In the rubble of this disastrous Dolphin season, the paradigm of focusing on the current state versus the future continues to present itself.
This past week, team owner Wayne Huizenga finally weighed in on the subject.
Huizenga disclosed that he and ‘others’ are working on a “plan” to return the Dolphin franchise to winning ways.
To hear Huizenga share his “disappointment” in the current campaign was not surprising. Neither was his declaration to form a “plan” to get his club headed in the right direction.
Huizenga was understandably thin on details, deferring answers until the end of the season and leaving all of Dolphin-dom wondering just what this “plan” will really mean.
One thing Huizenga made clear was that he would not likely take to short-term actions. This means that those hoping that Head Coach Dave Wannstedt and General Manager Rick Spielman will be fired before season’s end won’t get their wish.
In fact, Huizenga went so far as to declare that he “likes both guys” and that maybe the only thing that changes is the implementation of the plan itself.
While Huizenga surprised many at the end of last season by deciding to stick with Wannstedt and promoting Spielman, it would truly be a major tremor if both men survive the offseason to come.
Still, Huizenga offered no real clues as to his thinking one way or another.
What we do have are bits and scraps that can be pieced together to form a reasonable idea as to what the nature of Huizenga’s plan will entail.
Clearly, Huizenga’s team is working on an organizational plan; a plan to improve effectiveness and produce acceptable results.
For Huizenga, “acceptable” means playoffs and legitimate Super Bowl contention. Today, no one would doubt that the Dolphins are far from being close to anything except the NFL cellar. There’s just no way that a man like Huizenga can be satisfied with the current situation.
Thus, as with any organizational plan, changes will start at the top and work their way down from there.
By this I mean that the right leadership needs to be in place before any transformation can occur. Given that Huizenga’s preferred method of management is to delegate to subject matter experts, he recognizes the need to find someone he can trust to lead the organization.
He also recognizes that the club must continue to have a strong financial and managerial foundation if the team is going to be successful on the football side of the house.
This is why I believe the plan will likely begin by identifying Team President Eddie Jones’s successor.
Jones has capably served the Dolphins for 17 years and would very much like to retire. This is a classy man whose leadership has been good for the franchise in so many ways, both on and off the field.
An effective team president is critical to the success of the entire organization. Thus, expect Huizenga to name someone with extensive front office experience in the league, a ‘consigliore’ if you will.
Next, the Dolphins are likely to fill the vacant Vice President of Football Operations position. This is the same position that Dan Marino abruptly vacated just days after being named to the job at the end of last season.
There has been speculation within league circles that former Dolphin QB Bernie Kosar could be tapped for this job, reporting directly to the new team president. Another possibility could be former Packers GM Ron Wolf.
It is reasonable to conclude that the fate of Mssrs. Spielman, Wannstedt, and the rest of the coaching staff will rest on the recommendations of this new VP of Football Operations. It is thought that Huizenga is desirous of such a decision-making approach as he isn’t altogether comfortable making unilateral football decisions.
We can expect that a new VP of Football Operations would want his own people in the GM and Head Coach positions. And, in Miami’s situation, could you blame him?
Spielman’s performance has been disappointing to say the least. His major mistakes have been failing to adequately address the team’s two biggest needs (offensive line and quarterback), not resigning key free agents (Todd Wade and Adewale Ogunleye), overpaying for A.J. Feeley (2nd rounder which could become the 33rd pick in the 2004 draft), overpaying for Lamar Gordon (3rd rounder to the Rams for a bust in Mike Martz’s system), and mismanaging the draft (paying a 1st and 4th rounder for a guy who couldn’t crack the starting line-up).
Spielman is the perfect example of guy who, when presented with mountains of analysis and data, seems incapable of making good decisions. By his own declaration when he took the job, he will be held accountable for the decisions made on his watch.
As for Wannstedt, he simply hasn’t been able to get his teams to perform up to their potential on a consistent basis. His inability to purge recurring mental mistakes (misassignments, penalties), his questionable hiring decisions (e.g. the dysfunctional offensive staff), and his misguided faith in certain players places him on the hot seat.
Wannstedt’s situation is regrettable; he is a quality man, someone you’d want to be associated with in any endeavor. In all fairness, many of the issues that hit this team in 2004 were completely out of his control.
Nevertheless, the hard bottom line here is that both Wannstedt and Spielman are to blame for the dearth of talent and the disaster on offense, both many years in the making.
As for the coaching staff, it is reasonable to expect that the defensive coaches will be retained; expect everyone else to be in jeopardy.
Finally, the plan should address at a summary level the team’s biggest personnel needs. Without a doubt, the number one priority in the offseason will be to rebuild the offense.
Unless a franchise-caliber, can’t-miss player is sitting at the top of the mountain, the Dolphins should explore a trade down from the top five for extra picks to address holes on the offensive line and at running back.
Also expect the Dolphins to sign a veteran quarterback to complement A.J. Feeley and replace Jay Fiedler, a guy unlikely to relegate himself to being a back up (especially if Wannstedt is fired). Sage Rosenfels will probably be allowed to leave via free agency.
If the Huizenga acts boldly, the Dolphins can become the next team to go from outhouse to penthouse in just one offseason. The fact that a solid core of good players exists makes plugging the holes a more manageable job. However, time is short; the age of key defensive players is becoming a concern.
What is needed is solid leadership at the top to get this thing turned. A strong plan from Huizenga would be a good start.