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Thursday, January 31, 2008

What ever happened to a new offensive coordinator?

It's been over two weeks since Tony Sparano was hired and still the new head coach hasn't hired a new offensive coordinator.


You bet.

Sparano has been trying to hire his coaches and has pretty much completed his staff, with the offensive coordinator's job as the notable exception. And it hasn't been for lack of trying.

He tried to hire New Orleans coach Pete Carmichael but was thwarted in that effort when the Saints convinced Carmichael to stay. So that effort failed.

There have also been suggestions Sparano is waiting until after the Super Bowl to hire Giants quarterback coach Chris Palmer, who was something of a mentor for Sparano years ago. But NFL reporter Len Pasquarelli, a friend who has outstanding sources on all things NFL, tells me Palmer will not be headed to Miami.

I've not been able to figure out why Palmer would not be the guy -- considering he's done well in similar positions in the past and has a good history with Sparano -- but he is apparently out of contention for the job.

So where does that leave us? Well, I could give you a list of possible candidates that are available, but frankly, it would all be speculation so I'm not going to do it.

Instead we'll just have to wait for Sparano to come up with another solution.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The class of Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson

PHOENIX -- The Super Bowl always brings together people from all parts of country and this one has done something I didn't know was possible.

It brought Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson together.

That's right, the two men who spent much of the 1999 Dolphins season feuding in a match of huge egos and huge reputations, are at least cordial these days.

If you think back to the 1999 season, that's when Johnson wanted and, indeed, threatened to bench Marino. Marino's answer to one such threat from the coach during a meeting in Johnson's office was basically, "(Expletive) you. It's your team. Do whatever the (expletive) you want."

And with that Marino got up and walked out.

Well Johnson never followed through with his threats and there were even some indications that he thrust Marino back into the lineup prematurely following a hip injury with the idea that Marino would fail. He didn't. Marino led the Dolphins to the second round of the AFC playoffs where Miami lost 62-7 to Jacksonville.

That would be the final game Johnson coached and Marino played.

Months later when the Dolphins held a Marino farewell at then-Pro Player Stadium, Johnson was not invited to attend by the quarterback. I don't know if the two talked since that January 2000 day when each went off into retirement.

But on Monday evening, there they were, sitting in the first class section of American Airlines flight 1007. When they were boarding, Johnson greeted Marino with a "There he is," and both shook hands.

They sat across the aisle from one another and, although they didn't converse at length during the flight, they did chat for a couple of minutes. Johnson even offered Marino an adapter so he could plug in a computer on which he was watching a movie.

After the flight, Johnson, who works for FOX, told the story of covering the NFC championship game in Green Bay and pouring water into a cup of water and watching it freeze by halftime. Marino, who was in town briefly to tape his HBO show, chuckled at the story and actually called Johnson, "coach."

Anyway, I relate this story because it warmed my soul that what was a bitter professional relationship in the end has not festered over the years. Are these giants of Dolphins history buddies?


But they are both classy guys and being cordial with one another and not holding a grudge was a perfect example of that class.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Trading the first pick to the Cowboys? Not so fast

On November 30th I told you of the practical certainty that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would contact the Dolphins about trading for the first overall pick because, well, he already knew which player he would select.

Darren McFadden.

Here is the post from nearly two months ago:

Well, now ESPN in recent days has reported that Jones would love McFadden. And there are Internet reports stating Jones has already contacted the Dolphins about that first overall pick.

The truth: Jones would love McFadden. More truth: There have been no substantive talks between the teams about trading picks as far as I have been able to confirm.


Now is simply not the time for such talk. It's too early and Jones would have to be a fool to approach the Dolphins this early because he would tip his hand as to exactly how desperate he is to have his fellow Arkansas Razorback on his roster.

And Jerry Jones is many things but a fool is not one of them.

Jones knows the Dolphins will be trying desperately to get out of that No. 1 overall pick. He knows they're going to hold that pick as long as they think they can continue to drive up the price of the compensation for that pick. And he knows no one other than him is really all fired eager to trade with the Dolphins right now.

So this is going to take a while, people.

If it happens at all, and that is a big if, it will likely not happen until well after the Indianapolis Scouting Combine in February and probably not until after the NFL league meetings in March. By then, Jones will have seen McFadden run and jump and pump and shuttle with all the other draft eligible players at the combine. And the Dolphins will have gotten a better idea of what might be available to them further down the draft board.

Another reason this might take a while is because it's going to take some massaging. The Dolphins would be dumb to give up the first pick for Dallas's two first round picks which are 22nd and 28th. That two-for-one is simply not equitable for Miami. So negotiations are going to be required.

The Cowboys would have to throw in another pick and perhaps a player also. Otherwise the Dolphins will be getting the extreme short end of the trade.

One more thing: You'll be hearing a lot about the draft value chart in the coming weeks and months as it relates to any Dolphins trade-down scenario. Please forget about the stupid chart for the time being.

The chart only measures the value of the first player taken in the draft in comparison with players in other slots throughout the draft board. It was fabricated in large part by Jimmy Johnson way back in the 1990s when the salary cap was not in play and bonuses had not grown to today's gargantuan sizes.

With those two newer factors in play, the value of the first overall pick is somewhat mitigated because of the grand risk the first pick poses along with the obvious potential for reward. Said another way, the first overall pick gives the Dolphins the chance to pick the draft's best player. But is also gives the Dolphins a chance to blow it in unprecedented fashion.

If they pick the wrong player they can cost themselves in excess of $31-$35 million in guaranteed money and years of damage to their salary cap.

That risk must be weighed against the grand possibilities of picking first. Put those on a scale and the value of that pick decreases -- particularly in a year like this one when there is no undisputed, clear-cut stud can't-miss player available at No. 1.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

''72 Dolphins talk about Pats pursuit of perfection

The Patriots are trying to match the '72 Dolphins feat of playing a perfect season and so everyone wants to know what the players and coaches on that perfect team think of New England's attempt.

Well, on Friday DICK ANDERSON, BOB GRIESE, JIM KIICK, LARRY CSONKA, MERCURY MORRIS and coach DON SHULA talked at length about the subject on a conference call.

This is the transcript from that call with national media:

Q. I was hoping to ask this of anyone who is on the conference call, given the parity in the NFL with the salary cap and how maybe the team is a little more equal than when you guys played, just talk about what the Patriots have done up to now and how impressed you guys are.
JIM KIICK: I don't believe ‑‑ I think there was more parity in our era because all of the teams were decent. Every team had a great quarterback. I think today after the first seven quarterbacks, there's a big drop off. So I think there was more parity with the teams back then. Right now, it's New England and it's possibly Indianapolis, and everybody else is mediocrity.

Q. Does that speak to the parity or does that speak to how good Indianapolis and New England are?
JIM KIICK: No, I think it's a combination of both. I think they are excellent football teams, yes, but I think the caliber of the other ones, like I said, not only are they mediocre; some are even very poor, like, unfortunately, the Dolphins.

Q. Do you think in the salary cap era that that adds something to what they have accomplished?
DICK ANDERSON: I definitely think it does. It just shows you how important the general manager is and the personnel director, as well as the coaches. The thing I am impressed with with New England is that their coaches are just like Bill Arnsbarger was. Our goal was not to ever make a mental error, and this is the only team in the NFL today, I think, that just doesn't make errors. They are so very, very well coached.

Q. Dick, from a passing game standpoint, Brady and that receiving corps, how would you rate that passing game compared to the passing games that you faced as a secondary guy?
DICK ANDERSON: You can't rate it because the rules are different. We could hit a receiver any place on the field as long as the ball was not in the air and they were between the quarterback and the defensive back.
LARRY CSONKA: I saw you hit them clear behind the bench, what are you talking about?
DICK ANDERSON: We made our living taking down receivers and disrupting their routes and today the receivers have a great ability, after five yards. They are free.
So it's a totally different game today than it was when we played defense.

Q. Was going undefeated a week‑to‑week talk among you guys and among the media back then or did you just kind of, okay, let's win the next one?
BOB GRIESE: There was never any talk about going undefeated. The only problem ‑‑ the only thing that we ever talked about was winning the next ballgame, and I think that's what we've heard all year from the Patriots.
And I think that's a credit to Belichick that he's got these guys thinking about the right thing at the right time. And I think that's where Coach Shula was so good mentally. Each week, there was always something that would come up each week; we've never beaten this team on the road, we had never done this, we had never done that, no team had ever gone undefeated.
Injuries, after one injury, it was like, okay, so what, Griese gets hurt, the next man in, and Earl (Morrall) steps in and does a good job.
So I think Belichick has done a real good job and I think that's one of the keys to Coach Shula back in '72 that nothing really fazed him. He just accepted it, never talked about going undefeated. Only talked about trying to get back and winning the Super Bowl.

Q. If I could ask one of you, where do you think this places the Patriots in history if they do finish this out and go 19‑0? Obviously they have passed your team's record for an undefeated streak, but where do you think this places them historically?
DICK ANDERSON: If Mercury were here, he would say that we're compared initially to the 1934 and 1942 Bears because they were the first team to go undefeated during the regular season, but then they lost in the playoff games.
From our standpoint, we went undefeated all the games that were thrown against us, we played the Championship Game in Pittsburgh, and we were just fortunate to be the only team in the history of the NFL in 88 years to go undefeated. If New England does it, they will be the second team to go undefeated and I think they have a real good chance to do so.

Q. Usually when you have a season like you guys did, and certainly a great season, it always comes from adversity, and I want to talk you back to that Super Bowl against Dallas, January 15, 1972. How much of what you did came from that game, and I guess to Bob, as well, how sick are you of seeing that highlight of you being chased around the field in New Orleans by Bob Lilly on that play?
BOB GRIESE: I think that we'll all tell you that that was the seed that was planted by Coach Shula right after we lost to Dallas in that Super Bowl was that was the seed that was planted for our season the following year, and he never let us forget that we lost an opportunity to win the championship and we'd have to come back the next year and then all of these games just to get back and have an opportunity to do what we were trying to do three or four hours before.
So Coach Shula was always telling us and motivating us in that way. I couldn't hear your second question; you were breaking up.

Q. The second part of the question was, how tired are you of looking at that highlight of Bob Lilly chasing you all over that field in New Orleans for the 26‑yard loss?
BOB GRIESE: It wasn't just Bob Lilly. I saw Bob Lilly over the weekend, as a matter of fact. I was talking to him about that and he said, yeah, there were a couple other guys. When I would try to go to the right, the defensive end was there, and when I reversed the other way and tried to go back to the left, there was another defensive end there. So there were three guys there, not one. You sound like Coach Shula, razzing me about this.

Q. Rightly or wrongly, you guys have been portrayed as a bunch of players 35 years in the making desperately trying to hold on to this undefeated record. If the Patriots do go 19‑0, would you be upset, maybe don't care if they join you as the only undefeated team in really the modern era?
MERCURY MORRIS: You mentioned the word desperately trying to hold onto. Let me set you straight. First of all, there's nothing for us to hold on to because there's nothing for us that belongs to us. It only belongs to the history of the National Football League. It's been 35 years. This record is old enough to be president and nobody has done anything except almost make it.
These guys are the first guys who have actually come close for real, and I take my hat off to them. So there's no way that we could have stopped it. It could have happened in '73, 74, '75, 76. It's been 1,290 tries.

Q. I'm curious, the Patriots are the favorite; do you guys remember, were you even favorites against the Redskins?
LARRY CSONKA: As I recall, we were underdogs in the Super Bowl. We were underdogs pretty much the whole season. That's why we beat the spread so much. I think that comes back to what Griese was talking about.
MERCURY MORRIS: The Washington Redskins, the three teams they lost to that year were the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots. We ironically beat the New England Patriots.

Q. Did you guys think at the time you were getting the respect you were deserved? The Patriots seem to be getting respect right and left as the greatest this, and greatest that.
MERCURY MORRIS: It had not been done before, so there was no criteria for you to make a judgment as to whether or not a team is going to try to go undefeated. This was new territory. In fact, the term perfect season only showed up on the scoreboard out in Los Angeles when after we won the games, it said, "The Dolphins are perfect, 17‑0."

Q. I've been looking into and comparing Super Bowl weeks from what you guys went through to what it's like today, and there was a couple of themes from back then and if anybody wants to jump in on this is more than welcome to. One of them back then, there was a lot of talk about spying on the part of George Allen and how you guys changed practice fields to prevent that. Another theme was Shula trying to win the big one after losing a couple of times, and I also came across a couple references early in the week to when you guys had no curfew, you took full advantage of that. Anyone want to jump in on any of those?
DICK ANDERSON: I'll answer the last question first. I was with (Larry) Csonka and Jim Kiick and (Jake) Scott and Jim Mandich the night that we did not have any curfew. I was the designated driver. We just had fun in L.A. and got back in the wee hours of the morning.

Q. I've got a totally different perspective, so many people I know are really in support, they feel that there was something magical about the '72 Dolphins team and they don't want to see anybody else do it. There's another perspective here, there's not just the Dolphins, players and Dolphins fans; there's a lot of people outside of Miami who would like to see somebody do it. Would any of you like to pick up on that? Did other people realize there was something special about the legacy besides some of the players?
DICK ANDERSON: I think there's certainly Dolphin fans that would like to see that record sustained. But you know, records are made to be broken and eventually it is going to happen and it has not happened yet, and they have a very good chance to do so. But we can't do anything about it. All we can do is if they are undefeated through the season, congratulate them and say they are the second team to do it.

Q. Some people have made a lot of the Patriots stealing signals, and somebody thinks even an asterisk should go next to this. How do you guys look at that and do you think it besmirches their season at all?
MERCURY MORRIS: I don't think it really does anything to them. It was one game, an event and I don't think their season should be defined out of that mishap. Obviously if you got caught cheating, you got caught cheating.
I think the intent was there to steal signals rather than to put themselves in a position where they would have an advantage as far as games are concerned as they soon realized they are so good they didn't have to have that small advantage they tried to do get and eventually cost them a first round draft pick and it eventually did that.

Q. Does it take on even added significance when most of your record was achieved with Earl Morrall as your quarterback?
DICK ANDERSON: What it says is that we had a great team and each week somebody else stepped up and got the job done. And it so happened that the rest of the team picked their belts up a little bit and played a little bit harder. When Bob got healthy and we were struggling against Pittsburgh, he came in and ignited us. So it's still a team effort, it was a team effort the whole year, and that's how we looked at it.

Q. Is there any resentment when among you guys, the '72 Dolphins were portrayed as grumpy old men that no other teams could be as great as them; that you have a bottle of champagne waiting when teams lose; is all of that stuff overblown and are you a little tired of hearing that stuff?
JIM KIICK: No. 1, I prefer Jack Daniels, I don't like champagne, so we don't sit around waiting with a bottle of champagne waiting for that last team to lose the game, and most importantly, what we are celebrating is our accomplishments, not the loss of the team.
We are proud and obviously football is the ultimate team sport and as Dick alluded to, we were more concerned about winning football games than individual statistics.
So that's what we are celebrating, our accomplishment that has not been done in 35 years and really has not been done prior to that. So we certainly are not celebrating the loss of any team but our accomplishments.

Q. Looking ahead to next Sunday's game, the Giants and Patriots met four weeks ago, how difficult is it going to be for the Patriots to beat the Giants a second time?
MERCURY MORRIS: If I'm not mistaken, didn't we play them (Redskins) in the preseason?
DICK ANDERSON: Preseason game, 27‑24 loss. (Sonny) Jorgensen was the quarterback.
MERCURY MORRIS I think it's different in that respect, because when you lose to a team, that gives you a momentum or impetus to play a little better or play with more tenacity because you know that what's at stake is something that's already happened once, and you don't want that to happen again.
We actually lost in 1973 to the Oakland Raiders which knocked our streak off at 18 games in a row, but then we came back and beat them in the AFC Championship Game.
So I think that part of that is the fact that any given Sunday, any team can beat any other team. So you just never know.

Q. The Redskins, you had lost in the preseason to them; what was the main concern going into that Super Bowl game against the Redskins, and were you bummed out that it wasn't the Cowboys who had beaten you in that Super Bowl the year before?
DICK ANDERSON: I don't think we thought about the Cowboys because they weren't there and again, one game at a time. As a defensive player, the best thing the Redskins did was try to block Manny Fernandez one‑on‑one and he made 17 tackles. George Allen made a mistake and I think it cost him. Larry Brown had been hit so many times in that first half, that you know, he didn't come out with the same tenacity in the second half.
You know, our offense, I can't speak about, but again it was the team ‑‑ we were an underdog and we had got beat the year before and we just were not going to be beat again.

Q. Bob, you had an injury; did you ever have photographers chasing you down to see if you had a boot on your foot or anything like that?
BOB GRIESE: That's one of the ways things have changed in the 35 years, the paparazzi are chasing down athletes all over the place.
I don't know who the hot chicks were back then, the move‑stars and the move‑actresses were back then we were supposed to be running around with. I had a boot on my leg but no paparazzi came around for me.

Q. You guys have seen a lot of teams come close and fall short of this perfect season so to speak. In this modern era where parity ceases to be kind of the normal with free agency and all that, did you think that a team eventually would do it?
BOB GRIESE: Free agency can run both ways. I think it can run away and spread throughout the teams and make them all equal, but then again, like New England this year, you can go out and get guys like a Stallworth, a Moss, a Wes Welker, or an Adalius Thomas, they were a good team without these guys.
Then you can go out and it's almost like an all‑star team if the management, like Dick was saying a little bit earlier, if your general manager and player personnel guy can go out and pick up some free agents, and the right ones and get them for a fourth round pick, get them for a second round pick, and pick up a free agent, you know, it's not ‑‑ I would say it's not surprising but you can certainly see why New England has gone undefeated with all of their additions offensively and their defense from the years past.

Q. What are your specific plans for Super Bowl Sunday? I'm sure you'll all watch the game, but will you be in parts of the country where you won't be able to watch it together?
DICK ANDERSON: We've never watched a game together.
BOB GRIESE: We've never watched it together and there's never any champagne. I don't think any champagne or any champagne glasses have ever been clicked by any Dolphins. I think that was something that was mentioned in jest and I think the media ‑‑
DICK ANDERSON: You were home when you started it, Bob.
MERCURY MORRIS: If you look back at my [pictures] You had Dick Anderson, Mercury Morris, Larry Little, Jim Kiick, Nick Buoniconti and Don Shula. Nick is spreading the champagne all over the place and Shula is sitting there with a toast and he looks at a picture and goes, "Hey, I said I don't do that. But unfortunately, it’s there. We just had fun with it."
DICK ANDERSON: That happened a month later. (Laughter).

Q. Many of your teammates, many of you guys outside of football had great careers, and I'm just curious, since there's a correlation between what you guys did on the field and what came after, can some of you talk about what you've done after football, because here we are talking about something that happened decades ago.
MERCURY MORRIS: I think Shula gave everybody a different kind of direction and purpose being coached by this guy. We were middle‑class people and middle‑class fans, and Shula was a blue‑collar worker; and he had kind of a work ethic that really allowed you to see that if you work hard and you do what you're supposed to do, then things are going to turn out for you, and not all the time but you adjust to that and do what's necessary to try to do as best you can.
And I think that a lot of us learned a great deal from Don's work ethic, and learned that we came from adversity ‑‑ because we were a rag‑tag team in 1969. And when he came, the team was transformed and we became a playoff team in '70, a Super Bowl team in '71 and then undefeated and back‑to‑back.
So we had a great run with guys who were assembled there, not for the purpose of being that successful that quick. Keep in mind, the Dolphins came into existence in 1966. By 1972, we had produced an undefeated season. That part was real special and that principally came because of Don Shula.
LARRY CSONKA: I'd like to just interject one thing, because I've got to get off the phone. But when you alluded to in your question about going on to other things, getting away from Shula provided me with a great motivation to go all the way to Alaska in a cool stream in July instead of doing grass grills and having Shula stepping over my stomach, saying, "you don't like me," he had no idea how much I didn't like him. (Laughter).
The only reason I didn't get put in jail for committing murder was I wanted to be able to go away and stand in a stream in Alaska, and that's what I now do. And every July, every July, gentlemen, I think about the fact that I'm not in Miami, I don't have grass and sweat running down my neck and him standing on my stomach. (Laughter).
So if you were looking for motivation, that's the most motivation I've ever had in my life from anyone.

Q. I just want to know off the subject a little bit, if Larry thinks the gladiators he hosted are better than the ones on TV now?
LARRY CSONKA: I don't know, but the commentators were a hell of a lot better when I was there.

Q. Did you ever think you would see the day when a team was one win from doing what your Dolphins did in '72?
DON SHULA: You know, it's hard to say because there were some teams that went 13‑0 one year, and I guess 11‑0, but to see somebody now 18‑0, you've got to feel that this is a great football team that's got a chance to do something no other team has done; that's go 19‑0 and have a perfect season.
So it's interesting and it should be a great Super Bowl.

Q. Do you think it's more difficult these days with the salary cap and free agency to do that?
DON SHULA: You know, you talk about the salary cap and free agency, but you know, when we did it, we had to beat the best that was out there. And the Patriots, if they do it, they have got to beat the best that's out there.
The thing that happened to us, if we would have had free agency, we would have been better off, after the perfect season, Csonka, Kiick and (Paul) Warfield took off and we couldn't sign anybody to come in and take their place. It's a situation where you deal with what you're confronted with, and if you win, you're the best.

Q. Who on your '72 team would you compare to Wes Welker on this year's Patriots?
DON SHULA: You know, Paul Warfield was our deep threat and probably one of the greatest athletes that ever played the game. And we had Howard Twilley, more of a possession type of receiver on the other side, and we had Jim Kiick, Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris for the situation substitutions that we used.
The thing people don't realize is that in '72, Bob Griese got hurt in the fifth game of the season and our backup quarterback took us to the Championship Game. Then Bob Griese came back in the second half and helped us win the Super Bowl.
So we went through that perfect season, the majority of it, with a backup quarterback.

Q. Can you put into words just how incredibly difficult it is to make it through an entire NFL season without losing a game?
DON SHULA: Well, when you think about the 50 years before we did it in '72, and the 35 years since we've done it, that tells you how difficult it is to do because, you know, the league is so highly competitive, and all of the rules in the league are designed for competitive balance.
And it's tougher to stay on top than the struggle to get to the top because the team that finishes last gets the best draft pick, they get the first place on the waivers. Everything is done to keep the team from having a dynasty and staying on top, and that's why it's so remarkable when a team does stay on top for a period of time.
New England, winning three out of the last six Super Bowls, I think that's remarkable.

Q. Do you think that this is a dynasty, the Patriots?
DON SHULA: Yeah, I think they are on the verge right now. As I mentioned, three out of the last six Super Bowls, and if they win this one, you have to consider them a team that would be a dynasty like the Yankees were in baseball over a long period of time.
You know, we had those two great years, '72 and ‘73, 17‑0 and 15‑2; 32‑2 in a two‑year period; that doesn't qualify as a dynasty, but that's a record we are pretty proud of.

Q. Given the liberal passing rules, more teams pass, you can't bump‑and‑run the receivers down the field and that today's players are bigger and faster, etc., etc., can you really compare the two eras?
DON SHULA: The rules certainly are different now. It's opened up the passing game. And I spent 20 years on the competition committee and our whole emphasis on the competition committee was to open up the game up, more scoring, make more big plays in the game, make the game as safe as you possibly could make it injury‑wise. So all of these things have been designed to make the game more appealing to the fan. You know, the high‑scoring games and more big plays.

Q. When you were in the booth for the Patriots game in Baltimore, were you rooting for the Ravens?
DON SHULA: You know, I spent a lot of years in Baltimore. I spent four years as a player and seven years as a coach in Baltimore. So I would have to say that I was rooting for the Ravens, yes.

Q. Was too much made about your comment of an asterisk and do you stand behind that?
DON SHULA: You know, I'm probably not the guy that should have said it, and I think a lot of people, when I said it, received it as being, you know, just helping yourself.
I think that the fact that ‑‑ as I mentioned, I didn't fine them, I didn't take away the draft choice, I wasn't the one that coined the term "Spygate." All of those things happened and all I did was refer to them.
Now, somebody else probably should have done it instead of me, because people thought it was self‑serving when I did it.

Q. What do you think about the Super Bowl. Is it going to be close?
DON SHULA: The way I feel about it is the Giants have done a great job. They were 0‑2 to start the year and everybody counted them out and everybody wanted to fire the coach. And all of a sudden at the end of the year they get it together, Eli Manning comes on strong and the coach then becomes a genius again.
And so this team is really on the rise and you really ‑‑ I mean, you shouldn't count them out because they keep bouncing back. You know, Dallas beat them twice during the regular season and then they beat Dallas in the playoffs.
Eli Manning just keeps getting better. So I think that this is a team that's capable of giving New England a good game. And what I want to see more than anything else is a good, hard‑fought Super Bowl, and then let the best team win.
You know, if New England doesn't lose, you know, you just give them credit for 19‑0 and something nobody else has ever done.

Q. Did you guys ever talk about going undefeated or a perfect season during the ’72 season?
DON SHULA: No. When we had the 17‑0 record, we got beat the year before in the Super Bowl. Our whole emphasis was not to get to the Super Bowl, but to get to the Super Bowl and win it. And if somewhere along the line we would have lost a game or two games and won the Super Bowl, it would have been a great success. But if we would have gone 16‑0 and then lost the Super Bowl, that season would have been a complete failure as far as we were concerned.
So I think that's where New England is right now. They are 18‑0, and the thing that's really going to make their season is if they can win that last game and do something else nobody has done, 19‑0.

Q. How much pressure was there to win that last game going into Los Angeles when you were 16‑0 standing on the precipice?
DON SHULA: There was a lot of pressure. People just didn't believe us that we were actually 15‑0. I think we were underdogs going into the game. You know, the Redskins were favored and people just didn't ‑‑ I don't think they gave us the credit that our team deserved. You know, we had the no‑name defense and we were very ball‑controlled offense and didn't throw the ball a lot and relied a lot on ball control and time of possession.
In the Super Bowl, you know, the score was 14‑0 when I decided to go for the field goal and when Garo (Yepremian) messed it up, they scored a touchdown and all of a sudden, the Redskins are back in game, a game that we had dominated.

Q. That field goal would have made it 17‑0, 17‑0 season, did you want to ring his neck? He didn't even try to make a tackle.
DON SHULA: I would have loved that ‑‑ could have been 17‑0, that would have been a great way to remember that game. But when Garo went in there and messed up the play, you know, he used to come over and high‑five me when he kicked a field goal. Well, when that happened, he went off the end line of the end zone and I haven't seen him since.

Q. If you were coaching, how would you go about trying to beat the Patriots?
DON SHULA: Well, what you've got to do ‑‑ you mentioned earlier that I was at the game up in Baltimore, the Ravens game, and I thought the Ravens had a great game plan against them where they got the running game going and they made some first downs and had some long drives. That's what you've got to do.
Anything that you can do to keep the ball away from (Tom) Brady for any period of time, you've got to try to do, because Brady is so dynamic, and the guy is just a great football player. He just finds a way to score no matter what the score is. The Patriots always believe that they can pull it out and win at the end.
So anything that you can do when you're setting up a game plan is try to control the ball and keep it out of Brady's hand.

Q. Were you drained at the end of your undefeated season? Were you glad you didn't have another game at the end, or did you feel like you wanted to play more?
DON SHULA: Yeah, you always feel like you want to play more. When you have it going like that, it's just magical and when you do something that nobody else has ever done; it just makes it that much more significant and you just feel that much more proud of your accomplishments. You want to keep playing and you want to keep winning.

Q. A lot of the guys on the ’72 team have gone on to bigger and better things; in that sense, do you think the perfect season helped them along the way with their confidence?
DON SHULA: Yeah, when you look at what our players have done from that perfect season team, they have gone out and made great lives for themselves, great careers. They have been pretty successful in whatever they have set out to do.
The thing I have always said when I talk about that football team is the thing that set them apart was their intelligence and their competitiveness. They have really worked hard. They wanted to win and they were very smart. We made very few mental errors. We never beat ourselves. We were the least penalized team in the league, and we made very few mental errors and we were a team that just never beat ourselves.

Q. I think I heard you say on NFL Films, that the team that beat the Vikings the next year in the Super Bowl was even better than ‑‑
DON SHULA: I don't think I said that because I think it's hard to beat 17‑0 and 15‑2 was the next year and we dominated the Super Bowl.
I probably was referring more to that game (Super Bowl VIII) the way we took off and kept the ball out of (Fran) Tarkenton's hands and controlled the football, probably 40 minutes to 20 minutes in the ballgame which was pretty characteristic of that team with Larry Csonka and his great ability to convert short yardage and goal‑line plays into first downs and touchdowns.

Q. Has there ever been champagne consumed from the last undefeated team the following season? Griese said no; Anderson said yes. Clear that up for us. Has champagne ever been consumed in the name of the last undefeated team falling?
DON SHULA: You know we've been accused of getting together, that bunch of angry old men as you guys portray us as being, that's not really true.
We're a bunch of guys that if ‑‑ and I've said this many, many times, if somebody goes undefeated, I'm going to be the first guy to call that coach and congratulate him, and I'll do that to Bill Belichick if they go undefeated. And our players, I'm sure, will do the same for their players.
But until somebody does it, you know, we're very, very proud of our accomplishment, and that's all there is to it.

Q. Do you feel like the '72 team has gotten the respect overall it deserves? And also, last year, when NFL Films did the America's game countdown, that group ranked your team No. 1. Do you think that finally gave your team the respect it deserved?
DON SHULA: Well, I think that went a long way toward giving our team that respect, because you know, that was I think a countdown that had people voting on it, and there was a lot of thought that was put into that determination that we were the best team of all‑time.
And I think that our players earned that, because how else do you judge? I mean, you can't say a team that's lost two or three ballgames in a year is better than a team that goes 17‑0. And there were some people early that said that about other teams, and you've still got to go by the record. I mean, that's why you keep score, to see who wins the game. At the end of the year, the team with the best record is the team that should be thought of as the best team.

Q. You mentioned going into the Super Bowl being underdogs; how do you think it's different for the Patriots being the favorites with the weight of history kind of looming around them?
DON SHULA: I think the way that Bill Belichick handles things, and how all his players talk the same way; they sound like they are Bill Belichick talking when they say the only thing that's important is the next game. And I think Bill has done a done a great job of selling that to his team.
They don't care about what's happened in the past and they don't care about what's going to happen two or three weeks down the road. They put all of their energy and emphasis on preparing for the next game, and that's prepared beautifully for them and they have all bought into what Bill teaches, and I think that's why they have been so successful.

Q. What similarities do you see between your '72 Dolphins and this season's Patriots?
DON SHULA: I think the similarities are we were a team that just didn't make many mistakes, as I said earlier, and we didn't beat ourselves. When you look at the Patriots, they are a team that just doesn't make a lot of mistakes. I don't think they ever have been accused of beating themselves or not being prepared. They do a great job.
I think they are a much more wide‑open football team with (Tom) Brady as the quarterback than we were with Griese and (Earl) Morrall. We played more of a ball‑control style of offense, and they are wide open. Brady will just let it fly. Against Jacksonville, he was 26 out of 28 with one dropped ball. A lot of them were just short passes, but that's what Jacksonville was giving him and Brady had the intelligence and the patience to sit back there and just take what they were giving him and methodically move down the field and to not make any mistakes.

Q. Were there any games during the regular season, close games, where you felt fortunate to get out of there with a win?
DON SHULA: The game that I remember the most was the game at Minnesota, and we were down, we needed two scores in the last few minutes to win the game. And I went for the field goal first and Garo (Yepremian) came through for us and kicked a field goal.
Then we had to get the ball back and we got the ball back and moved it down the field and I think on the last play we had a play‑action pass to (Jim) Mandich in the end zone. I think that's what pulled us out, Griese to Mandich. That was probably our hardest‑fought game that went down to the wire.

Q. You've coached against some of the great quarterbacks and coached some of the greatest quarterbacks; how good is Brady in terms of history of the game?
DON SHULA: Well, you look at what he's done, you know, they have won three out of the last five Super Bowls, and they are on the verge of winning another Super Bowl. And Brady this year, he's broken all the passing records and he's just been unbelievable as far as what he's been able to do.
You know, when you think about what the Patriots have done, they went out and got (Donte) Stallworth and Randy Moss and got (Wes) Welker, three new receivers for Brady that they didn't have the year before; and that's a real credit to their scouting department and coaching staff for bringing in new receivers and then putting them on the same page with Brady, and then going out and accomplishing what they have accomplished.

Q. You mentioned the fact that earlier, you said that one of the motivations to the season was the Dallas game and the Super Bowl. How much did you put that loss into the next season. How much was it, not browbeating to death, but how much was that a motivation?
DON SHULA: It was a tremendous motivation for us because after we got beat in the Super Bowl by Dallas, we realized and I realized that before that game, the two teams that are preparing for the Super Bowl are both treated the same. They are given an equal amount of time, publicity, player interviews, the coaching interviews, everything that goes on, it's the same for both teams.
When the game is over, they only go to one locker room, and that's the winning locker room where they are hoisting the trophy and everybody is happy and celebrating. And the losing coach gets a token interview outside the dressing room with one camera there and you feel so sorry for them. I told our team after that loss, I said, "We don't ever want to feel that way again. So our objective is not going to be to get to the Super Bowl, it's going to be to get to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl, because we want to be in that winning locker room."

Q. I know in '73 you guys were under pressure to win the big game, and there was talk how upbeat you were during the whole week, even though you were sick. How were you able to pull that off, and how was it able to set the tone for the players seeing the coach acting so upbeat when you were under so much pressure?
DON SHULA: You know, I took a lot of heat because I was 0‑2 in the Super Bowl, and when you're 0‑2 in Super Bowls, people don't say kind things about you. The worst thing that can be said about a coach is that he can't win the big one. That was planted in the minds of the media by Carol Rosenbloom after I left, and that was brought up all week long.
You know, that's the thing I hated to hear and you know, I certainly didn't want to be 0‑3 in Super Bowls because then they would really nail the “you can't win the big one label on you.”
So that was a real motivation for me and then to be able to win the big game finally in my coaching career and make that the end of a perfect season just made it all the more rewarding.

Q. What do you miss most about coaching?
DON SHULA: The thing I miss most about coaching is game day. You know, the excitement, the adrenaline, the decision‑making on game day and the emotional highs and lows that you're on and above all, that feeling of satisfaction if and when you win the game.
And especially what I liked more than anything in my coaching career was having a lot of respect for the coach that I was coaching against and the team that we are playing against; and then to end up being the winner in that game, because it made you feel that much better about your accomplishment, because you knew that you were beating a good coach and you knew that you were beating a good team.

Q. How elated will you be if you're sitting in your living room Super Bowl Sunday and the Giants do pull the upset and the Patriots don't draw even with you.
DON SHULA: I'm going to be at the game. I'll be jumping up and down. (Laughter).

Q. How has the game changed coaching‑wise, the philosophy itself.
DON SHULA: Well, the big thing that's happened in the years that I've played and my early years of coaching was that football was a six‑month sport. When it was over with, the players would go to their respective homes and get an off‑season job, and then about a week before training camp, they would start working out to get in shape for the preseason.
And now, you know, when the season is over, you get a couple of weeks off and players are encouraged to stay in town and get into the off‑season programs, you know, lift weights and go to film study and then go out on to the field for drills on the field. So it's become a 11‑, 11‑and‑a‑half month game now, a job, compared to five or six months back in those early days.
I think that's why the game has picked up the way that it has. It's just gotten so much better as far as players' conditioning and the size of the players, and then the sophistication of the game because everybody has worked at it so much harder and so much longer.

Q. How much of what you do is an element of luck, too, in that particular season? How much if you put a percentage on it was luck?
DON SHULA: Well, I don't know how much luck. You know, luck works both ways. The winning team is not always the only team that has luck during the course of a ballgame. I mean, the ball bounces, you know, for the team that might lose the ballgame, too. They might have some lucky plays or lucky bounces during the course of that game.
But when it's all over with, you know, both teams are playing with the same ball, you have the same rules and regulations that over a period of time, it evens out. The best teams win.

Q. I'm trying to get a handle on just how special a group of people ‑‑ when did you start recognizing that you had a dynamic group of people around you to do anything you wanted?
DON SHULA: You know, when I got there, as you know, in 1970, the year before, they were 3‑10‑1 and when I got there, I had all of these plans for practices and the players went on strike and I had nobody to coach.
So when the strike was settled and they came back, then, as you know, I worked them four times a day to try to get the new game plan in and get them ready to go. And at that time, I realized, you know, the intelligence of these players, the dedication of these players. They complained about the long practices and meetings and workouts.
But at the end of the year, when we won, they were asked, you know, how did you turn it around, and invariably they always said: We worked harder in the classroom, we studied harder, we practiced harder and it helped on game day. So that's what helped was the extra work and intelligence and preparation and the hard work and dedication and competitiveness of those players on those two teams, 17‑0, 15‑2.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jeff Ireland's curious comment about Zach

A couple of things: I am on vacation this week before gearing up for next week's Super Bowl. I have caught much of the Senior Bowl week practices on the NFL Network, which apparently is the way Bill Parcells is keeping abreast of things in Mobile as well.

I know Parcells will eventually get tape of every single practice snap, but isn't the realtime, in person view always better than tape?

Anyway, that is not the point.

This is: During his short talk with the media Wednesday, general manager Jeff Ireland said he's a big fan of Zach Thomas, but admitted he has not contacted Zach to make a commitment about having the linebacker be on the team in 2008.

This despite the fact Thomas is under contract in 2008.

Then this out of today's story in The Miami Herald: Asked whether Thomas was in the Dolphins' plans for 2008, Ireland said, ``Right now, he's on our roster, so we certainly have plans for him. In terms of tomorrow, the next day or six months down the line, we're still in the process of analyzing who's going to be a part of the future.''

What the heck does that mean? Tomorrow or in six months when training camp begins the Dolphins don't know whether they want Thomas back? This from a team that, if you believe published quotes from Trent Green's agent, has reached out to Green about playing in 2008.

So let me get this right. The team would like to see Green, who will be 38 years old, back on the roster despite the fact he missed most of the last two seasons with a concussion. But the team has not made up its mind about wanting the 35-year-old Thomas, who missed all but five starts in 2007 because of a concussion?

Where's the tough decision?

I take Zach every single time and twice on Sunday.

I hope Ireland knows something we don't. Maybe the GM knows Zach is pondering retirement or has been told by his doctor that he may not be better from the post-concussion headaches that kept him sidelined. Or maybe Ireland is setting up some sort of advantage in contract negotiations with Thomas because the team might want to lower the player's cap number and increase its cap room.

Then, and only then, would the lack of commitment about Zach's future be understandable. Of course, it is impossible to know for sure since Ireland didn't clarify his statement and Parcells hasn't returned phone calls.

But if there isn't an unstated reason for Ireland's vagueness, if there are not extenuating circumstances behind the distant approach to the Zach issue, something is wrong. If these guys simply are not certain whether Zach is worthy of bringing back because they don't know if he's still a good player when healthy, then something is definitely wrong.

Not with Zach. With the Dolphins.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Jason Taylor a finalist for Walter Payton award

Jason Taylor is one of four finalists for the NFL's Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, the NFL announced Sunday.

Joining Taylor as top candidates for this year’s award, named for the legendary Chicago Bears running back, who died in 1999, are Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, Kansas City Chiefs guard Brian Waters and Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

The Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award is the only league award that recognizes a player’s off-the-field community service as well as his playing excellence. Taylor is hoping to join Hall of Famers Dwight Stephenson (1985) and Dan Marino (1998) as Dolphins to receive this honor.

"Walter Payton represented everything that is great about our game, so to be considered for an award bearing his name is truly an honor,” Taylor said in a statement released through the Dolphins. “The list of individuals who have won this award in the past is an impressive one, especially those from the Dolphins organization in Dwight Stephenson and Dan Marino.

"They are all outstanding people both on the field and in their communities. We have hundreds of players in the NFL that are doing amazing things in their communities every day, so it means a lot to me and our Foundation to be recognized among that group."

The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award will be announced live before Super Bowl XLII, on February 3.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Here is what's next on the Dolphins agenda

Now that the Dolphins have their football czar, general manager, and head coach, it's time to find some actual players that can make a difference from here on out, right?

Nope. Not yet.

Next up on the agenda after the Dolphins hired Tony Sparano Wednesday is filling out the coaching staff and that is already underway.

Everybody is reporting that Dallas assistant Todd Bowles could join the Miami staff as an assistant head coach in charge of the secondary while Dallas assistant and former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni also is likely coming as the defensive coordinator or linebackers coach or both.

But I am now told both coaches have been offered contract extensions by the Cowboys, and as Jason Garrett proved, it is hard to leave Jerry Jones when he REALLY wants to retain a coach. So this isn't necessarily a done deal.

Beyond that look for former Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Maser to get the offensive line job. Maser coached with Sparano in Jacksonville in 2002.

Former offensive line coach Hudson Houck is headed to Dallas to coach their offensive line.

And don't be surprised if the offensive coordinator job is not filled immediately or at least until the New York Giants are eliminated from the playoffs. That's because Giants quarterback coach Chris Palmer may be headed to the Dolphins as their offensive coordinator.

Palmer, the former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, hired Sparano at Boston University and took him in tow when he became head coach in Cleveland. Palmer also worked under Bill Parcells in 2006 and is from that familiar coach tree, having also worked for Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville as well as New York.

Kacy Rodgers, whose contract with the Dallas Cowboys expires, is a possibility as a defensive line coach while Cleveland defensive assistant Bob Trott is also a candidate somewhere on defense. I also wouldn't be surprised if former Dolphins assistant Clarence Brooks, who coached with Sparano in Cleveland in 1999 and was fired when Baltimore cleaned house this year, calls the Miami coach about a job.

Remember all the rumors that Maurice Carthon would be a candidate to join the Dolphins based on his long-standing relationship with Parcells as a player as well as a coach? Well, come to find out Carthon fell out of favor with Parcells in 2005 when he left the Big Tuna to join Romeo Crennel's staff in Cleveland.

So Carthon, now in Arizona, isn't likely to be joining the Dolphins.

A note: I know a lot of you have complained that whatever staff Sparano and Parcells compile won't have the experience of many other NFL staffs.

Well, last season the Dolphins had four, count 'em four, current or former NFL head coaches on the staff including Dom Capers, Cameron, Mike Mularkey and Terry Robiskie. How'd all that experience work out for them?

Tony Sparano hired as Miami's new coach

It is official. Tony Sparano will be the Dolphins fifth head coach in five years.

The Dolphins have offered Sparano the job left vacant when Cam Cameron was fired. The sides have ironed out details of a contract whose terms are still unavailable. A noon press conference has been called to present Sparano.

Club owner Wayne Huizenga, who officially offered Sparano the job, left the team's practice facility at 9:40 a.m.

How's that for anti-climax?

Sparano endured a breakneck day Tuesday. He finished up some Cowboys business at the team's Valley Ranch facility early in the day, rushed home to change and pick up his wife, then met Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland, got on one of Huizenga's jets to South Florida, boarded an Aventura Limosine Denali upon touchdown, was escorted to dinner at Grille 66 on the Fort Lauderdale intracoastal, met Huizenga and other Miami brass for the first time, was escorted back to a local Renaissance Hotel where he is staying, and got tucked in by Bill Parcells himself.

Just kidding on the last one there.

But while Parcells didn't tuck in Sparano, he will pretty much be one of the first faces the coach sees every morning. Parcells typically gets to work around 7ish. And if he's starting around that time, everyone, including Sparano, is also.

Today Sparano and Ireland arrived at the team facility around 8 a.m. Parcells was already at work. Huizenga arrived at 8:45 -- he's allowed to show up whenever he freakin' wants because he owns the joint.

One of the items on the agenda today is Sparano meeting with Ireland and Parcells about the formation of a coaching staff. Dallas assistants Paul Pasqualoni (linebackers in Dallas, possible defensive coordinator in Miami), Todd Bowles (secondary coach in Dallas and possibly handling the same duties in Miami with assistant head coach title) and Kacy Rodgers (defensive line in Dallas) are no longer under contract to the Cowboys. So Sparano must share his feelings about working with those guys and others.

Sparano also has to get caught up on Miami's current sad talent state and give his take on the subject -- based presumably on his study of the Dolphins from afar.

As I reported yesterday, agent Jimmy Sexton, who represents Parcells as well as Sparano, has been doing his homework. He has gotten a feel for the contracts signed last year by first-time NFL coach Lane Kiffin, Mike Tomlin and even Cameron and will negotiate based on those deals for his client who is also a first time NFL head coach.

Sparano likely has signed a four-year deal based on the fact that is a typical length in the NFL these days and it parallels the four-year deal Parcells signed. Sparano is, in all likelihood, getting a deal worth between $2-2.7 million per season.

It has been widely reported that the Dolphins were close to signing Sparano and there was even one report a few weeks ago that he had been offered the job. That was not the case. While Sparano was always the undisputed front-runner, with no real candidate coming close, the Dolphins have pretty much played this one by the book.

This team is, shall we say, obsessive about doing things according to NFL guidelines. And the guidelines demand several things: Under NFL mandate, the team owner must be a significant part of the process to pick a coach and the Dolphins had not met that requirement until Tuesday when Huizenga met Sparano for the first time.

Also the team would not break NFL rules prohibiting the hiring of a coach before his team was eliminated from the playoffs and requiring that a minority candidate be interviewed, known as Rooney Rule.

Anyway, all of those benchmarks have been passed now. The next sound you hear will be Tony Sparano being introduced at that noon press conference.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ireland on way to Dallas to pick up Sparano

Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland is on his way to Dallas to pick up Cowboys assistant and future Dolphins coach Tony Sparano.

Ireland a few minutes ago boarded one of Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga's private jets -- one of the smaller ones, not the 737 -- with his wife. Educated guess here: Ireland's wife is going back to Dallas to tie up some family loose ends and will stay.

Back to facts: Ireland is expected to return with Sparano this evening. It takes approximately three hours to fly to Dallas and a little less than three to get back. That would put the return touchdown around 6-7ish when you add in time to taxi the aircraft, pick up Sparano etc...

If I know the Dolphins, the team will likely wine and dine Sparano this evening, maybe even have him meet Huizenga over dinner. Then everyone can get about the business of finalizing this hiring Wednesday morning -- assuming EVERYTHING goes smoothly.

I know that Sparano's agent -- yes, it is Jimmy Sexton -- is already prepared with a preliminary contract he would expect for his client. That contract includes something of a raise from the contracts first-year head coaches such as Mike Tomlin, Lane Kiffin, Gary Kubiak, and yes, Cam Cameron signed last year.

These negotiations are rarely a problem when they don't involve Raiders owner Al Davis, and this one doesn't.

So unless something goes unexpectedly off course, the Dolphins are navigating toward having a new coach in place by sometime Wednesday. And the latest step in the process just happened when that jet carrying Ireland took off.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hoping for a surprise in the coaching search

I am seriously hoping the Dolphins hire someone other than Tony Sparano as their head coach.

It's not that I have anything against Sparano. I do not. Truth be told, I didn't know that much about the man until mid December. And I'm sure he is a fine coach and solid citizen etc ... etc ... etc ...

But it's just that I'm expecting, indeed hoping, for big things from the new Dolphins. I'm hoping the Dolphins of Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland can surprise folks -- most of all the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.

I'm hoping they can truly keep things as hush-hush as the Patriots and Jets because, although it will be a challenge for me as a reporter, it will be beneficial to the organization.

I'm hoping the new guys have trick cards up their sleeves because they're going to need them if they want to convince some team to give up a king's ransom for the first overall pick. I'm hoping they can cast smokescreens with the best of them if they're going to convince free agents to come to Miami rather than say, to the Patriots. The Dolphins, you should remember, failed at that assignment last offseason and the product of that failure was New England signing Donte' Stallworth and Kelly Washington.

I am, in short, hoping these guys got game.

But I don't see that yet. The general manager search, with all due respect to Joey Clinkscales, was a farce. Parcells hired the top and only guy on his list after interviewing that guy and a minority candidate that satisfied the NFL's Rooney Rule. Period.

The coaching search? It has also been poorly veiled as a thorough process.

I mean, come on, is anyone truly convinced Sparano won't be the new coach? Does anyone doubt the guy Parcells told Atlanta owner Arthur Blank he wanted to hire before he joined the Dolphins won't follow him to Miami?

What's that saying? If it looks like a duck? If it walks like a duck? It's a duck.

Sure, the Dolphins interviewed other candidates, but these new Dolphins guys must think everyone is dumb. Frazier was the Rooney Rule guy. The only one. What happened to Mike Singletary? What happened to Ron Rivera? Or Green Bay assistant head coach Winston Moss, who happens to be from Miami?

The other candidates were Rex Ryan and Jim Schwartz. Schwartz is kind of hot right now because before he came to Miami he interviewed in Washington and Atlanta. The Dolphins, on the face of it, were interested in a bright guy with a bright future even though he had no connection to Parcells or Ireland. The Dolphins were being thorough, right?

Except that the agent who represents Schwartz -- Jimmy Sexton -- also represents Parcells. So how hard is it to suppose that this interview was just to keep Schwartz's name in the loop of hot interviews while also serving the Dolphins by making it seem they're being thorough? Not hard.

I hope this is not the best web the new Dolphins can weave. Otherwise it hearkens back to the days when the team conducted a grand and complex nationwide GM search that included Ted Thompson, Phil Savage and Tim Ruskell -- all of whom went on to build fine teams in Green Bay, Cleveland and Seattle -- and having such brilliance in front of them, the Dolphins predictably promoted Rick Spielman, whose decisions we are still suffering today.

The new Dolphins must do better.

So hopefully they pull a surprise no one expects. I would love it and commend them for it. It would be eye-popping. It would also command respect if Sparano is their guy and they just stand on that, not looking elsewhere, showing confidence in him and thus giving him a credibility he frankly lacks in South Florida.

But if Sparano is their guy and they're still going through the hokus pokus interviews to fool somebody then it's time to worry. Because nobody is fooled.

Update on coach, correction on Traylor argument

First let me tell you that Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has left town following his head coaching interview today.

Reached at the airport on his way back to Nashville, Schwartz declined to discuss his interview or talk about the fact he has virtually no chance to land this job. Also, there was a local published report headlined, "Head-coaching interviews with Tice, Schwartz scheduled," that said Tice was scheduled to visit today or Tuesday. I told you in this space last night I had not been able to confirm any such scheduled interview with Tice.

That is because it ain't happening.

Must I remind you Tony Sparano is the heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy favorite to be hired? Have I not made the point often enough?

Anyway, Jay Feely and I were on 790 The Ticket's Jorge Sedano show earlier discussing the whole end-of-year meltdown that was sandwiched between the New England road game Dec. 23 and the season-finale Dec. 30.

I had reported in my last post on the subject that the argument on the plane between Keith Traylor and Rex Hadnot and Vernon Carey was a result of a heated card or dominoes game between the players. I was wrong.

Feely corrected me, saying the argument was over the quality of play of the offensive linemen. Traylor apparently criticized the offensive linemen's play and that apparently escalated. Feely, one of the few Miami players who performed very well this season, also blamed the argument on the way the seating on the plane is arranged -- with veterans from both the offense and defense sitting up front.

Anyway, just want to keep the record straight. The argument did not boil over because the players were involved in a card or dominoes game. It boiled over because Traylor apparently didn't appreciate the way the offensive linemen performed. Thanks for the correction, Jay.

One thing Feely and I were both agreed on is that episodes like this happen, but they are magnified when a team is 1-15 and the coach and GM get fired.

Pieces fall into place for Dolphins hiring of coach

The Dolphins should have their new head coach by the end of this week barring a MAJOR upsetting of the apple cart in the next few days.

With the Dallas Cowboys surprising loss to the New York Giants Sunday, coaching search frontrunner and man everyone including me have anointed Miami's next coach Tony Sparano is free to be hired by any of the three teams he has already interviewed with.

I still believe it will be the Dolphins.

And that is the reason Sparano will clean up some loose ends in Dallas early today and be in South Florida no later than Tuesday or Wednesday for his second and deal-sealing interview with the Dolphins.

Understand that Sparano's initial interview with the Dolphins was unlike any other interview the Dolphins have conducted or will conduct during this search. While Leslie Frazier and Rex Ryan flew to South Florida for their interviews last week, and Tennessee's Jim Schwartz is flying in today for a similar meeting, Sparano had his interview in Dallas two weekends ago.

While Ryan, Frazier and Schwartz all met or are scheduled to meet with the entire Dolphins brass -- including owner Wayne Huizenga -- Sparano met only with GM Jeff Ireland. So Sparano will come in sometime in the next few days to meet with the club's higher ups, shake hands with Mr. Huizenga, and then his agent will go about the business of opening negotiations with the Dolphins.


It probably will be. Sparano, I am told, is about 95 percent assured of landing the Dolphins head coaching job. The other five percent is left for the possibility Schwartz, the brilliant Titans defensive coordinator, simply blows everyone away on his interview or perhaps Sparano comes to his second interview somehow unprepared or disinterested. The first can happen, the second isn't reality.

There's also the tiny chance another team such as Baltimore or Atlanta make a run at Sparano. Just covering all the bases for you here, but let's face facts, Sparano's agent Jimmy Sexton, also happens to be Bill Parcells' agent and he isn't going to steer Sparano anywhere but Miami while Huizenga isn't likely to lose a bidding war to anybody.

Oh, almost forgot, there is an internet report saying Mike Tice is also likely to interview for this job. Although Tice fancies Parcells as something of a godfather and I have been told Parcells wanted to give Tice an interview, I have not been able to independently confirm that interview has been solidified. But even if Tice does come for a round of talks Monday or Tuesday, his chance of getting the job are slim.

So to recap: Sparano, assuming everything goes according to plan, should be in South Florida sometime in the next few days primarily to meet Wayne Huizenga. And the Dolphins will likely have a head coach by week's end.

Wonder who that will be? HMMM. This one is really hard.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Can the Patriots express be derailed tonight?

NEW ENGLAND -- Here, where drama is relegated to action on the field, the Patriots and Jaguars play tonight in an AFC Divisional playoff game. I will be covering it.

And before you say it, I know this is a Dolphins blog and I know tonight's game doesn't involve the current Dolphins. How could it? It's a playoff game.

But it does have a tie to the 1972 Dolphins. In fact, if the Patriots lose, the Miami media relations department will e-mail a number of quotes from members of the perfect team talking about the fact they remain the lone unbeatens.

Anyway, I'm thinking that as Dolphins fans, you will have an interest in tonight's game because the Patriots are threatening the remarkable feat accomplished by the Perfect Season team. Am I correct on this? Will you watch, in part, because you want to see if the Pats can be derailed from their roll toward perfection?

Two more questions: Will you be rooting against the Patriots simply because you don't want them to be undefeated as the '72 team was? And do you believe the Jaguars have a legitimate opportunity to beat New England?

I may be naive, but I think the Jaguars have a great chance. I spent two days on my radio show two weeks ago painting a scenario where the Jags beat Pittsburgh and then beat the Patriots. Crazy?

First, I think Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard is the Patriots' nightmare matchup. He does not make a lot of mistakes, as he threw only three interceptions all season, and he can scramble both to evade the pass-rush and even to gain yardage. I know he wasn't great last week against Pittsburgh, throwing two interceptions, but I chalk that up to playoff jitters. He should get over those now.

Secondly, I believe the Jaguars can run on the Patriots. They ran on the Steelers, they can do it on New England. Granted, the Pats will load up to stop the run, but so has everyone else this year against Jacksonville. I believe Jacksonville can wear down the Pats front seven by the second half, if they stick with the run.

That brings up the matchup with New England's offense. The Jags can't be running the ball late in the game if they're trailing by a wide margin. So they MUST contain Randy Moss and Wes Welker and Tom Brady.

Look for former Dolphins cornerback Terry Cousin to be matched against Welker much of the evening. And look for Jacksonville to push the pocket right up the middle against Brady -- this will be a lot harder if John Henderson cannot play.

I don't think Moss can be stopped but if the Jags are hitting Brady during every pass play, his accuracy is nowhere close to his usual 70-74 percent completion rate. The Jaguars have to limit the Patriots to under 30 points. That will be difficult, some say impossible.

I say it's possible. I also say the Jaguars can win this game. Will they?

You tell me.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The stuff of novellas and soap operas

A lot of you have been asking for my information and opinion about the end-of-year meltdown the Dolphins had OFF the field prior to the season-finale.

First I commend reporter Jay Glazer for giving a complete and accurate account of what happened. The players who gave him the information did a great job of carrying the message off the team plane, out of the locker room and out of team meeting rooms. And Glazer did a fine job of relaying it. So go to if you want all the gory details.

Observation No. 1: The Dolphins are currently undergoing something of an information crackdown. This is typical of a team trying to hide its warts. Staff is being warned not to speak with media, not to return the phone calls from reporters and least of all, don't let anyone know exactly how royally screwed up things are within this organization. As one club employee told me recently, "I could write a book about this season."

But as typical of an organization that often worries about the wrong things at the wrong times concerning the wrong people, no one has told a player to keep things under wraps. And players are the ones who not only caused the meltdown a couple of weeks ago, but then served as sources for the episodes.

About the episodes: There was the widely reported confrontation on the team plane between Keith Traylor, Vernon Carey and Rex Hadnot with the defensive lineman remonstrating with the two offensive linemen. It started over a card or dominoes game which the Dolphins spent much of the season playing in the locker room and on chartered flights.

Observation No. 2: You have a bunch of competitive men that don't like to lose at ANYTHING. Those guys were quite frustrated throughout the season because they did little other than lose at football. So the card and dominoes tourneys were often heated. I saw angry exchanges myself several times in the locker room. One of those games begged to spark a more serious argument. Next year? Duh .... Keep the competition between players to the practice field. If they want to play cards, dominoes, or video games, let them do it on their off hours.

Anyway, the problem with the episode on the plane is that it seemed clear to everyone watching that coach Cam Cameron didn't really want to jump into the fray as it was happening. He seemed unsure. And that lost him much respect among players who, among themselves, started whispering that he "was not in control and looked scared," according to one player.

So the day after this incident, Cameron meets with Traylor about the whole thing and Traylor, who had publicly criticized Cameron, apparently let his emotions spill. He was disrespectful to Cameron and the coach responded by kicking the player off the team.

That sent ripples the size of rogue waves throughout the locker room. Veterans, particularly those on defense -- Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, Vonnie Holliday-- were incensed. Joey Porter, who mostly cares about Joey Porter, also joined in. And that led to a dressing down of Cameron by Porter in front of the entire team that was this year's version of the Daunte Culpepper- Nick Saban yelling match.

Except that, unlike Saban, Cameron didn't hold his own in this exchange.

It should be noted that Porter early in the season talked about wanting to lead the team but all he did this year was mostly talk and not back it up with production on the field. The Steelers were right about him, his best days are in his rear view mirror. Unless Porter finds a magic potion that greatly increases productivity, I would be surprised if Bill Parcells keeps him beyond 2008, regardless of the cap hit.

Anyway, the same Joey Porter that disobeyed Cameron by not returning with the team to South Florida after the Pittsburgh game, ripped Cameron a new one in front of the entire team after the Traylor incident. "Cowardly" was one word Porter used to describe Cameron IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE TEAM, according to one player. Cameron basically had no response. He had no retort and did nothing.

Observations No. 3: The coach should have suspended Porter for insubordination on the spot, IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE TEAM. But he didn't. Just as the punishment for that first offense of disobedience -- a fine -- was not enough, the punishment for this offense was ineffective also because, well, there was no punishment.

So Cameron lost his locker room cred right then and there, six days before the season-finale.

The troubling thing is that the players who led the revolt are supposed to be Miami's leaders. Was Cam wrong for being something of a wimp? Yes. Were the players wrong for acting as if this was a prison breakout while the warden slept? Absolutely.

A short aside: Thomas, a good man and a great player, also had issues with general manager Randy Mueller that he probably never should have had.

On Dec. 14, I reported on this blog that anonymous people within the organization were questioning Zach's desire to return from his concussion and headaches. I said in the post I did not agree with the opinion and, days later when he and I talked about the post, I told Thomas as much.

But Thomas told me during that talk that he already knew those things were being said, and furthermore, he knew who was saying them. He also told me he was going to confront that person although he didn't mention who exactly he was going to confront. I told him it wasn't one person saying those things, it was two, but I did not tell him my sources.

So how did Thomas come to believe Mueller was my source on this subject? Apparently a "reporter" from a competing newspaper trampled every line of ethics imaginable by injecting himself into the matter and WRONGLY convincing Thomas my source on the subject was Mueller. Again, I had two sources on this and, for the record, Mueller was not one of them.

Anyway, Zach apparently believed the misinformation he got either directly or indirectly from that other "reporter" and confronted Mueller. I do not know how that conversation between Zach and Mueller went, but Glazer reported Mueller denied being the source.

The whole thing needlessly caused friction between the team's star linebacker and general manager and all because Thomas trusted gossip from a fool with a reputation for having a big mouth. The irony here is that while Mueller was fired, both the people who questioned Zach to me remain employed by the Dolphins.

That club employee was right. Maybe I'll start on that book soon.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

More news about the coaching search

The Dolphins search for a new head coach has met its first road block.

According to a source, the Dolphins asked for and received permission to interview Arizona offensive coordinator Todd Haley today. But something happened on the way to Haley's head coaching interview.

The Cardinals offered their assistant a contract extension with a raise. And Haley took it. He has told the Dolphins, "Thank you, but no thank you."

Meanwhile, Rex Ryan who flew in today for his interview is already on his way out of town. That interview was interesting because, unlike the Leslie Frazier interview, it did not last two days.

Ryan was in and out.

Much as Frazier did, Ryan said he was painfully truthful with the Dolphins about their current state. "Bill [Parcells] has his hands full," Ryan said.

That statement is interesting coming from a coach on the only team the Dolphins beat in 2007.

On Leslie Frazier's interview with the Dolphins

I spent a few minutes talking with Dolphins head coach candidate Leslie Frazier earlier today.

Frazier is a good man and a solid coordinator but most folks don't think he'll get a legitimate shot to be the Dolphins coach. That is not what Frazier told me today so I wrote a story about it that is new to the Herald's website now. Here is the story:

Frazier told me this is his first interview for a head coaching job, but given how well the Vikings defense played at times in 2007, and his background with Tony Dungy, I get the feeling it will not be his last.

The conspiracy theorists out there are saying that Frazier was interviewed today only because he is a minority and his agent is the same as that of Bill Parcells and that is all part of the web of intrigue that will ultimately bring Tony Sparano to the Dolphins.

Well, I agree Frazier got this interview in part because he is black. And I indeed am skeptical that anyone not named Sparano will get the Dolphins job.

But Jimmy Sexton -- who is the agent for Parcells and Sparano -- did not serve up Frazier to Parcells simply to fulfill the requirements of the Rooney Rule. How do I know? Because Sexton is not Frazier's agent.

At least that is what Frazier told me.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Despite all appearances, Sparano is still the guy

You know in Goodfellas when Robert De Niro is being kind to Ray Liotta's wife by offering her some new clothes. All she has to do is walk down the street and pick them up. Except when she gets a few feet from the dilapidated storefront, she comes to understand that he was being nice so as to have her killed?

That is what's going on with the Dolphins now.

Don't understand? Another example:

You know in The Godfather when Al Pacino finds out his brother-in-law was in on the plot to overthrow the Corleone's so he finds the creep, asks him to confess and says the penalty for the betrayal is banishment. Pacino gives the guy an airline ticket out of town and sends him on his way. Except that when the guy gets in the car to go to the airport, the henchman sitting the back seat fits him with an Italian necktie?

So what is the point? This:

Despite all concocted appearances, the Dolphins are going to offer their head coach job to Tony Sparano. Despite the denials and stated deference to Rooney Rule and thorough interview processes, the Dolphins will ultimately offer their head coaching job to Tony Sparano. That was Bill Parcells' plan BEFORE he became Miami's football czar.

It still is his plan now.

When Parcells was speaking with Atlanta owner Arthur Blank about going to the Falcons, he identified Sparano as the guy he wanted to hire as his head coach. Do you really believe Blank came up with that name on his own? Be serious.

And the NFL, being a copycat league, saw Sparano become a suddenly hot property with Miami and Atlanta coveting him. So Baltimore, which had a list of 30 candidates initially, quickly got in the act by also interviewing Sparano for its head coaching vacancy.

And what is happening now? Sparano is saying he had a nice interview with ALL the teams, making it seem like they ALL interest him. And the Dolphins are vehemently denying a report Sparano was offered the job because their search process is not over and they are interested in ALL their candidates.

Please, people.

Sparano is Parcells' guy and Parcells is Sparano's guy. That's the way it is going to be. They're boys. Sparano hired the same agent that represents Parcells and that agent is not going to guide Sparano to some team not named the Dolphins.

Rex Ryan and Leslie Frazier? Nice candidates who will not be hired as Miami's head coach. Considered? Yes. Hired? No.

Nothing has changed. I remind you what I wrote about this situation on December 26, BEFORE Parcells was introduced as Miami's guy in charge of everything: "I can report to you that one of Parcells' guys is Tony Sparano. He was the Cowboys offensive coordinator under Parcells at Dallas. He is now the team's assistant head coach, the running game coordinator (Jason Garrett handles the passing game) and offensive line coach. The Cowboys offensive line, by the way, has three Pro Bowl players this year and running back Marion Barber is also Pro Bowl bound."

In that blog post I didn't mention names of any other potential candidates. I understand now they weren't really needed.

Friday, January 04, 2008

"No coaches being interviewed today" (updated)

The Dolphins have requested and received permission to interview Dallas assistant head coach Tony Sparano for their head coach vacancy, according to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones who confirmed the request on his Dallas-area radio show today.

Sparano will interview Saturday although NFL rules state Miami will have until Sunday when the final wild card game ends to conduct the interview.

That is good because Sparano, considered the front-runner to get the Miami job, apparently has a pretty busy schedule the next day or so. He is scheduled to interview with both the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens by Saturday. So it stands to reason the Dolphins could extend their talk with Sparano into Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, as I reported earlier, there are no interviews happening today at the Dolphins training facility. How do I know for sure?

The media is not allowed to roam the Dolphins facility so some of us have taken over a patch of swale across the road from the Dolphins training facility that allows print reporters to see who is coming and going while photographers shoot into the team's garage.

Well, around 10 a.m. Bill Parcells left the team's facility. But on his way down the road, he pulled up alongside the media contingent, rolled down his window and said, "Hey guys, there will be no coaches interviewed today."

A couple of the photographers, surprised by the gesture, asked for a clarification and Parcells said: "I wouldn't lie to you. You can go home. There will be no interviews today."

Alrightie then.

Anyway, there's your up to the second scoop.