And so it begins.
The complete makeover of the dismal Dolphins got underway earlier than expected with the sudden resignation of Head Coach Dave Wannstedt.
It is unclear right now who will be the head coach in 2005. Names rumored to be in the running include LSU’s Nick Saban, New England’s Charlie Weis, and Philadelphia’s Brad Childress.
One thing we can be clear on is that Wannstedt’s departure will have little impact on the fate of this putrid 2004 season. I would wager that Don Shula couldn’t do much better with the lot that interim boss Jim Bates has inherited.
This brings us to the other suspect in this year’s debacle: General Manager Rick Spielman.
Certainly, Wannstedt bears his share of the blame. But it was Spielman who was the chief personnel man. It was Spielman who recommended the players to Wannstedt, who recommended decisions every year save this one.
Say what you will about Wannstedt, but know this: his professionalism and commitment to what was best for the Miami Dolphins was the ultimate lever in his decision to resign from the team. He lived his accountability to the last.
One wonders if Rick Spielman has the clarity of vision to draw the same conclusions about himself. If he does, he’d resign immediately.
After all, this is the man who believes that all of his personnel decisions have been sound, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.
This is the GM who failed to build a respectable offensive line to support the team’s run-first philosophy. In fact, this is the GM who managed to actually downgrade the talent across the offensive line, a unit now widely regarded as one of the worst in the NFL.
As bad as the line was last year, it was some accomplishment to make things even worse.
This is the GM who decided that it isn’t good policy to re-sign one’s own good players (e.g. Todd Wade, Adewale Ogunleye) and instead shopped for inferior and cheap replacements (e.g. John St. Clair and Chidi Ahanotu).
In case you hadn’t heard, Ahanotu quit the team last month.
This is the GM who failed to adequately address the quarterback situation.
Instead of signing a solid veteran player to lead a veteran team with a limited window of opportunity to win, he panicked and overpaid for an inexperienced guy (a second rounder for A.J. Feeley who had started all of 13 games since high school) and then re-signed another (Jay Fiedler) who has proven that he cannot consistently deliver the goods.
Adding insult to injury, the second rounder sent to Philadelphia will likely become the 33rd pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
This is the GM who allowed defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, the team’s 2003 Most Valuable Player, to leave via a bad trade.
Bad, that is, for the Dolphins.
Recall that Ogunleye’s market value was a first and third round draft pick. Instead, Trader Rick gets Marty Booker and a third round pick out of the Bears, declaring Booker of equal value to a first rounder (a boast that no one who knows football truly buys).
Booker has since done little as a Dolphin except cry into his pillow about how the Bears betrayed him. The third rounder? Promptly traded to the Rams for running back Lamar Gordon, a flat out bust in Mike Martz’s system.
And, oh by the way, Gordon is out injured…for the year.
This is the GM who badly mismanaged the 2004 draft, suckered into paying a 1st and 4th rounder for a need player (Vernon Carey) who couldn’t crack the starting line-up behind a guy nicknamed “Turnstile” (St. Clair).
This is the GM who decided to acquire an injury and behavior risk (David Boston) and opted against drafting a young, speedy wide receiver to hedge the bet.
Surprise! Boston is out injured, for the season, and is in trouble with the law.
This is the GM who decided to give WR Derrius Thompson a contract extension after Thompson caught just 23 balls for 359 yards and no TDs in 2003.
This is the GM who seems mystified why you don’t see how good his moves have been, who defends every decision in defiance of the realities of the grades his work has earned on the field.
This is the GM who has a 1-8 mark hanging around his neck, as responsible for it as Wannstedt was.
Will Spielman accept responsibility for what has happened on his watch, as he vowed to do when he took the job?
Time will tell. For now, Spielman had better pray that Bates has more success with this group than Wannstedt did.
Otherwise, it’s Spielman who should jump next.