by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist
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Respect. Trust. Working Together.
These were the themes that Nick Saban offered up as cornerstones as he was introduced for the first time as Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins.
All three elements were lacking in 2004. In the end, some players didn't respect Dave Wannstedt. We now know of at least one player (Sam Madison) who no longer trusts General Manager Rick Spielman. And, we all know that the offensive coaching staff was not the model of how peers should work together.
Clearly, harmony and chemistry is something Saban prizes and seeks to permeate throughout the organization.
"Division from within will upset any organization or destroy any organization faster than anything else, so we want to be a team", opined Saban. "As a team, if we have a bunch of successful individuals, and people we can help be successful with those individuals we will have a successful team. And together everybody will be able accomplish a lot more."
On other matters, Saban wasted little time in differentiating himself from his successor. Good thing, too. More of the same is not what the Dolphins need.
Perhaps most refreshing is Saban's view on how he wants to conduct the offense, where quarterback productivity will be the top priority in improving the NFL's 29th ranked offense, the worst in Dolphin history.
"The one thing that you need to understand about me is I am not a defensive coach who plays conservatively on offense to protect the defense", Saban said. "You have to have players that are explosive players on offense who can make plays."
"It's very difficult in this day and age of football to be effective if you don't have some production at the quarterback position. I think that is probably really important."
Hallelujah! The lights have come on in Davie!
Saban went on to invoke Bob Griese and Dan Marino as examples of the talent and winning attitude his Dolphins will value.
Get the impression that Jay Fiedler is done as a Dolphin?
This doesn't mean that Saban has embraced A.J. Feeley as the future quarterback of this team. Saban hasn't "had a chance to really evaluate" the talent.
Still, first impressions tend to be the most lasting. So it has to help Feeley's case that the only two games Saban had seen (as of the news conference) were the wins over New England and Cleveland.
There's no question that the evaluation of Feeley and the hiring of the right offensive coordinator will be the two most important near-term things that Saban does.
One surprising thing Saban has already done is leave the door cracked for Ricky Williams, should he desire to return.
"I think that if Ricky Williams has value to this organization he certainly is somebody that we would like to have be part of this organization", offered Saban. "I would be open to that."
While it boggles the mind to consider the possibility of Williams returning to the NFL as a Dolphin, Saban's statement underscores that it is a new day in Dolphinland.
Defensively, Saban and former interim boss Jim Bates wasted no time in sitting down to set the parameters of a future relationship. And while Bill Lewis and Bernie Parmalee tendered their resignations on their way to Notre Dame University, other coaches were told that they could look around but that Saban might get back to them.
Nick, here's some free advice: Aside from Bates, it would be a wise thing if you retained receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and defensive backs coach Mel Phillips. Both are quality men who would be assets to you and a credit to the organization.
By the way, count me in as someone who thinks current quarterbacks coach Marc Trestman should be strongly considered for the offensive coordinator post. Simply put, Trestman has a brilliant offensive mind and knows how to handle quarterbacks.
Of course my opinion counts for squat when it comes to making such decisions. In Trestman's case, Saban will need to be convinced that the squabbling between Trestman and other offensive coaches will be a thing of the past.
Now back to defense where the million dollar question is whether or not Saban scraps the Jimmy Johnson defensive philosophy and instead opts to return to the days of the Killer Bs and the 3-4.
Yes, Saban will find that he has some of the pieces to make a 3-4 work, the biggest being a stud DT in Larry Chester. Tim Bowens could do the job nicely as well, given that he can return healthy.
However, Linebacker would be the biggest question mark where the current preference for lighter, faster men is not conducive to a 3-4 scheme. One wonders if Zach Thomas could line up and play a 3-4.
Then again, a guy like Jason Taylor could easily become a current day A.J. Duhe in a 3-4 alignment.
Which ever way Saban goes, the very conversation is yet another indication that things will never be the same again. That includes the players.
Don't be surprised by the decisions that will likely be made over the next three months. We will see well-known talents released or traded. Count on it.
Of course the coolest personnel chip that Saban will play is the #2 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The early money is on a trade down on the way to addressing the left tackle position or, possibly, running back. Should Saban sour on Feeley, a quarterback like Matt Lienart, Aaron Rodgers, or Alex Smith might fill the order.
I know, I know. It is way too early to talk draft.
Yet, the winds of change are already blowing in Miami.