mortgaged the next three or four years of their teams' futures by making a poor investment on a bad hire that there was no NFL consensus about. Here's hoping the Dolphins are not in this category.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Dolphins' most important decision

I was talking to Rob Konrad, the former fullback turned investment banker and radio show host, about the changes the Dolphins made Friday.

He knew absolutely nothing about Cam Cameron and didn't apologize for it because he said the most important decision was one that sort of went under the radar in the press conference celebration introducing Cameron.

"It’s nice to have a new head coach and everything," Konrad said, "but I really believe the moves that Randy Mueller makes in the next few months will have more to do with the success of the Dolphins than Cam Cameron."

Amen brother.

(I'm sure I'll get crap from some of you Jesus haters for writing that.)

Anyway, I believe the reason the Dolphins have been in such dire straits, have been unable to get in the playoffs for five seasons, have been a shadow of the team they used to be, is because they have failed miserably in personnel.

Yes, Jimmy Johnson quit on the team his final year, the coaching was horrible under Wannstedt, and Saban made his share of mistakes. But these guys were basically living off Jimmy's first couple of drafts.

Jason Taylor came then, Zach Thomas came then, Pat Surtain and Sam Madison came then.

Now that owner Wayne Huizenga has gone away from having coaches with no experience in drafting (read Saban) pick players, gone away from having dummies (read Wannstedt) pick players, maybe Miami can once again dive into the talent pool and restock come April.

I have high hopes that Randy Mueller will do a good job. I'm not expecting him to hit on every pick -- nobody does. But if he gets a first-rounder this year that contributes, he will have done better than Saban did picking his first-rounder last year.

If his picks don't get hurt in training camp and miss the entire season, like Saban's did last year, it will be an upgrade. "You look at our draft classes, there have been horrible, horrible decisions made in recent years," Konrad told me.

No argument there. But you look at the new way of doing business in personnel, with a general manager getting input into the process, and that, I believe, is a fine, fine decision that was just made.

Maybe a better decision than picking the coach.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

No nepotism with the Dolphins

I posted a couple of hours ago a news story that said the Dolphins have indeed interviewed three, not two, coaches for a second time. That means there are three finalists as of this hour.

Chan Gailey.

Jim Mora.

And Mike Shula.

I can hear the rumblings from the naysayers now, some of whom work at my paper, thinking that Shula got an interview only because he is Don Shula's son. Wrong. Super wrong.

Shula may have gotten that first interview because of his last name, but his second interview that was complete with questions about his proposed staff additions, his offensive philosophy and so forth, had nothing to do with nepotism or favoritism.

It was about the Dolphins interviewing a solid coach candidate.

Moreoever, I had a conversation with a club official a few minutes ago and he assures me that all these interviews are being taken very seriously. It's not just done based on who is friendly with whom, it's done based on who has the ability to dig this franchise out of its grave.

As the official told me, the Dolphins are aware of Wayne Huizenga's strong desire to win now. And they know if they don't win now, heads are going to roll. So nobody is making this decision, nobody is staking his career and family's future, on making a decision based on friendship or familiarity.

So now that Shula is involved, do you like the idea of him as a head coach?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Please say no to Marty

There is a lot of speculation out there that the Dolphins might be interested in Marty Schottenheimer if he gets axed by the Chargers in the next couple of days.

The thinking is that Schottenheimer is a solid coach who has straightened out teams in Kansas City, Cleveland and San Diego. Once upon a time, there was talking within the Dolphins that if Don Shula could name his replacement it would have been Marty Schottenheimer because Shula has the utmost respect for the guy.

But I say if Miami seriously considers this, it's ridiculous.

Without taking into account how uncomfortable it would be to consider both Marty and Brian, his son who is a finalist already, there is a more compelling reason why the elder Schottenheimer is not a good fit.

Schottenheimer is the coach with the most NFL regular-season victories that has failed to win any championships. Why waste your time on a guy who has proven unable to win the big game despite having the best team -- as he did this year in San Diego?

I say pass on Marty. What do you think?

By the way guys, the Herald keeps track of how many hits each of its blogs get. This blog is fourth in the Herald's lineup of like 20 blogs for most hits since January. That's good if you don't mind being fourth.

But if you're like me, fourth doesn't mean squat. So start hitting the button more often. I'll try to post more stuff and more interesting stuff. By the way, the Herald doesn't pay me a penny more to do this, in case some of you degenerate thinkers were already going there.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

My leaders in the clubhouse

OK, in the next few days you'll be hearing that the Dolphins are in the process of checking their facts, reviewing their data, and poring over the information they gathered during those 12 interviews they just conducted.

They will then trim the list from 12 to whatever number of candidates actually excite them so that those guys can come back for some real football interviews with guys such as Don Shula and Dan Marino in the room.

I was not in on any of those interviews (Wayne didn't ask) but I'm going to give you my top four out of Miami's 12. We'll see how my top four compares to Miami's list, given that I had absolutely zero to do with the interviews.

1. Dom Capers. The devil you know is often the choice over the one you don't. Plus, Capers has been a coach and he's solid. He has the trust of his players. He knows how to coach defense, as proven by Miami's No. 4 overall ranking despite obvious limitations. And he offers some continuity and an ability to retain most of the current staff.

2. Mike Martz. The guy is bright ... sometimes too bright for his own good. I'm told his interview was unorthodox in that he pulled no punches, whereas other coaches might have been more diplomatic. I know the guy has issues running the ball and he isn't in love with Daunte Culpepper. But he knows offense and I think he might have learned from his failed experience in St. Louis.

3. Mike Tomlin. Surprise, right? Look, the guy seriously is a year or two away. But he is a star in the making. He took all the freaky personalities on the Minnesota defense and made them into one very competitive unit. He tells players what they have to do and WHY. That works in today's NFL. Plus he has great charisma. He's a long-shot right now, but I say the guy will be a head coach in a year or two if the Dolphins or Steelers don't snatch him this year.

4. Jim Mora Jr. Granted, the guy made a BIG mistake opening his mouth on that radio show and talking about bolting for Washington if the job opens up. That, more than anything, got him fired in Atlanta. In Miami, Wayne Huizenga would give him a hug and ask for suggestions on how to improve the team. The fact is Mora did a pretty fair job in getting the Falcons to the NFC title game three years ago. What? He forgot how to coach since then? As long as he doesn't bring the Atlanta offense with him, he deserves a second interview.

I left off Pete Carroll because he probably doesn't want to coach in the NFL -- not this year. Plus, you don't hire a guy who just said he is definitely staying at USC. Everyone here got peeved when Nick Saban said he wouldn't coach Alabama, then bolted. We shouldn't be hypocrites and take a guy who just said he's not leaving USC.

I also left off Cam Cameron, but that can change if the Chargers lose this weekend. The Dolphins are in a competitive situation here. They cannot wait until February to hire a coach. They would have to do exactly that if they want to hire guys like Ron Rivera and Ron Turner and Cameron. Sorry guys, but this is a case of success hurting you.

We'll see how I do. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What I think of what you think

If I read you guys correctly - through your posts on this blog and emails sent to me -- you're not too keen on the idea of hiring Pete Carroll to be Miami's new coach.

Something about him, "failing," as an NFL coach before.

That amazes me. I am not going to campaign for Carroll because I don't think he's the best available coach out there -- that would be either Mike Martz or Mike Sherman, in my estimation, as long as neither has personnel authority.

But you guys are saying things like, "I prefer Cam Cameron," or "Mike Singletary is a star in the making." That's crazy.

You guys don't know anything about these people other than what you know about them today. How many of you out there know Cameron's real first name? ....

Still no answer?

It's Malcom.

More importantly, how many know that the little kid on the skateboard down the street could get the San Diego offense to score points? Cameron may someday be a great head coach, but I know the last time he was a head coach anywhere he compiled a 18-37 record at Indiana.

Ron Turner make you tingle? He had a 35-57 record as a head coach at Illinois.

Ron Rivera? Never been a head coach anywhere.

Ken Whisenhunt? Never been a head coach anywhere.

Mike Tomlin? Never been a head coach anywhere.

So how can you rip a guy like Carroll -- who took teams to the playoffs two of the four years he coached in New England -- and tell me one of the other guys is better?

Now as to the best candidates out there? Remember I told you Martz is the man. He's bright, he interviews well, he's offensive minded which Miami desperately needs, and he was successful for the most part in St. Louis.


Sunday, January 07, 2007

Time for Dolphins to get serious

I understand the Dolphins have to do their homework and so that's why they've been interviewing guys like Cam Cameron and Ron Turner and Ron Rivera and Joe Schmoe.

But seriously, who are they kidding here?

There are two skyscrappers out there and, until Sunday night, the Dolphins have been shopping for a two-story condo.

The two coaches Miami should scrutinize the most and should try to hire immediately are Bill Cowher or Pete Carroll. One won a Super Bowl last year while the other won back-to-back national titles a couple of years ago.

Wayne Huizenga likes them both and today he finally got around to interviewing Carroll. By the end of the week the Dolphins should, must, talk to Cowher.

I'm not saying either will be hired. There are too many variables in play like, "Will Carroll leave an easy job for the toughness of the NFL?" and "Will Cowher choose to coach again THIS YEAR after resigning from Pittsburgh Friday."

I know you guys will now set about posting the million reasons it shouldn't be Carroll or Cowher. We just had a college coach and he failed, we have to give up compensation for Cowher.

Well, just because Nick Saban failed, it doesn't mean Pete Carroll must fail. And remember that by resigning, Cowher guaranteed the Steelers he will not coach them in 2007, driving down Pittsburgh's negotiating stance in trying to extract draft picks for him.

So rather than demanding, and not getting, a first-round pick for Cowher, the Steelers would rather get something for a coach they are not going to have anyway. They might well do it for a second round pick. And who out there wouldn't give up a second round pick for Cowher?

So until the Dolphins have firm answers from both men -- and that answer better be NO -- they are only fooling themselves interviewing coach Schmoe, Larry and Curley.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Taylor NFL defensive Player of the Year

Jason Taylor will be awarded the NFL defensive player of the year award later today, beating out Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey and San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman.

Taylor proved this year he was not only Miami's most dominant player but one of the best players in the NFL.

The end who sometimes lines up at linebacker had 62 tackles, 13 ½ sacks, 14 quarterback hurries, two interceptions -- both returned for TDs -- 11 passes defensed, 10 fumbles forced and two fumbles recovered.

Taylor is holding a press conference at 12:30 today to talk about the awards and other subjects, but he has been asked about this award before.

"It’s always a flattering point but this is the ultimate team game on the planet," Taylor said last week of the award. "Of course you would like to have team success like [Indianapolis] is having than lead in individual accolades but if that was to happen it would still be a team award for me.

"It would be an award that I would share with the whole defensive unit. But like it said, I would much rather be playing January."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ok, now what happens to the hapless Dolphins

The little guy was a big mistake. And so he joins the list of coaching flops that have followed Don Shula.

He is right there with Jimmy Johnson, who loved picking players more than he liked coaching them. He is right there with Dave Wannstedt, who will be remembered from butchering drafts and the English language. And then Saban who was a good preparation coach, a good teacher, but a poor talent evaluator.

So what now?

The Dolphins go out and try to find another coach ready to take the reins of an entire franchise? They try to hire a man who puts the football and personnel side of the franchise on his shoulders and doesn't fall flat on his face from the burden?

I hope not. Today's NFL is too big for one man to handle.

Look at this weekend's playoff teams. Not one, not a single one, has a coach running the football and personnel side

Bill Belichick has Scott Pioli. Bill Parcells has Jerry Jones. Mike Holmgren didn't go to the Super Bowl until he gave up control of player personnel in Seattle.

I believe the best way to run an NFL team is to have a general manager and coach running the football side as partners. I believe Wayne Huizenga agrees.

"As a CEO of companies, I want the right to hire my own people," Huizenga said Wednesday. "There is something that’s close to that [in the NFL] where a general manager has complete control of the personnel department, runs the whole show and picks the players, but he has to make that one last final stop to the president of the team or the head coach before he can pull the trigger.”

The Dolphins sort of tried this formula in 2004 -- but they had Rick Spielman and Wannstedt in the roles of GM and coach. Abbott and Costello would have been better suited.

I think having two good, like-minded men picking players is the right way to go, as long as they are of one accord.

The Dolphins already have one such good man on board -- with Randy Mueller being an able GM. The Dolphins should hire a coach to work with him, to collaborate with him, to pick the players that will raise the team from the AFC East cellar.

I know some of you out there believe anything with two heads is a monster. That is probably true everywhere except in the NFL, where it's the formula for success.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The Saban to Alabama saga

Here is what I know: If Nick Saban takes the Alabama offer that is coming sometime Monday or Tuesday, he will go down as the biggest liar since Bill Clinton.

If Nick Saban takes the Alabama job he will have sealed his legacy in the NFL as a failure and a quitter on football's grandest stage.

If Nick Saban takes the Alabama job he will be admitting that he is not ready for success in the major leagues and he is a lifetime minor leaguer.

If Nick Saban leaves the Dolphins with three years remaining on his contract he will have told all his players -- present and future -- that it doesn't matter what document you put your name to, you can get out of it if you have a good attorney. So go ahead and make a deal and then, if it's convenient to you, back on out.

And here is another thing I know: I think Nick Saban doesn't want to stand for any of those things I just wrote about.

He knows the stakes, he knows he can stay with the Dolphins and get another college job next year or the year after or the year after if he wants. And by the way, there are much better situations to step into than the Alabama job where Bear Bryant's shadow is long and exceeded only by the reach the boosters have on the program.

If Saban leaves the NFL now, not having done what he set out to accomplish, it will be a looooong time before any other NFL team comes calling. Maybe never again. Can you say Lou Holtz?

So I believe Nick Saban will remain Miami's coach. I cannot say this unequivocably because he has never really opened up to anyone of my ilk (a reporter) enough so that we know the exact weave of his moral fabric.

But what little I know tells me that this good man, this good coach, will do the honorable thing -- that is, make his word his bond. He has told his players, his owner and his fans through the press, that he is not interested in coaching Alabama.

I believe him. I believe he'll continue to coach the Dolphins.

We'll see.