DAVIE (CBSMiami) – The Miami Dolphins were once the model franchise in the National Football League with stability in ownership, the front office, the coaching staff, and even at many positions on the field.
That’s not the case anymore as the team has become a shell of its former self and turned into as much of a punch line in the NFL as it is a legitimate franchise. The problems start at the top of the food chain with owner Stephen Ross and run through the front office and coaching staff and down to the players.
Ross’ problems are creatures of his own making and involve players, front office personnel, and coaches. All of it has damaged the Fins’ reputation in the eyes of the fans, media, and among fellow teams in the National Football League.
Ross put former general manager Jeff Ireland into a tricky position when he took the GM with him to California in an attempt to hire Jim Harbaugh as the team’s head coach, even though Tony Sparano was still under contract as the head coach.
The failed move was followed up by a press conference where Ross said he was standing by his head coach and gave him a contract extension. Sparano’s struggles would eventually lead to Ross firing him in the middle of the 2011 season.
Ireland also drew plenty of problems to the Dolphins through his actions, or lack of actions at different times during his tenure. Ireland became infamous when he asked then-NFL Draft prospect Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute in 2010.
When the Dolphins became embroiled in the alleged bullying saga between Jonathan Martin and fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito, Ireland suggested the best way to handle it was for Martin to slug Incognito.
Ireland’s reputation, along with the Dolphins’, was damaged by all of those incidents. But it was a trade last year that could make doing business with other teams a lot more difficult for the Fins.
During the last offseason, former Dolphins receiver Davone Bess was committed against his will by his family after a disturbing incident involving the then-leading receiver for the Dolphins. Bess was allegedly found at home ranting about guns, marijuana, and asking for someone to throw him the football.
Ireland and the Dolphins decided to trade Bess a little more than a month later to the Cleveland Browns. While teams aren’t required to disclose any problems, most do as a courtesy to fellow teams. The Dolphins didn’t and Bess continued his downward spiral while playing in Cleveland.
Bess was a shell of the receiver he was in Miami and led the league in drops before being shut down by the Browns with two weeks to go in the regular season. Bess made more headlines in the last few weeks after bizarre tweets showing drugs, his naked body, and a bizarre arrest at the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport.
There’s also been a disturbing trend of good players coming to the Dolphins, struggling, then going to a new team and re-establishing themselves as stars. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall and linebacker Karlos Dansby are just two examples of players who fit that mold; both are once again stars after leaving the Dolphins.
Ross kept Ireland on staff even after firing Sparano. Ireland would go on to hire Joe Philbin as the head coach, which in hindsight Ireland properly regrets.
The dysfunction in Davie continued into last season with Ireland reportedly saying in a suite during a game something negative about the coaching decisions. This message was allegedly relayed by Fins executive Dawn Aponte to Philbin who had his relationship with Ireland quickly deteriorate.
Aponte and Philbin are reportedly aligned inside the Dolphins’ power structure under Ross. Both are expected to report directly to the owner, a power structure unlike almost any other in the National Football League.
Against that backdrop, the team has been searching for a general manager to come in and rebuild the offensive and defensive line and get the team into contention again after finally jettisoning Ireland.
But, after multiple interviews, at least four high-profile candidates have withdrawn their names from contention for the general manager position. The common theme among candidates is a fear of the front office structure and lack of authority.
Typically, a general manager has the ability to hire/fire a head coach and controls the roster decisions. But, with Philbin reporting directly to Ross, it cuts out some of the power the general manager has and sets the stage for a three-headed rivalry as well.
If Philbin and the team struggles in 2014, how much power will the new GM have to fire him?
CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald’s Greg Cote summed it up thusly, “Either Ross is somehow failing to make that (front office) structure clear during extensive interview sessions. Or that structure is simply unappealing to candidates…Either answer makes Ross and the club look bad.”
The Dolphins haven’t won a Super Bowl since the early 1970’s and haven’t even been to a Super Bowl since the 1984 season. The team is not far from contending for a playoff spot, but as the team continues to have no direction through another offseason, will fans stick with the franchise or will they finally give up on their beloved South Florida team.
The only person who can answer that question is Stephen Ross as he prepares to make more moves to try to right his franchise.