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It was in the hotel lobby of the Washington D.C. Westin a few weeks ago when Don Shula called me over. We were there to go to The White House with the 1972 Perfect Team, but Shula had something else on his mind.
“I really like this head coach,” Shula whispered to me. “He has so many qualities you are looking for.”
Can Joe Philbin receive a better endorsement than that?
Year two is about to begin for Joe Philbin and, just like his second-year quarterback, improvement is expected. This isn’t to say he struggled in his first go around; it’s just that even after almost 30 years as an assistant, can you really be prepared for the pressures and the instant decisions of being an NFL head coach?
It’s hard to get Joe Philbin to talk about himself. He is a very private man. But as camp began, I asked him about his improvement, about what he expects from himself now that he has a solid feel for the terrain.
“I hold myself to the same standards that I hold my players,” Philbin responded. “I expect them to be better and I should be better as well. There are things I know I can do better as far as scheduling and being more efficient. I always spend time evaluating what I can do better.”
So what do we know about Joe Philbin?
We know that he is highly intelligent and has a creative offensive mind.
We know that he is a stickler for organization and even the most minute of details, giving the word meticulous new meaning.
We know that he has little tolerance for rogue players who don’t buy into the system and don’t represent the organization in a first-class manner off the field as well as on.
We know he doesn’t divulge much to the media, yet he usually calls each questioner by his first name, the first Dolphins coach I can ever remember doing that.
We know that he is a tireless worker, watches countless hours of tape and has surrounded himself with a highly-competent staff that wasn’t brought in to merely say “yes” to the head coach.
We know that he doesn’t discuss injuries, doesn’t have many hobbies and, when he isn’t breathing football, he prefers quiet evenings with his family.
We know that he disdains stupid penalties and is obsessed over turnover margin and red zone efficiency.
We know that in his calculating mind it’s all about the process. I once asked him what it was like to win a Super Bowl as offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. “To be truthful,” he said, “it was the journey more than the end result that I will always remember.”
So another journey for Joe Philbin begins Sunday in Cleveland. Where will it lead? Does this tall, thin, highly-introspective man with a dry sense of humor have the DNA necessary to take these Dolphins where they haven’t been in far too long?
Since Don Shula retired 18 years ago, this franchise has seen five head coaches (not counting interim) come and go. You know the names: Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, Nick Saban, Cam Cameron, and Tony Sparano. Except for Cameron, each had some success. But nobody could sustain it. Nobody could lead the Dolphins past the second round of the playoffs.
As much as anything else, what Philbin has brought is stability. He is neither at the end of his career nor looking at this job as a stepping stone. He is committed for the long-term, but knows deep down that victories are the only thing that guarantees that.
This is a bottom line business and ultimately that is how Philbin will be judged. The challenge is imposing, but you really get a sense of comfort when you watch Philbin do his job. The spotlight isn’t too big for him; the steps aren’t too steep. He has a plan and a process and he goes about both in an almost relentless manner.
I can’t tell you that I know Joe Philbin very well; only his closest confidants can say that. But I can tell you that I have a strong conviction that he is the right man for the right job at the right time. I have the utmost confidence that when it’s time to make a game-turning decision, he will do so swiftly and with certainty. Know this about the head coach of the Miami Dolphins: He has prepared himself for almost every imaginable situation.
Now all he has to do is win. This is Joe Philbin’s legacy. Can he do what others couldn’t?
On Friday, A.C. in the A.M. takes a look at what the Dolphins need to do to beat the Browns
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.