Although the amount of time they both are on the island might be minimal, Stephen Ross and Robert Kraft are virtual Palm Beach neighbors.
As NFL owners, Ross and his Miami Dolphins are miles apart from Kraft and his New England Patriots, with most of Ross’ five years running his franchise being spent straining his neck looking upward at the empire Kraft created from the mess he purchased in 1994.
Ross, too, knows about messes, rolling up his sleeves last week to clean up following the departures of unpopular general manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.
This is where Jack Mula comes in. He’s not advising Ross on these critical hires, but he could.
Mula’s name probably doesn’t register with you, and while his resume is too lengthy to detail, know this: He spent a decade as general counsel/player personnel for the Patriots, reporting to Kraft and coach Bill Belichick. Before that, he spent 15 years on the opposite side of the table, as an agent whose clients included Doug Flutie, Fred Smerlas and Matt Millen as well as Dolphins Rob Konrad and Troy Stradford.
In short: Mula knows the business model crafted by Kraft that has dominated the AFC East, and he’s familiar with the Dolphins.
First, a warning about his advice. It might not be what Dolfans want to hear. It isn’t sexy. He knows some of it sounds hokey. What he also knows?
“That blueprint wins,” said Mula, 55, a partner in several sports and entertainment businesses including Cornerstone Sports Consulting, which gives career guidance to college athletes.
Probably before Ireland could clean out his office, speculation began on his replacement. The unofficial list is more than a dozen deep (the Dolphins interviewed Browns assistant general manager Ray Farmer on Saturday), including well-known names such as Scott Pioli, who worked alongside Mula as vice president of player personnel for the Patriots. And while Mula endorses Pioli as a passionate, energetic executive, he cautions against fixating on any one candidate.
“What happens that separates the winners and the losers is people believe it’s about one person: It’s about ‘this owner,’ ‘this GM,’ ‘this coach,’ ‘this quarterback,’ ” Mula said.
“And it is not. … If the search is about finding that ‘one perfect person,’ I think that should take a back seat to finding the person who will complement those who are already there, the person who will make those around him better.”
If that aspect of the Patriots’ model were in place in Miami, Ross might not be searching today. Reports are that Ireland and coach Joe Philbin were at odds to the extent that they barely spoke to one another late this season, which ended with the Dolphins 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the fifth consecutive time.
A malaise hovered over the Patriots when Kraft entered the picture. But he immediately predicted championships.
“I was not going to rest until it happened,” Kraft told The Post in 2008. “And I tried to put together the team and the unit that could make it happen, and then stay involved to the point where you could help people out and make that connection. … If I couldn’t do it, I’d get out of the business.”
The Patriots, before Kraft: six playoff berths in 34 years.
The Patriots, under Kraft: 15 playoff berths in 20 seasons.
Oh, and three Super Bowl victories.
Ross appears to have gotten at least part of the message. Whoever is named GM, Ross said, must be “a collaborative team player that puts the organization first. Regardless of reporting structure, the relationship between the general manager and coach Philbin must be one of trust, respect and collaboration, and this will be an area we will look closely at during the process.”
In South Florida, it’s easy to attribute much of the Patriots’ success to Belichick, just as New Englanders likely viewed Don Shula. Belichick entered Saturday night’s playoff against Indianapolis one shy of Shula’s 19 postseason victories and two behind the all-time record by Dallas’ Tom Landry.
Considering the injuries the Patriots have overcome this season, Dan Dierdorf, calling his final game for CBS this weekend in Foxborough, wondered if this has been Belichick’s finest coaching performance. Mula said Belichick would take issue with anyone giving him too much credit.
“Bill let you know it’s about ‘team,’ ” Mula said, quoting the word engraved on his Super Bowl ring. He cited assistant coaches and executives plucked from the Patriots’ franchise who never ma
tched that success elsewhere.
“The emphasis was put on, ‘Josh (McDaniels) will be the savior, Eric (Mangini) will be the savior, Scott will be the savior,’ ” Mula said. “It was all about them — and that’s not what New England was about.”
Power could come into play in Miami. Ireland reportedly was unwilling to cede much of his power. Dawn Aponte, currently executive vice president of football administration, could gain power. Mula said he didn’t know specifics of the Aponte situation but cautioned against viewing any changes from a power perspective.
“It was a group thing,” Mula said of decisions made in New England. “It sounds simple but it’s very tough to execute because of people’s goals, desires, egos, ‘gaining power.’ If it’s about gaining power, that’s on the losing end. If it’s about accountability, value, leadership to others, that blueprint wins.”
Many of the reported GM candidates have ties to the Dolphins or Ross. Pioli worked with Aponte with the Jets. Similar lines can be drawn involving Farmer, former Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, Green Bay director of pro personnel Eliot Wolf and former Jets and Browns coach Mangini.
“There’s familiarity in a lot of NFL hirings, that closeness of referral and comfort level with the people you know,” Mula said. “I think it has roots in that it’s somewhat of a nomadic business.”
It’s more common in football than the business world, he added, because “there are only 32 head coaching jobs in the world, versus 32,000 CEO jobs in the business world.”
If the Dolphins end up hiring someone they know, fine. If they hire someone who makes the pieces fit the way the Ireland/Philbin/Aponte did not, that’s more important.
“It’s the toughest thing to do when you’re in professional sports,” Mula said. “Maybe that’s the way they’re going to end up and if they do, that’ll be fantastic.”