Joe Philbin circled the wagons in November when Richie Incognito and his band of bullies first became national news. He addressed reporters on the day following Incognito’s suspension with an audio loop of quotes that is running still.
“I want you to know as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, I am in charge of the workplace atmosphere,” Philbin said.
Compare and contrast that with what he said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Well, compare, anyway.
“I want everybody to know I am the one who is responsible for the workplace environment at the Miami Dolphins facility,” Philbin said, his voice rising in volume if not exactly passion.
“We’re going to look at every avenue. We’re going to uncover every stone and we’re going to have a better workplace. I promise you that.”
Flip the order of these statements if you like. Flip the whole calendar. Whether it’s heading into the league’s long investigation of Jonathan Martin’s harassment claims or stumbling awkwardly out the other side, Philbin sounds and looks the same.
Earnest but overwhelmed. Measured but strained. Scripted and drilled but to monotonous effect.
Clearly Philbin, entering his third year as an NFL head coach, needs to take off the training wheels. Nothing particularly comfortable about that, as any kid knows, but then comfort and familiarity have not been his friends in Miami.
Jim Turner, the offensive line coach who just got fired by the Dolphins and definitely had it coming, is a prime example. He had worked only college jobs until Philbin brought him to Miami in 2012. Their relationship was forged at Northeastern University in the mid-1990’s, when Philbin was the offensive coordinator and Turner, an ex-Marine, was his irreverent, unpredictable offensive line and tight ends coach.
Turner was smeared in the Ted Wells report as a willing participant in the Dolphins’ locker-room lunacy. As the position coach for Incognito, Martin, Mike Pouncey, John Jerry and the rest of Miami’s dysfunctional offensive line family, there’s only one way for Turner’s guys to interpret his actions. If this is the way one of Philbin’s oldest workmates does business, there must be a difference between what the head coach preaches and what he is willing to tolerate.
Turner previously worked for Mike Sherman, too, at Texas A&M. Sherman, fired by the Dolphins for the more conventional reason that his offense didn’t work, once was Philbin’s high-school English teacher. Not so coincidentally, Sherman also gave Philbin his first full-time coaching job at Tulane and later brought Philbin into the NFL as an assistant coach at Green Bay.
It’s all cozy that way, a loyal circle of friends, and Philbin has pushed the pattern to the limit in Miami. He brought Ken O’Keefe onto his first Dolphins staff as wide receivers coach, for instance, providing the first NFL opportunity for a mentor who previously was Philbin’s boss at Allegheny College and at Iowa. Oh, and Zac Taylor came aboard in 2012 as Philbin’s quarterbacks coach, too. Another newcomer to the NFL, he is Sherman’s son-in-law.
These men and others were supposed to be Philbin’s eyes in the locker room and the meeting rooms, but they didn’t see enough or know enough or say enough to keep things civil.
Start there if you’re overturning stones, and be glad that Philbin is starting over at a few key positions, with Bill Lazor at offensive coordinator and John Benton as Turner’s assumed replacement on the offensive line.
New voices may not always agree and new ideas may not always mesh, but something absolutely vital may yet happen here in relation to the promises that Philbin is making.
This head coach, respectful to a fault, must begin to fret less about everybody working together and concentrate more on getting every Dolphin, coaches and players alike, to work for him alone.
It is Philbin’s right and if he keeps this job beyond the 2014 season, it will be his salvation.