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  Dolphins Need Stability
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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No one likes to see a 6-6 record. No one likes to see the latest starting QB struggle. No one enjoys seeing the New England Patriots and the New York Jets defeating the Dolphins at home.


I get it. Really, I do.


But what’s important for the critics and, most importantly, owner Stephen Ross to understand is that the Miami Dolphins don’t need another housecleaning. They need coherence. They need perseverance. They need continuity in leadership and organizational philosophy. That’s how championships are built and winning sustained over a long period of time.


The gold standard for this tried and true formula is our own Don Shula. He coached the Dolphins for 25 years and did a lot of winning.


This was no accident. Shula brought his own coaching ability and added it to the considerable talent he inherited. He then parlayed it into three straight Super Bowl appearances on his way to making the Dolphins the winningest team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. But what really made Shula the winningest coach in the NFL history was his ability to leverage that tradition and culture of winning, veteran to rookie, over the years in a consistent, almost unbroken fashion. Even when Shula was changing his offensive and defensive philosophies to suit his players’ talents, his leadership and organizational philosophy remained the same.


This is the formula the Dolphins need to return to. It’s the formula that the Patriots have successfully adopted and the one the Steelers have followed since Chuck Noll ran that show.


Maybe Ross gets this. I certainly hope so.


As for the critics, how about some fairness here? Current Dolphins coach Tony Sparano has a harder road than Shula did. A lot harder. Sparano essentially inherited an expansion level team when he arrived in 2008. In other words, the cupboards were bare. Even the strong culture of winning that Shula built up had been squandered. Add to it the fact that the Dolphins have missed on a decent number of major free agents and draft picks, and you quickly understand why the progress has been slower than hoped.


Yet one thing we shouldn’t worry about is Sparano’s coaching prowess. This is a man who knows how to run a team and lead men, which is what a coach is supposed to do. “Perseverance”, the adjective most used in a positive sense when discussing his Dolphins, doesn’t happen unless the man at the top commands respect and credibility. This he does as well as anyone in the NFL.


Of course Sparano isn’t perfect. No one among us is. But having met and interviewed Sparano multiple times, toured the facility, soaked in his philosophy over the course of his tenure, and talked to his coaches and players, I understand why some have compared him with Shula. And I’m convinced that Sparano is the right man to lead the Dolphins.


Want more proof?


Sparano’s first season is all you really need, the one that should have convinced you that he has the goods. He’s the coach who he led the Dolphins to the biggest single season turnaround in NFL history, winning the AFC East. Sparano proved his ability given a good QB (Chad Pennington) running the show.




Sparano and offensive coordinator Dan Henning don’t have that luxury now. Haven’t had it really for two seasons now. For all the withering criticism that Henning has absorbed with how he conducts the offense, he remains understandably focused on trying to keep QB Chad Henne within the limits of his current capabilities.


Make no mistake: this task has been the single biggest worry for Henning and Sparano this season. By far. Their successes, and failures, have been almost a mirror image of Henne’s performance.


It is still uncertain whether or not Henne will work out. I, for one, do not agree with assertions that the Henne era is over; we’ve seen too much goodness to make that declaration. And maybe that’s a part of the overall consistency-over-time equation. We all understand how difficult it is to find or develop a good QB, one talented enough to lead a team to a championship. The miss on Drew Brees reminded us how much luck really plays into this thing. That’s why I think it is OK for them to start over in that regard if it comes down to that. Hopefully it won’t, but this is clearly is a possibility now.


Can we trust Sparano and GM Jeff Ireland to get it right? After all, these are the same guys who drafted Henne and Pat White. Then again, they also get credit for signing Chad Pennington (2008 NFL MVP runner up and Comeback Player) and getting Tyler Thigpen, a good young prospect, for a mere 7th rounder.


I believe they deserve our trust because the core of the roster is strong evidence that they know what they’re doing and get it right most of the time. A re-built defense is now ranked in the Top 5, with every starter but two a newcomer under the current regime. And though the offense is still a work in process, the side has been strengthened in the offensive backfield, at tackle, tight end, and significantly at wide receiver.


This is all good work, perhaps not progressing as fast as we would like, but good nonetheless. While they may be two drafts away from becoming a regular postseason contender, they are clearly headed in the right direction…assuming they solve the all-important QB problem.


So put down the torches and pitchforks, people. Firings are not what the Miami Dolphins need right now. What they need is stability, starting at the top of the organization. The rest will come in due time, as long as they stay the course.

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