Philbin a strong coach, but disappointing hire

Philbin a strong coach, but disappointing hire

Published Jan. 21, 2012 6:42 p.m. ET

DAVIE, Fla. – The Miami Dolphins introduced Joe Philbin as their head coach Saturday. The immediate reaction borders between curiosity and indifference.

Let’s face it, at this moment, Philbin – the 50-year-old former Green Bay offensive coordinator, who, from most accounts, is one heck of a good coach – is a major disappointment.

And that’s not his fault. That’s the Dolphins' fault. The Dolphins have spoken and acted boldly in the past year, yet produced nothing. Zero. Well, unless you consider massive disappointment as production.

When word leaked that Ross wanted to hire a big-name head coach, fans had visions of Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden. The Dolphins interviewed six candidates, but none was named Cowher or Gruden. That’s very disappointing. And they didn’t get their No. 1 guy, former Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher. He went to St. Louis. Even more disappointing.

“Ultimately,” general manager Jeff Ireland said, “we found the right guy.”

That’s a tough sell to a dwindling fan base that can’t forget their team has one playoff appearance in the last 10 years, and is coming off its third consecutive losing season. That’s a feat not accomplished since its inception in the 1960s.

Philbin seems reasonable and level-headed. At Saturday’s introductory media session he didn’t harp on the need for a playmaking quarterback, the topic that produces 90 percent of a Dolphins fans' frustration.

Instead, Philbin spoke of improving the team as a whole, how he wants to play an “aggressive, up-tempo, attacking style in all three phases of the game.” He said he wants to be known as a “great tackling team,” and that he believes in fundamentals, execution and discipline more than scheme.

Philbin seems to be a man of substance and reality, not the quick fix. He’s refreshing.

“Today, we are embarking on a journey to return the Dolphins back to the top of the National Football League, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished here in almost 40 years,” he said.

Still, Dolphins fans can’t forget the disappointment, especially the shortfalls of the last 12 months.

Let’s call roll.

- There was that ill-fated interview with then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh last January, while Tony Sparano was still Miami’s head coach. Harbaugh is coaching in the NFC Championship on Sunday; Sparano was fired. You could take all day sorting through the disappointment of that misadventure.

- That was followed by the unfulfilled promise of finding a quarterback to contend with incumbent starter Chad Henne in training camp. And when the Dolphins finally settled on another quarterback, Matt Moore, they didn’t even give him a chance to compete for the job. It was only after Henne sustained a season-ending injury that the team found out Moore was actually the better quarterback. Very disappointing.

- There was also the promise of offensive excitement. Miami was going to employ a wide-open style that would deliver big plays and (wait for it) a 21st-century passing game. It happened, but only after a disappointing 0-7 start.

- And finally there was Ross' vow to find a “young Don Shula.” Words you shouldn’t speak in Miami when you’re referencing the Dolphins' next head coach. And that brings us back to Philbin.

Philbin could turn out to be a Super Bowl-winning head coach with Miami. Really. We have no idea. I don’t recall the masses nodding in hearty approval the day New Orleans named Sean Payton as their head man. The big difference is Payton wasn’t built up by New Orleans ownership to even be the next, say, Jim Haslett.

Philbin will eventually be judged by his record and amount of playoff victories, not his owner’s brash claims.

There’s no doubting Philbin’s commitment to the job. You recently saw an example when, days after his 21-year-old son, Michael, died by falling into an icy river in Wisconsin, Philbin coached in last week’s playoff loss to San Francisco.

Philbin, whose family attended Saturday’s press conference, said they had a “beautiful service” for Michael and he said another son insisted he push for the Dolphins job.

But the feeling around South Florida, and probably around much of the nation, is that Miami settled on this hire, that Philbin is somewhat of a disappointment.

Ross is a billionaire land developer known to be as flashy as his native city of Miami Beach. He put together that celebrity group – tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, singer Fergie and entertainers Gloria and Emilio Estefan, among them – to purchase a small share of the team and appear in promotions. He put a nightclub in the stadium. Stars enter via the Orange carpet.

And they’ll emerge next season to the stunning realization that Joe Philbin is their head coach.

As ridiculous as it sounds, this isn’t an indictment against Philbin. Well, maybe it is in a backhanded sort of way. But the dig is more about Ross' vow than Philbin’s qualifications.

The Dolphins said they’d deliver a “young Don Shula.”

So far, this is just another in a line of disappointments.