Greg Stoda: After bold changes, Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin faces higher expectations



He’s just the head coach working with Jeff Ireland, who’s the general manager and therefore higher in the pecking order at Miami Dolphins Inc. when it comes to personnel decisions.

But it’s difficult to ignore how significantly the roster has changed since Philbin arrived on the scene way back in … 2012 as a rookie boss.

Now, it’s true that transition is part and parcel of building any NFL team. The turnover rate is high. It’s the bloodline of the business.

And neither were the Dolphins very good (6-10) when Tony Sparano was kicked out in 2011, which led to the eventual hiring of Philbin. It’s nevertheless shocking to study the list of primary starters on offense and defense during Sparano’s final season, and see how many of them no longer are Dolphins.

Take a deep breath.

Here are the names: Brandon Marshall, Reggie Bush, Anthony Fasano, Jake Long, Vernon Carey, Mark Colombo, Kendall Langford, Kevin Burnett, Karlos Dansby, Vontae Davis, Sean Smith and Yeremiah Bell.

How’s that for a makeover?

And that’s without mentioning that then-starting quarterback Matt Moore, who replaced an injured Chad Henne, is now the backup to Ryan Tannehill, who got the job as a rookie last season. Henne, meanwhile, is gone with the aforementioned others.

Who knows how many more changes are coming?

Miami was very busy in the recent NFL draft and in the free-agent market, after all.

“We had a lot of picks and good (salary) cap space,” Ireland said Friday coming off the practice fields after the first day of rookie camp. “The plan was to take the opportunity to be aggressive under those circumstances. We did that. Our goal was to create as much open competition for positions as possible.

“The other thing is that I think you always see more change when a new regime comes in.”

Philbin probably was fibbing when he said there’s no such animal as a sure-thing starter — defenders Cameron Wake, Paul Soliai and Randy Starks come to mind most immediately along with Tannehill and center Mike Pouncey on the other side of the ball — but he was adamant in making a case.

“We’re going to bring 90 guys to training camp at some point in time when the, quote, real competition begins and everybody has to earn their keep,” Philbin said. “There’s no preconceived notion that you’re going to play X amount of snaps for any player.

“People earn playing time by how they perform day in and day out on the practice field.”

Philbin doesn’t suffer fools gladly (see: Marshall) and figures to be more sure of himself and his decision-making in his second year after last season’s indoctrination.

“We’re evaluating our roster as we do at all points in time,” Philbin said. “We’re not afraid of looking to improve at any position. That’s kind of our standard m.o.”

Philbin has earned the respect of NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt, who said, “He reminds me of (late Dallas coaching legend) Tom Landry being analytical and not making any quick decisions. He’s impressed me. He’s done a good job facing some adversity. They’re on the right track.”

That’s high priase considering Brandt long worked with Landry with the Cowboys.

And it was Dolphins owner Stephen Ross who recently told radio station 790 The Ticket that he didn’t think Sparano was “the right coach for the Miami Dolphins” and “I didn’t hire him.”

He fired him is what Ross did, and brought in Philbin after a courtship of Jim Harbaugh.

“We’re a much better organization today than then,” Ross told 790. “This organization is functioning the best since the Shula days, because I picked the head coach with Jeff Ireland.”

Well, hold on, because last season’s 7-9 record didn’t scream a “much better” team than what the Dolphins had been under Sparano. There was improvement, but the steps taken were not giant ones.

Whatever happens this season will be more revealing as to the worth of the Ireland-Philbin blueprint. It’s impossible to deny the Dolphins have been bold in their approach to making changes, but stricter judgments are coming.

Something “much better” really is expected this time around, fairly or unfairly.

It’s one thing to be enterprising; it’s quite another to be successful.


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