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  Saban is Part of The Solution
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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This has been a tough season for the Miami Dolphins. We all expected the team to return to playoff contention, to be relevant again. Instead, what we got was the ultimate trick instead of the treat. We got a one-win team.


This sucks, and Nick Saban knows it.


When teams go 1-6, the head coach is going to catch a lot of flak and rightfully so. Heck, even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then!



For sure, Saban has made his share of mistakes. All coaches do.


To every person who grouses about Mike Mularkey (including yours truly), I point you to Don Shula and some of the questionable hires he made (e.g. Vince Costello and Tom Olivadotti).


To every person who laments Saban’s questionable personnel decisions, I refer you to Shula’s and Jimmy Johnson’s first round busts.


All good coaches make mistakes.


Just remember that Saban’s track record of success proves that he knows how to find the talent and coach it (college and pro). And, no, he didn’t get stupid in just one offseason.


Don’t believe me? Just ask Joe Bailey, Dolphins Enterprises CEO. Before coming to Miami, Bailey worked for Russell Reynolds Associates, one of the top executive recruiters in the world. Bailey knows good leadership when he sees it. In fact, he helped owner Wayne Huizenga recruit Saban before he agreed to join the Dolphins himself.


So what did Bailey see in Saban?


“This is what I believe Nick has: Every successful effective leader is defined as a person who can take you from A to B in a short period of time and can sustain it over a period of years.”


“Number one, you look for someone who has a huge capacity for work,” Bailey said. “Secondly, you look for someone who has a very clear vision of what they want to do and they have the ability to sell that both internally to all of the people that they manage and then externally to all the individual constituencies.”


“Third, they have the confidence in themselves to hire the very best people they possibly can. Maybe people that are even stronger then they are from a functional standpoint.”


“Number four, they approach the position as a privilege and not a right. When I say privilege, they understand that they are there because it is a great opportunity and it's not an entitlement at some period of time.”


“Finally they are totally trusted by everyone, internally and externally. That goes to the character of the person. “


In a nutshell, that’s the person the Dolphins got in Nick Saban. Couple that with his on-field successes and it is clear the Dolphins have the ideal man for the job.


Despite the opinions of so-called management experts, maybe the issue with this sorry season is that there was a lofty expectation that everything could be fixed in a year or two.


Let’s not forget that a lot of damage was done to this team in the five years preceding Saban’s arrival. In many respects, Saban has a bigger mess to clean up than JJ did when he took the reins from Shula.


JJ had a culture of winning to build on. Shula gave that to him, despite the crash and burn of 1995. JJ also inherited a still-effective Dan Marino, the “candy store” JJ called him.


Saban had neither. Like a beautiful old home that falls into disrepair, almost everything has needed attention.


Creating the conditions for success is a bigger job than just a building a fancy new locker room or a state of the art practice bubble; it’s people, philosophy, and a positive learning environment for it to come together.


The thing is to find the right people that fit the philosophy. Sometimes the guys you get are stopgaps or bridges to the desired state. The Dolphins have a lot of that now, though some of the desired pieces are already on the roster.


This season, Saban is learning volumes more about his troops….the same things Bill Belichick learned about his guys when he was turning in a 5-11 record in 2000.


You see, nothing in sports reveals more about the character of the people in your organization than losing does.


Who stands and fights, and who quits?


Who finds a way to get better, and who doesn’t?


Who gets the job done, and who consistently fails?


Who can the Dolphins win a championship with, and who can they not?


Luck helps. Tom Brady unexpectedly gave Belichick what he needed to win a world championship in his second season. A healthy Daunte Culpepper might do the same in his second season as a Dolphin.


And, yes, having Ricky Williams back next season won’t hurt.


Having a reported $20 million under the cap won’t hurt either, especially when you have a guy like GM Randy Mueller helping to spend it.


Just keep in mind that free agency is best used to fill in key missing pieces, not build a team. The foundation of the team still comes from the draft. In this regard, Saban has done well thus far, much better than his predecessors did.


We now know that Ronnie Brown is the real deal, a wise choice with the 2nd overall pick in last year’s draft. A superior combination of speed and power, he has a chance to be very special. Travis Daniels, when healthy, is a solid NFL-caliber CB. Channing Crowder is an emerging talent at linebacker who will just continue to get better. Rookie Derek Hagan is already giving veteran DBs fits. Jason Allen, Matt Roth, Anthony Alabi, Joe Toledo, Frederick Evans, Rodrique Wright, and Kevin Vickerson are all up-and-coming talents as are a number of young free agent acquisitions such as Joe Berger and Marcus Vick. The future of the Miami Dolphins is already here.


The cap, the new faces, the other changes…all evidence that Saban is getting the ship headed in the right direction.


The problem here, of course, is that the NFL demands results now. Patience is not a virtue in the Not For Long league.


Look, if the goal was to be happy returning to the playoffs just to get whacked short of the big dance, the Dolphins would simply be returning to the mediocrity that has plagued them for the past two decades.


Saban has a bigger view, a bigger prize in mind. He knows that much has to change in order for that goal to be realized. It shouldn’t take him more than five years to do it, but it will clearly take him more than two.


As Jason Taylor says, “give the man some time”. If Saban can’t pull this off, it is hard to imagine who could.



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