What happened to my beloved Dolphins? Why can they never seem to get it right? Where did it go so wrong? How could they let this game (insert any of the number of losses by 7 points or less) get away? As a life-long Dolphins fan, these are some of the many questions that I am sure a number of you true Dolphins fans out there can sympathize with me on. While he may never have gotten a Superbowl ring, every game that Marino played for the Dolphins gave us one thing – hope. Every game Ricky Williams played in for his first few years, I felt a glimmer of hope in spite of the fact that Dave Wannstedt was the head coach.
Where did it all go so wrong for the Dolphins? It began with the sale of the team by the Robbie family. A new owner came in with a lot of swagger, and in a thinly veiled coup de’tat removed the iconic and immortal Don Shula, bringing in the hot choice at coach, Jimmy Johnson. Jimmy was the start of the coaching carousel that would plague the Miami Dolphins for over a decade. The coaching carousel is the single greatest reason for failure that the Dolphins have had. Jimmy began building a team, despite not seeing it through to success, that could really take off and go places. He found the gems in the draft, despite some memorable failures (I won’t name any names, John Avery), and found some legendary Dolphin’s greats – Zach & Jason, I wish you were still here. Then Jimmy departed after the heartbreaking loss to the Jaguars in the playoffs… and left many Dolfans cringing at the thought that “The Moustache” would follow him.
-The Moustache Era-
That’s right… I’m still so frustrated with the rapid descent in coaching skills that I’m dubbing one of the absolute worst as “The Moustache Era.” He took what had been building in Miami and disassembled it. It remained hidden for a year or two behind the monumental performance of Ricky Williams and a few others, but in reality the botches made by team management during that time were the most rapid and firm cause of descent for a historic franchise. I can still palpably taste the disgust in my mouth with that regime. Wannstedt’s first move as temporary coach was to push Marino out the door, who remains to this day the single greatest player to don the aqua and orange. While it’s true Marino was probably only sixty to seventy percent of the player that he was in his golden years, I would take sixty to seventy percent of Dan Marino over one hundred and twenty percent of <insert failed successor here>. It was shameful the way he was pushed out, and without an actual successor, this was a failed decision.
The play calling during the Moustache Era was the worst that I have ever seen from any team, at any level, ever. The sheer and brunt ability of Ricky Williams is one of the primary reasons that any of it worked, in spite of poor decision after poor decision. I’m going to let all of you in on a little secret here, I don’t study game film during the week… I just don’t have time in my schedule. I can still, as if I were an individual gifted with a photographic memory, recall with succinct clarity so many of the plays where the offense lined up on the field and screaming at my TV “Oh my god no, don’t run that play! Don’t run that <expletive> play!!!” – and the team would snap the ball and run exactly what we all knew was coming. I can only imagine that, if the average Dolfan at home knew exactly what was coming on almost any given play, these defenders who get paid millions of dollars to study game film day in and day out were all too aware of what was coming. This regime left a horror show in my mind, and I still can’t palate the sideline screen to this day.
Dave Wannstedt, amidst the turmoil caused by the shaky leadership provided by both Chris Spielman and himself, unceremoniously left midway through the 2004 season, with the team staring at a 1-8 record. Less than 2 months later, he would resurface again, and in an effort to destroy all things that beloved for Dan Marino in football, it was as the new head coach at Pitt (On a personal side note, as a UCONN fan, I rejoiced at this news). The experiment with the Moustache Era had drawn to it’s sad, tragic conclusion.
-The Post-Apocalyptic Aftermath Era-
I admit it, the name of the era following Wannstedt’s destruction of the team is a bit harsh, but as a fan we watched head coaches, GM’s, Quarterbacks and others shuffle through trying to change the culture in Miami. Names both big and small were paraded past us… and kept right on going, shuffling along by in a an effort to fix the void and departing again. Furthering the demise, they all seemed to have opposing viewpoints on how to fix the team. “We’re going to swap out our big slow guys for little fast guys” followed by “We’re going to swap our little fast guys out for some bigger slower guys” – all of which saw better players join the coaching shuffle, as in an episode of The Walking Dead, all headed towards some further, as yet unknown, destination.
I know many folks will argue this point, but I’m very adamant about the fact that I believe Tony Sparano COULD have fixed this team and righted the ship. I am taking nothing away from Coach Philbin, as I don’t know enough about him yet to see if he can get us there. I always liked Tony Sparano, but gained a huge amount of respect for him during the course of last season. Tony finally “got it” that he needs to coach to the players he has and redesign his system to match the skills, experience, and talents of his players. He took one on the chin after that hellacious start to the season last year, and in a matter of weeks transformed the team into one of the teams that might not be going to the playoffs, but was hitting people in the mouth and other than the Green Bay Packers – no team WANTED to face the Dolphins during the closing months of the season. They suddenly found their swagger and started getting the job done. In spite of everything, the second half of the season last year should be viewed as the best steps towards leading our fans out of the dark and into the light, and laid the groundwork for a team to finish climbing out of that cellar.
Looking at this season thus far, Miami looks like a team that is heading in the right direction and righting that ship. There will be mistakes – Philbin is a first year head coach, Tannehill a rookie starting Quarterback, and other young players at positions that will make some critical mistakes at the worst times.
Fans can say what they want to, and be frustrated if they so choose, but the Dolphins are 2 minutes and 1 play away from a 3-0 record right now. You take back the 2 minutes where nothing could go right on offense in the Texans game, and the subsequent points that resulted from those 2 minutes, and the Texans game could easily be a win. The Jets? If Carpenter makes either field goal, or if the pass to Hartline had hit him in stride instead of Hartline having to make a superhuman amazing effort to catch the ball, or the timeout hadn’t been called to ice the kicker, etc… that’s another win right there. Looking at that, I can’t help but be optimistic of where this team can go over the next few years… can you?