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Ross keeps Michigan bias out of Dolphins’ draft plans

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross believes strongly in giving the people at the top of his organization ample space to do their jobs, and he’s far more inclined to trust them than to interject his own opinions on football decisions.

Unless it involves the University of Michigan.

Ross, Class of ’62, will be in Miami’s war room for this month’s NFL draft as usual and won’t be able to stay quiet about the surplus of talented Wolverines up for consideration as Mike Tannenbaum, Adam Gase and Chris Grier sort through their options. He’ll be lobbying for them, but there’s one caveat:

“I’ve told Mike that he doesn’t have to listen to me when I tell him who to pick,” Ross said with a laugh as he sat between Tannenbaum and team president Tom Garfinkel on a sunny patio at the Arizona Biltmore last week.

Ross’ Michigan ties run deeper than him having “Hail to the Victors” as his ringtone. No person has donated more to the university than his $313 million, which includes a staggering $200 million gift in 2013. The business school is named after him, as is the athletic campus.

Truthfully, it’s not a bad year for his Michigan bias to trickle into Miami’s draft process. The Wolverines produced at least a dozen players who expect to be picked, including probable first-rounders in safety Jabrill Peppers and defensive end Taco Charlton. The Dolphins need young talent at both of those positions.

Michigan also has tight end Jake Butt, cornerback Jourdan Lewis, defensive end Chris Wormley and a few offensive linemen that might interest Miami.

Ross is well aware that his professional football team doesn’t have a single Michigan alumnus on the roster and hasn’t drafted one during his time as majority owner. Miami took Jake Long and Chad Henne in the first and second rounds, respectively, in 2008, but no Wolverines since.

“Sure, I’d love to see a Michigan guy wearing Dolphins colors,” said Ross, who accompanied the team’s delegation to his alma mater’s pro day a week and a half ago. “But … it’s really a decision that they make. I think Chris and Mike do a great job and have a great department in scouting. They are very thorough.

“If you look at our draft picks last year, that really showed you an awful lot in the direction they wanted to go. And we’ve got some really good players. It was a good draft and I think we’ll continue to have good drafts.”

Tannenbaum jumped in with, “And I think you are underestimating the fact that our head coach is from Michigan State. It’s great for us to watch Adam and Steve have robust discussions about that.”

Gase was a student assistant on Michigan State’s football team under coach Nick Saban when he was there. The Spartans also have a first-round prospect in defensive tackle Malik McDowell.

McDowell, Peppers and Charlton all could be sitting there when Miami’s No. 22 pick comes up, and Ross won’t be able to recuse himself.

“Of course,” he said, beaming again. “You’re right, I’m going to say something, but I’m not going to be the one who makes that decision.”

Any NFL owner obviously would have veto power about controversial players or situations in which there’s a character concern, but overall Ross is content letting his people run the show. Grier is the point man on all draft-related matters, and Gase and Tannenbaum mostly defer to his judgment. Those three have shown a cohesion that Ross has craved for the franchise for years.

“These guys do a good job,” Ross said. “What you’ve seen is a front office and the coaches working together like we haven’t seen it in a long period of time—certainly not since I’ve owned the team. When you talk to people that have been around there, they haven’t seen that type of chemistry in decades. I think this is really the difference.

“When I talk to people, the one thing that makes a winning organization is everybody is on the same page. They like working with each other. I think that’s the big difference in the Miami Dolphins today.”

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