Stick Another Penny in the Head Coach Merry-Go-Round

Dolphins ex-head coach Joe Philbin

Nothing lasts forever in the NFL. Dynasties fall. Star players get traded to other teams.

Head coaches get fired.

On Monday, after a disastrous week 4 campaign in London against the Jets, the Miami Dolphins fired their head coach Joe Philbin – a man so boring that if he was a car, he’d be a beige Volvo. Or a Ford Focus. And not one of the sporty ST models, either. We’re talking plain old 1.6 diesel here. Not even interesting enough to be bad.

Of course, arguments will be made that Philbin WAS bad. With a veritable who’s-who on both sides of the ball, the Dolphins managed a paltry 24-28 (.462) in his 3-and-a-bit year tenure, and never once made the playoffs. This season, they’re off to a 1-3 start including a loss to Jacksonville – their worst record since they did the same in 2012. With news that new defensive pickup Ndamukong Suh was improvising plays and not sticking to his assignments, and the general feeling that the team wasn’t gelling, it was clear that Philbin had committed the worst sin a head coach can commit – he’d lost the locker room.

The signs were beginning to flash in 2013, when guard Richie Incognito was suspended following allegations of bullying teammate Johnathan Martin, which resulted in Martin’s sitting out the rest of the season and consequently being traded to the 49ers. It’s hard to believe that any head coach worth his salt would have allowed this to go on under his nose. Perhaps it was Philbin’s absolute lack of personality that allowed players to rule the proverbial roost.

What’s next for Miami?

In the interim, the Dolphins have appointed their tight end coach Dan Campbell as head coach, a post he will hold until the end of the season. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is also on the hotseat, unless his unit can improve from their dismal 30th-ranked spot. The big question here is – how will Miami’s fortunes change?

Initial reports suggest that Campbell already has more respect from the players than Philbin ever had, and his press conference certainly gave the impression of a man who isn’t taking this step as an excuse to roll over and rebuild. He believes they can win, but the numbers aren’t in his favour. Data on interim head coaches is hard to come by, but we can at least look at the 42 interim coaches who have gone on to take over the role for at least one season. Combined, their record as interim coaches is a paltry 128-198.5 (.394 – far below Philbin’s record). Only 12 of them have had a record greater than .500 in their interim period. In the years after their interim period, they’ve improved to .477 after taking the job on permanently – not reassuring news. So with the interim position such a difficult one to succeed from, why have Miami effectively bailed on 2015 and potentially thrown Campbell under the bus?

Truth does not belong to he who shouts the loudest – except for when it does

One of the big reasons for teams making changes isn’t just what they think is best moving forward, but what the fans want. Denver caved to fan pressure and started Tim Tebow over Kyle Orton. Cleveland started Johhny Manziel for the final few games of their 2014 campaign. And fans have been calling for heads to roll in Miami for some time. The top brass have a vested interest in keeping the fans happy – their continued support is essential for a franchise to survive. And the fans have clearly known for a while that Philbin and Coyle are not living up to their expectations. This wasn’t just a discontented rumbling among the faithful, it was a terrifying bellow from the rooftops. But is it really enough to justify firing the head coach this early in the season? Conventional wisdom states that teams should wait until later in the season, when firings at numerous coaching positions are rife and the talent pool is saturated. There’s a reason the day after the NFL regular season ends is dubbed “Black Monday” – this is when teams who fell below expectations start to clear out the front office.

It’s hard to see Miami improving this season. In fact, an 8-8 season is all but gone from their future. With an interim head coach, they’ll be lucky to secure 4 wins – and it’s near impossible to see them beating any divisional rivals in an AFC East that’s gone from strength to strength. The firing of Philbin is therefore not about rescuing a single season, but rescuing a team. For all of Campbell’s rhetoric about having the personnel to win, Miami are after something much more intangible.

Respect in the locker room. Campbell already has it, and needs to spend this season cementing it and getting the team back in line. Whether he keeps the job or not after the season (and it’s hard to see that he will, as most promotions to head coach come from coordinator positions), the top brass are hoping he can get the team back to being just that, in order to prepare for 2016.

Some early draft picks won’t hurt, either.