In Philbin, Dolphins hired man of character

In Philbin, Dolphins hired man of character

Published Jan. 20, 2012 8:46 p.m. ET

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In two short weeks, new Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin's life has changed in every way imaginable.

Philbin, the Green Bay Packers' offensive coordinator since 2007, was on top of the world as the new year began. The Packers were 15-1 and the NFC's No. 1 seed, and Philbin was about to benefit from both the team's success and its bye week. That was because on Saturday, Jan. 7, he interviewed for the Dolphins' vacant head coaching position for the first time. Miami was the second team - the Kansas City Chiefs were the first - to talk to him about leading its franchise. Not bad for a man with no prior head coaching experience.

But as the Packers were enjoying wild card weekend off, Philbin and his family were struck by tragedy. One of Philbin's six children - 21-year-old son, Michael - went missing Sunday morning. With the Packers' bye week concluding and an upcoming playoff matchup with the New York Giants on the schedule, Philbin wasn't with the team Monday.

Less than an hour after head coach Mike McCarthy stood at the Lambeau Field press room podium Monday afternoon and told reporters there was still optimism Philbin's son would be found, the worst possible outcome was realized: Michael Philbin had died after drowning in a local river that was covered by a thin layer of ice in an unusually warm Wisconsin winter.

The news hit the entire Packers family hard. Philbin wasn't with the team throughout that week, spending time with his family as it grieved. By Friday, many Packers players and coaches joined Philbin at his son's funeral.

The next day, less than 24 hours before Green Bay's game against the Giants, Philbin called McCarthy. The coordinator wanted to coach in the game. McCarthy had him sleep on that decision, but Philbin didn't change his mind. On Sunday, he was in his normal seat in the press box, assisting McCarthy as usual. However, in a significant upset, New York came into Green Bay and beat the Packers by 17 points.

After the game, Philbin walked around the locker room for a short while. He grabbed his bag and soon headed out the doors, now unable to use playoff football as a temporary distraction from the upsetting reality of his personal life.

Many thought that with everything going on, Philbin might stop pursing other coaching opportunities. But he never gave up on his goal of being a head coach in the NFL and decided to remain a candidate with the Dolphins.

By mid-week, Philbin was interviewing for a second time with Miami. Before leaving Florida, he also interviewed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There was also interest from the Oakland Raiders, whose new general manager Reggie McKenzie was a longtime Packers front office member.

Philbin was in high demand and had the total support of McCarthy and his players, just as he had in dealing with tragedy a week earlier.

On Friday, that demand resulted in a job offer from the Dolphins. Less than two weeks after his son's death, Philbin is heading 1,600 miles south to accept the task of leading a franchise that has gone through four coaches in eight seasons.

Widely regarded as one of the nicest, most genuine people in all of football, Philbin has earned this. His heart, talent and perseverance convinced Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to give the 50-year-old his first head coaching opportunity.

Now, if Philbin is able to turn around a struggling Dolphins franchise that hasn't won a playoff game in 12 years, this will be a script fit for Hollywood. If the kind, but emotionally distraught, coach is able to do it, it'll be the perfect - albeit heart-wrenching - tale of a nice guy finishing first.

Playing a supporting role just might be Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn. The Dolphins need a QB, and Flynn is a free agent who broke several Packers franchise records with a 480-yard, six-touchdown performance in Week 17.

Whomever does end up alongside Philbin on his Miami adventure will be with a man who, even in the midst of a terrible tragedy, proved he deserved this chance. Once Dolphins fans get to know Philbin, they'll be ecstatic to find out the kind of person they have leading their team.

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