Dolphins on verge of playoffs despite scandal
By now the Miami Dolphins’ season was supposed to be over, with
little left to do but make sure quarterback Ryan Tannehill still
had all his body parts and the NFL had an answer for what really
went on in the locker room.
But something happened on the way to another losing record.
Something clicked just when everything seemed to be falling apart
after a 300-pound offensive lineman left the team saying he had
Columnists, opponents and fans questioned the team’s leadership,
saying the coaches had ceded control to guard Richie Incognito and
his bad-boy antics. But instead of imploding, the Dolphins came
together. Instead of tanking, they found ways to win.
”Kind of a blessing in disguise,” tackle Bryant McKinnie
Now the Dolphins are squarely in the playoff hunt, a surprise
team peaking at just the right time. With two very winnable games
left they control their own destiny in a season when they couldn’t
even control the locker room.
Players say coach Joe Philbin’s calm response to the November
crisis put them on the winning path.
”Adversity is either going to make your team strong because the
leader is going to rally and pull everyone together, or make you
disintegrate because the leader is panicking,” said Patrick
Lencioni, who writes on leadership and team building in business.
”Clearly he did not panic.”
The team was floundering even before Jonathan Martin walked out
and Incognito was sent packing. The Dolphins had lost four straight
games to fall to 3-4, and the uproar over bullying threatened to
further fracture a fragile team.
Owner Stephen Ross expressed his outrage.
”Changes need to be made,” he said.
But changes weren’t made, at least big ones. Replacements were
brought in for Martin and Incognito and they proved capable. The
coaching staff remained intact and general manager Jeff Ireland
still has his job.
But as NFL investigators traveled to Miami to interview everyone
about what Incognito said or did to Martin, other things began to
Miami started to win. The line, with backups replacing Martin
and Incognito, gave up fewer sacks and opened up more room to
And on Sunday, a fill-in safety playing his first NFL game
intercepted a pass in the end zone to seal an upset over New
England and put the Dolphins in the driver’s seat for their first
playoff appearance in five years.
”With all the distractions, everybody still wanted to win,”
McKinnie said. ”We found a way to remain focused.”
No stranger to adversity, Philbin was still mourning the
accidental death of his 21-year-old son days earlier when he was
given his first head coaching job in the NFL in January 2012.
His total focus became rebuilding the Dolphins. A four-game
losing streak this season didn’t shake his plan, and neither did
”He laid that plan out from the very first day he was here, and
he never wavered from it,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said.
”Amidst all of the peripheral things that have been going on here
during the course of the season, he just stayed the course each and
every day and provided the leadership to the players in the team
meetings and to the staff in the staff meetings about, `Hey we are
doing things the right way. We are going to continue to move
forward and try to build the best organization in the NFL.’ Nothing
has ever changed.”
In the process the stoic Philbin has gone from being on the
chopping block to being mentioned as a possible coach of the year
”I haven’t heard any of that,” Philbin said. ”Again, we are
all concentrating as a team and an organization. This is important.
We talked about the fourth quarter and playing well in December.
These guys have been hard at it since July 21st. We need to finish
this season strong.”
Lencioni, who wrote the book ”Five Dysfunctions of a Team,”
said it could be that the bullying and team leadership was not as
bad as thought. That’s certainly the perception of Dolphins
players, who stuck up for Incognito.
”If the media is tough on them and they’re sticking together,
that’s a unifying force,” Lencioni said. ”But it requires
credibility on the part of the coach. If the coach is a jerk with
no credibility then the whole `Us against the world’ thing probably
With four wins in the last five games, the Dolphins have a
chance to be remembered for more than having a bully in the locker
room. It could be the rare team that becomes unified in the face of
Instead of worrying about the loss of Martin and Incognito,
players have embraced the personnel they have. That includes safety
Michael Thomas, who was picked up off the San Francisco 49ers
practice squad and made his NFL debut on Sunday against the
Many of his new teammates said they didn’t even know who No. 31
was until he picked off Tom Brady with seconds remaining to seal a
game that the Dolphins of old would have probably lost. That didn’t
stop them from embracing Thomas in celebration.
”Teamwork really is a huge competitive advantage when you can
actually make a team play like a team. They may have less talent on
the field now but they have a better team,” Lencioni said.
”And that may be the real story of the Miami Dolphins of