Joe Philbin was announced as the Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins on January 20th, 2012. The Washington and Jefferson alum beat out interim coach Todd Bowles and future NFL Head Coach Mike McCoy. Dolphin’s owner Stephen Ross went to far as to say “Joe has all the attributes that we were looking for…” and “ (would) bring the Dolphins back to the success we enjoyed in the past.” The team seemed to display gaudy expectations in a man who had never been a Head Coach before. But Joe Philbin has always been up for a challenge.
Between the years 2007 and 2011 the Green Packers were among the most prolific offenses in NFL history. In these five seasons, the Packers ranked in the top-10 in yards per game every year, and top-5 in scoring offense in four of the five years. The team went to the playoffs in four of those five years, including a 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
Many people point to All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers as the catalyst of Green Bay’s offensive success, but even he wasn’t there for the entire duration of the run. It was actually Brett Favre who led the team in 2007 to a 13-3 record and an eventual loss in the NFC Championship Game, helping the Pack rank fourth in points scored and second in yardage along the way. The team has had many talented receivers, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver included, but none stood out as the overall #1. Three different Packers receivers led the team in receiving over the course of those five years. Even Ryan Grant wasn’t the mainstay in the porous backfield during this time, splitting carries with the likes of James Starks and Brandon Jackson.
It seems there was only one important consistency for this historic offensive Green Bay Packers unit during this era: Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin
Philbin came to a Dolphins team with a somewhat middling roster. After success in his initial season, Tony Sparano missed the playoffs his last three years and eventually was terminated. The Dolphins needed a change, not just someone who could be the leader of the team, but also someone who could shift the organization in a completely new direction. Joe Philbin was not shy to the challenge, and has been making radical moves in Miami since before he even coached his first game.
Philbin’s first major decision was to deal talented but questionable receiver Brandon Marshall to the Bears for future draft picks and cap space. The move was met with harsh criticism given that Marshall started all sixteen games and was just awarded Pro Bowl MVP. But Philbin didn’t care. It seemed like the reasoning for the move was as much about the team rebuild as it was about setting the precedent for the vision he had for the future. Philbin neglected to keep veteran Matt Moore as the starter despite throwing 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions the previous year. Instead, Philbin-controversially as always-went with his gut and trusted the kid he had drafted that year to lead the team from day one. Ryan Tannehill, originally a receiver in his first two years at Texas A&M, was the man Joe Philbin wanted to lead an offense Aaron Rodgers had previously perfected in Green Bay.
The duo has been up and down in there two seasons together in South Beach. Tannehill, who will turn 26 next month, had a rookie season in which he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Philbin trusted his guy throughout, ignoring the pressure from fans and media to put Moore in. In week four Tannehill rewarded Philbin’s trust, throwing for 431 yards and giving the Dolphins fans a glimpse of what could be a euphoric offensive future. In his sophomore season Tannehill only improved, increasing his yardage total to almost 4000 yards and throwing 24 touchdowns. By the end of that season, no one was questioning if Ryan Tannehill could play in the NFL, a belief Joe Philbin had two years previously when he took Tannehill eighth overall. The steady improvement showed hope for the Dolphins, but even so, Tannehill’s production is nowhere near what Joe Philbin believes it could be two years from now.
Its not just quarterbacking that Philbin has influenced, the entire roster has been completely transformed in the two years under his tenure. Of the 22 offensive and defensive starters that played for the Dolphins in 2011, only six still remain with the team. Philbin and the team’s multiple major moves are an attempt change the culture in Miami and rebuild the team to contend in the shaky AFC East. The Dolphin’s have completely changed their look to try to adhere to one man’s vision.
This bold roster strategy comes with huge risks, as the team has an entirely new offensive line in 2014. This new line will try to improve on what was a line that gave up 58 sacks in 2013, worst in the league. With the latest injury to Mike Pouncey, the Dolphins will likely trot out a line that has three players who weren’t on the team last season. This includes first round selection Ja’Wuan James, who is projected to get the nod a Right Tackle. But the shifting off offensive line personal wasn’t all Philbin’s doing. The infamous Richie Incognito-Jonathon Martin controversy caused the Dolphins to lose two starters midseason.
Controversies like that have caused teams to collapse all together in the past. The Dolphins preserved all season despite the media attention and offensive line ineptitude to finish at 8-8. A lesser coach may have let his team fold during a controversy like that, but Philbin, confident as always, stood strong throughout, further reaffirming the belief the Dolphins organization showed two years earlier.
The team looked among the leagues best early in 2013, going 3-0 to start the season including wins over two playoff teams from 2012. Then a rough patch struck. The Dolphins had a four game losing streak that included two road losses to the Saints and Patriots, and a three point loss to the defending champion Ravens. All teams go through rough patches during a season, and many believed the Dolphins could persevere to make the playoffs come seasons end. But from there the scandal broke, and playing football seemed secondary to the media and Dolphins supporters.
Even with the extensive scrutiny on the team, the Dolphins finished the year 8-8, one win away from a potential playoff spot. Through it all, one man maintained his composure and handled the media in a way that lesser couldn’t have, garnering the support of the organization throughout. Many wondered what could have been with this team that had so many key off-season acquisitions? What would have happened if the Dolphins organization hadn’t turned into a media circus and the team hadn’t lost two key offensive line starters? How would a team that had four of their eight wins over future playoff teams faired if it was just a “normal” season?
All of those questions have transferred to this season. And with the firing of GM Jeff Ireland and Offensive Coordinator Mike Sherman, those questions have transferred to one man’s shoulders. With a brand new pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks and a new Pro Bowl Left Tackle, those questions only add more weight. Joe Philbin, a man who the organization has trusted since the beginning, in the best and worst circumstances, will lead the Dolphins into the 2014 NFL season.