Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Dolphin Dysfunction

Note: if you haven't already, take a second to sign up with the Miami Herald online. I use them as sourced material often throughout this report, and likely more often as the season begins. It is free of charge.

by Taylor Sias

(December 15, 2003) By even the coach’s admission, the 2003 Miami Dolphins football season was unsuccessful. On a calm Monday night in South Florida, Donovan McNabb and the visiting Philadelphia Eagles effectively terminated the Dolphins season. In what was a must-win contest, the Dolphins were beaten by a score of 34-27. 
http://www.finheaven.com/seasonal/boxviewer.php?showdoc=18

After the effects of a beer bottle beaning wore off, I was surprisingly content with the Dolphins performance. Surely, with a second straight season of missing the playoffs, there would be major changes after the season. There was no doubt in my mind that Coach Dave Wannstedt would be fired immediately after the season-ending game versus the rival New York Jets. As expected, many head coaches were let go after Week 17 of the NFL season. Dick Jauron was gone from Chicago, and Dave McInnis was termined by Arizona. Much to by bemusement, the Head Coach in Miami still retained his employment. 

(December 28, 2003) Sitting through a meaningless season-ender against the Jets, I discussed with my friend the possibilities for next season. As the first half neared its close, I was assured that we’d see the firing made official Monday morning. Something strange happened as the game approached the two-minute warning. On my headphones, WJNO’s Howard David was reporting breaking news about the Dolphins coaching situation. I turned to Eric and was eagerly awaiting the right moment to inform him of Wanny’s demise. Unfortunately, that moment never came. Dejected, I made him privy to this latest development. Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that Wannstedt would not only be retained as coach, but also given a contract extension. The only positive was that former Saints G.M. Randy Muller was reportedly coming to town as General Manager of the Dolphins. http://msnbc.msn.com/id/3817646/

The Dolphins went on to win that game versus the Jets, giving Wannstedt a feather in his cap. Ardent defenders, notably the Miami Herald’s Dan LeBatard, could factually claim that Wannstedt had three ten-win seasons during his four years overall with the club. His supporters conveniently forget that he has only one postseason victory, which was a come from behind effort versus the Indianapolis Colts in the 2001 Wild Card Round of the playoffs. Nevertheless, putting aside my disagreement with his coaching philosophy, Wannstedt could no longer practice his putrid executive skills anymore. A number of well-respected individuals were under consideration to be brought in to Miami. The Randy Mueller rumors quickly subsided and were replaced by thoughts of former Packers G.M. Ron Wolf being hired by management.

(January 12, 2004) Sadly, none of that ever happened. Guess who was eventually hired, on January 12, to be the team’s G.M. It was none other than long-time Wannstedt crony and ally, Rick Spielman. http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/7693036.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp

The former Vice President of the franchise, Rick Spielman, was promoted to the position of General Manager. To the best of my knowledge, Spielman is a far-superior executive to Mr. Wannstedt. Of course, that’s like saying Ronald Reagan was a better President than George W. Bush. Both suck horrendously, but at least Reagan was semi-competent. Spielman had actually advised the team to pick Anquan Boldin in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Instead, Wannstedt picked Tennessee LB and future criminal defendant Eddy Moore. Boldin went on to have a superb rookie season, catching 101 passes and 8 TD’s. Moore didn’t play for a single game for the Dolphins because of injury. My criticism is not an indictment on Mr. Moore. Despite his injuries and trouble with the law, Moore could easily be a solid contributor to the Dolphins. However, they missed a golden opportunity to bring in the local product Boldin, who had graduated from Pahokee High School only 3 years before and went to Florida State University. This was an error of grave proportions. The team was already stacked at the linebacker position, already having acquired Junior Seau in the off-season. Depth at WR was very slim. Chris Chambers is a solid first-option, but our second starter was the abysmal Darrius Thompson, formerly of the Washington Redskins. Thompson did improve in the second half of the season, but only ended up with 26 catches for the season. The third option, WR James McKnight, only caught 23 balls. I’m not a math major, but even the two combined don’t come close to Boldin’s 100 + receptions in 2003.

Sorry, I just have to take a brief break. I’m already approaching 2 pages on my Microsoft Word document, and I’ve barely touched on the most egregious offenses. It’s 3:30 am now. I imagine it’ll take me until dawn to hit all the main points. This is so awful, I might even have to make it a multiple part series. It’s not even just Wannstedt. It’s Spielman, it’s Huizenga, and it’s derelict players. Let me continue with further complaints about the 2003 off-season.

Any fan of the Dolphins could notice how horrendous the Offensive Line was last season. Mid-season games versus the Titans, and more noticeably the Colts, were lost because of OL ineptitude. I don’t wish to put the blame on embattled Left Tackle Wade Smith. By all accounts, he is a very nice man. He answered the media admirably after his failure against Dwight Freeney led to the Dolphins loss to Indianapolis in their Week 9 encounter. Mr. Smith could not be expected to take on the likes of Freeney and the Titans Jevon Kearse. Only a few short years ago, Smith was playing Tight End with the University of Memphis. But Wannstedt expected a rookie third round draft pick to protect an already weak QB’s blind side. The Dolphins could have acquired free agents Wayne Gandy or Kyle Turley during that off-season. Instead, they decided to go with a rookie LT and a banged up offensive guards. That’s the type of quality decision-making you get from the team’s personnel guy, Dave Wannstedt.

On that same day, the Dolphins hired former QB Dan Marino to be their Senior Vice President of Football Operations.
http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/7693036.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp&ERIGHTS=-2304547539518570176miami::tsias@hotmail.com&KRD_RM=0igjnokphhigggggggghpjpiig%7CTaylor%7CY&is_rd=Y

(February 4, 2004) To this day, I’m not exactly sure what that title means, or if anybody replaced Marino when he quit three weeks later.  http://www.sptimes.com/2004/02/04/Sports/Marino_quits_Dolphins.shtml

At the time, I was very critical of the decision to bring in Marino and elevate Spielman. There is no doubt that Rick Spielman was a longtime loyalist to Wannstedt from their days together in Chicago. Even with Spielman formally being the boss, Wanny would still have considerable clout in the decision making process. It was little more than a feeble attempt to convince fans that change had taken place when none actually had. Marino had no experience as a NFL executive. I believe that Marino would have served as little more than a figurehead. Marino, the former Republican QB of the team, is a beloved figure in South Florida. However, few details were given about his job description. I pondered as to whether we’d see Don Shula return to work as an usher at the Pro. Many fans on talk radio were not buying this decision, either. Instead of bringing in a winner like Ron Wolf, we were stuck with the same old status quo. On February 4, Marino decided to quit his post and return to the studio booth with CBS and HBO. In reality, his decision to resign probably has little effect on the day-to-day dealings of the team. It was only the beginning of a large number of problems to hit the Dolphins this 2004 off-season.

(January, exact date unknown) Injured second-year linebacker Eddy Moore is knocked out in a bar room brawl. Still searching for a more detailed account.

(January 26, 2004) On January 26, Dolphins Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner left the Dolphins to become the Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders. http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/sports/football/7800612.htm

Not that this was all that bad for the Dolphins, though. Turner’s offense was very poor during his two years with the team. Of course, he wasn’t given that much to work with. He had Ricky Williams and not much else. Dolphins fans know that the team hasn’t had an offense since the last days of the Shula Administration.

Later that January 26 day, the Dolphins promoted Running backs coach Joel Collier to Offensive Coordinator. http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/0104/121693.html

(February 21, 2004) The Dolphins decided to go in a different direction at QB, trading for Eagles QB A.J. Feeley. He is best known for starting four games in Philadelphia in 2002 when Donovan McNabb was injured. Feeley did not take a snap for all of 2003.

http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/sports/football/8009908.htm?1c

Shortly thereafter, inscumbent QB Jay Fiedler takes a pay cut and remains with the team. As of today, the QB competition is still ongoing. This is an absolute disgrace. A second round pick is very valuable in the NFL. The team expects at least 3-5 years of production from a high draft pick. But a funny thing happened when Feeley started taking snaps during mini-camp. It was discovered that he’s not particularly very good at football. This is what one local writer wrote about the Feeley/Fiedler saga back in May:

“While Feeley is a ways from passing incumbent starter Jay Fiedler for the starting job, his grasp and translation of the offense is coming quickly.”

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/sports/football/8718665.htm?ERIGHTS=-4950199774763377893miami::tsias@hotmail.com&KRD_RM=0igjnokphhigggggggghpjpiig%7CTaylor%7CY

As training camp now approaches, it’s very much feasible that Jay Fiedler will be the starting QB on opening day versus the Tennessee Titans. The Dolphins could have acquired any number of veteran QB’s, such as Jeff Garcia, Jon Kitna, Kerry Collins, or Mark Brunell. I’m not saying that any of these guys are long-term solutions. But they give a much more stable short-term future than an untested and unproven Feeley. Maybe Feeley will turn out to be another Tom Brady. More likely, it’ll be Akili Smith or David Klingler.

(February 25, 2004) Newly acquired CB Will Poole is arrested and charged with DUI.
 
(Exact Date unverified, but before May) Collier’s tenure as coordinator lasted all of a few weeks. He claims that health reasons led him to quit, but this is amid reports that internal tension caused him to quit the post. Collier is once again the RB coach for Miami. Now, the Dolphins O-Coordinator is the much-esteemed Chris Foerster. I consider myself a loyal Dolphins fan, but I have literally nothing to say about Foerster, other than he’s a step down from Turner, Chan Gailey, or even Joel Collier.

They chose Foerster, who has no coordinating experiencing. The team has not only one, but two former coordinators currently on staff. They are QB Coach Marc Trestman and WR Coach Jerry Sullivan. I’m wondering when Huizenga decides to bring in Mike Shula to run the offense.

I can’t find all the specific dates, but here’s a piece from the Herald documenting the saga of Collier and crew.

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/sports/football/nfl/miami_dolphins/8691053.htm?ERIGHTS=-383623837144571210miami::tsias@hotmail.com&KRD_RM=0igjnokphhigggggggghpjpiig%7CTaylor%7CY&is_rd=Y

(April 19, 2004) Oronde Gadsden was arrsted in the early morning hours for DUI and driving without a valid license. During this arrest, it was discovered that Gadsden had two other outstanding warrants.

(May 14, 2004) Back in mid-May, it was only a minor inconvenience when Ricky Williams tested positive for marijuana. http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=1802049

He would have to pay a hefty $650,000 fine. Still, for only his second violation, the league would not suspend him from play. I, along with other fans, got a chuckle out of this violation. I have little problem with recreational marijuana use. I figured that Ricky would appeal the fine and it would have no significant consequences for the season. Little did I know how important the hippie-lettuce was in the grand scheme of Ricky Williams’ life.

(May 25, 2004) Former starting FS Brock Marion was arrested for filing a fraudelent insurance claim and grand theft (over $20,000).

http://www.talkaboutprofootball.com/group/alt.sports.football.pro.miami-dolphins/messages/236741.html

(June 3, 2004) LB Junior Seau makes this comment at a team function. "We are a unit that cares. ... I would say love and everybody would say, 'You're a faggot,' but I'm not." After all these years in the spotlight, how clueless could Junior be? He eventually apologizes for the remark.

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=1815471

 
(June 29, 2004) In another unfortunate happening, emerging TE Randy McMichael was arrested in late June on charges of assaulting his pregnant wife. http://cbs.sportsline.com/nfl/story/7459931

Innocent until proven guilty, but just another negative occurrence during this bizarre off-season.

(July 9, 2004) Zach Thomas had to undergo surgery for torn cartilage in his left knee. This will force him to miss part of training camp and the pre-season. http://cbs.sportsline.com/nfl/story/7485915

Of course, injuries cannot always be helped. However, this does show that the window of opportunity may be slowly closing. Many of the top members of this defense are approaching 30 years of age. Even with Ricky, this defense could probably only survive intact for a few more years. The team struggled badly last year when Tommy Hendricks had to replace Thomas at the Middle Linebacker position.

(July 15, 2004) In a complete shock, Ricky Williams decides to retire from the NFL.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2004/football/nfl/07/25/bc.fbn.dolphins.williams.ap/?cnn=yes

I doubt I have to go much into the details, considering how fresh the story is. The Dolphins will feel the implications for years to come. The team gave up two first round picks for the loose-cannon back. A 1st Rounder should give a team 5-7 years of quality production. With the Dolphins poor draft history (Recall Yatil Green, John Avery, etc.), it might not have mattered much. Still, at least they would have had a chance. Now, they have no first round pick and no running game. The best we can hope for is Stacy Mack, James Stewart, or Dorsey Levens. Wannstedt will probably try a running back by committee, praying that Travis Minor, Leonard Henry, or Sammie Morris show something during training camp.

This might be the only time that I feel the least bit sorry for Dave Wannstedt. By all accounts, he tried to reach out to Williams during his two years in Miami. I know Ricky has problems, but overall he seems like a selfish individual. We have Dan LeBatard out there presenting Ricky in a sympathetic light. Ricky Williams himself won’t even talk face-to-face to the media, or even Coach Wannstedt. Whatever problems he may have, he should have the testicular fortitude to tell his teammates and coaches to their faces. I won’t go on too much about Williams, since I’ve already posted one of my commentaries on this sorry saga.

(Ongoing) Finally, we have the dispute between Defensive End Adawale Ogunleye. Before last week, it was safe to say that Ogunleye would remain a Dolphin for this year. Things have changed, though. He might have to be used as bait to acquire Onterrio Smith from the Vikings or Anthony Thomas of Chicago.

I think I’ve covered all my bases. I can’t envision a worse off-season for this Dolphins team. Some of it is just bad luck. A lot of it comes down to shitty work by Huizenga and everyone else on the chain of command. It will be interesting to see how this season develops. Before this latest setback, I expected another 10- win season. Now, it’s conceivable to see this team finishing below .500. Will Wannstedt get a reprieve if the team fails? Or will Huizenga finally decide it’s time for change? With the season one month away, we still have no idea who will be starting at QB. I’m sure the team will desperately hope that Williams decides to un-retire. Personally, I never want to see Williams in a Dolphins uniform again. But the reality of the situation is that Williams is a great talent, and Miami would probably take him back if he so desired. The drug testing is another story, something I don’t know about in complete detail.

It’s amazing how much has changed in such a short period of time. Last December, Dolphins ownership had a clear choice to make. Most fans were displeased with the direction the team was taking. I think most people thought change was necessary. What we got was like the public being dissatisfied with George W. Bush and then replacing him with Dick Cheney. There was an ever so-slight change in direction. Most astute fans realized the fraud that was perpetrated upon the public. Despite the claims of Dan LeBatard, these decisions did nothing to further the cause of this football franchise. The off-season has continually gotten worse, culminating with the bombshell that was leveled in the early morning hours last Sunday. Fans kept optimism that the team would be better this year. Despite our rational core, we still held out the childlike hope for a Cinderella season in 2004. Now, the crushing reality has hit home for fans of this proud franchise. It likely won’t be one bad season. The foundation on which this team was built has been dismantled. If things go as badly as expected, the dissolution of this team will further break apart next off-season.

Dave Wannstedt will surely put a positive spin on this dreadful scenario. The man does have an optimism that I admire. Unfortunately, he has little basis for his grand predictions. Last year, he famously predicted that the Dolphins would lead the league in second half rushing. That never came close to fruition. He’ll say that he has full confidence in Travis Minor. Of course, he’s as dismayed as we are. We’ll see that trademark optimism, only tempered by the site of another inexplicable Jay Fiedler INT. We’ll watch with chagrin as he walks off the field with that signature look of disillusionment. He’ll be smiling right as he walks out of South Florida sometime next year or the year after. Don’t feel badly for Wanny, though. With his record, someone, somewhere will pick him up. He will be able to put “food on his family” for many years to come.

This off-season of folly and betrayal mercifully comes to an end this week. Training camp will begin and I will be in my seats for each regular season affair in 2004. I am nothing if not loyal to this team. I’ll meet old friends and console each other as we share in the common football experience. We’ll certainly see great plays and even perhaps a marvelous victory or two. If nothing else, I might be able to leave Pro Player Stadium this December without disappointment. For the last two years, the team had so much promise, yet yielded so few accomplishments. This year’s team will be fortunate to compete for a playoff berth. My ultimate hope is to eventually see a fundamental change in this team’s structure. A complete devastation might open the owner’s eyes and convince him to orchestrate the sorely needed overhaul of this fallen franchise.



1 Comments:

Blogger Eric Cioffoletti said...

Wow, Taylor. This is some great commentary. I had no idea you were into football this much but it really is one of your passions.

Don't worry though--the Dolphins aren't in that bad of shape. I'm willing to bet that they'll be some positive surprises this season as well. Remember Lamar Smith? No one saw that coming. Feeley might be a pretty good QB waiting to break out. It happens all the time. Players mature and get better as they get older: Rich Gannon, Kurt Warner, Jeff Garcia.

I'm looking forward to seeing some good games in 2004. Maybe the Dolphins could benefit from seeing themselves as underdogs?

July 29, 2004 at 8:53 PM  

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