Underachieving will be Joe Philbin’s Miami legacy

Joe Philbin spent several years underachieving in Miami.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

By Mike Ferguson

The writing on the wall became an official announcement Monday as the Miami Dolphins parted ways with head coach Joe Philbin after more than three years with the team.

Philbin finishes his Dolphins’ career with an overall record of 24-28. A former offensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers, Philbin kept Miami alive in the playoff race into December in each of his first three years with the team, but falling short will prevail when it comes to how he’s remembered in South Florida.

With a rookie quarterback named Ryan Tannehill, there was reason for optimism following a 7-9 campaign in 2012, but neither a playoff appearance or a winning season would be in the cards in the two years to follow.

Philbin’s first harsh criticisms came during the 2013 season. After a 3-0 start, the Dolphins dropped four straight games at the heart of the league’s first-ever locker room bullying scandal. Guard Richie Incognito was accused of being the ringleader of a group of teammates that bullied tackle Jonathan Martin.

Incognito was suspended for the remainder of the season while Martin was away from the team for personal reasons. The Dolphins however, looked to be on the verge of overcoming the adversity, winning four of five games late in the year, including a thrilling 24-20 home victory over the powerhouse New England Patriots in mid-December.

At 8-6 and in control of its own destiny, Miami could have reached the playoffs with just one win in its last two games. The Dolphins were then shut out 19-0 at Buffalo to a Bills team that finished just 6-10. Miami’s season ended with a 20-7 loss at home to the New York Jets, which eliminated the Dolphins from playoff contention.

The Dolphins’ playoff dreams died a bit earlier in 2014, but Miami had a chance to clinch its first winning season on the final week of the regular season. Against the lowly Jets, who finished just 4-12, Miami was defeated 37-24.

Losing to seemingly over-matched opponents became a regularity over Philbin’s final seasons in Miami. Six of the Dolphins’ 16 losses over the previous two seasons came to teams who finished 6-10 or worse.

That moment for Miami came early in 2015. After rallying to beat the Washington Redskins in Week 1, the Dolphins fell 23-20 to a Jacksonville Jaguars team that went just 3-13 in 2014 and was regarded as one of the league’s worst heading into the season.

Not only did Miami regularly fall to sub-par opponents during Philbin’s reign, but the team rarely capitalized on its talent. The team had its fair share of marquee signings over the last few years including wide receivers Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings, tackle Branden Albert, safety Louis Delmas and most recently, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh

Some of it was due to injury, but Philbin’s Dolphins never seemed to maximize their newly added talent. Suh’s efforts early on in 2015 have been the recent center of scrutiny.

Whether Philbin gets the opportunity to be a head coach again in the NFL remains to be seen, but 2015 was easily shaping up to be his worst season. Slow starts for the Dolphins were a result of being out-coached and not having a winning game plan. Miami has trailed by double-digits in the first half in each of its four contests this season. 

The Dolphins fell behind by 27 in their home opener last week to Buffalo and by 20 early in the second half of Sunday’s 27-14 loss to the New York Jets in London. 

Tight ends coach Dan Campbell will be tasked with trying to turn around an inevitably disappointing season, which will be easier said than done. What is done, and to the relief of many fans, is Philbin’s tenure in Miami. The Dolphins will have a week off before visiting the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 18.

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