How about Hard Knocks, huh? It annoys the players and coaches, as we've heard repeatedly. Still - the new regime wanted to change the perception of the Dolphins organization as being arrogant and secrecy-obsessed by giving us a look behind the scenes, and the show does that.
To back up that point - even before the real games have started, I feel like I have a decent idea of Philbin's coaching style. There are hints in his press conferences, in which he's been straightforward and logical in his assessments (and occasionally funny), but you really see it in Hard Knocks.
I summarize his attitude as "Speak softly, but carry a big stick," a quote attributed to Teddy Roosevelt.
What sparked all this was the failure of the Chad Johnson experiment. The pressure would have been on Philbin due to Chad's massive following even without Hard Knocks, but throw in the Hard Knocks cameras and the fact that Philbin's a blank slate to most NFL fans, and Philbin's margin of error was small. He made a choice with the backing of ownership and carried it out by firing Chad Johnson on national TV.
So to begin this week's episode of Hard Knocks, three of the Miami's best players (Dansby, Bush, and Long) approached the coach to express how they felt about the handling of Chad's situation. I disagree with the players about Chad Johnson, mainly because it’s a rule in life – not just football – that when you become more trouble than you’re worth, you won’t last long. However, I did like the idea to have a few players report on the pulse of the locker room to the coach, and I liked that Philbin was 100% on-board with that suggestion of a "Player Leadership Committee."
If you don’t think that’s important, look at the Jets last year. They imploded even with a winning record, a wildcard spot in reach, and Rex’s reputation as a fun "player’s coach" in his third year with the team. To the chagrin of those who were eager for the Dolphins to "Suck for Luck" or "Whiff for Griff(in)," the Dolphins showed more resiliency last year by fighting hard after an 0-7 start to finish with a somewhat respectable 6-10 season. Not respectable by Shula standards, of course, but....yeah, anyway, this Leadership Committee idea by the players builds hope that if we face a similarly rough start this year, our team will continue to fight hard for their rookie coach.
Now, I've read some critiques here and elsewhere that Philbin comes across as too approachable, non-threatening, "soft," and sometimes "awkward" in meetings with players, but consider his record since he became the head coach of the Miami Dolphins up until that meeting:
1. He requested Brandon Marshall, who in the past two years was stabbed by his wife and was accused of punching a woman at a night club, be traded or cut despite his Pro Bowl-caliber production while on the field.
2. He demoted Vontae Davis, a former first round pick, for showing up out of shape and for lack of effort in practice.
3. He cut Chad Johnson within 24 hours of his release after his arrest, delaying the announcement only to give Chad the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting first.
Those actions are the reasons why these players were talking about wanting the coaching staff and front office to do a better job of communicating with players who may be in danger of losing their jobs. Philbin talks softly but carries big stick. Players, regardless of seniority or popularity, are getting demoted and cut for conduct detrimental to the team, so make no mistake – Philbin is making a stern impression, even if he comes across as even-keeled and "soft." Players are nervous. He's talking about competition at all positions, and he means it. After that meeting with Long, Bush, and Dansby at the beginning of the episode, he demoted the very popular Matt Moore to a backup spot behind RT17, a player dubbed by David Garrard to be "People's Choice," but whom Sean Smith described as the "Chosen One." Everybody gets a chance to be one of "Philbin's guys," but it has to be earned.
Ryan Tannehill was picked #8 overall, hand-selected by Philbin in a tenure-defining move, but was he handed the starting job?
No - he was told to compete with the Dolphins Team MVP from last year (Matt Moore), plus a former Pro Bowl QB (David Garrard), and, oh yeah, a promising developmental QB who had already spent a year in the NFL improving (Devlin). Tannehill had to earn the starting job despite his lofty draft status. Far from stacking the deck in Tannehill's favor, Philbin did the opposite - he made the competition as difficult as possible. The players saw Tannehill fight for first-team reps and outplay his competition (with an assist from a freak knee injury), making it clear his promotion to starter was based on merit, not favoritism.
Philbin has an underrated strictness that is easy to miss given his demeanor. He doesn't yell as much as Mike Sherman, but he's gotten the attention of the players through his actions. Underproduction or becoming a distraction will lead to unemployment. John Jerry not "buying in" to what the coaching staff tells him leads to Jerry...well, you saw what happened to John in the episode.
Heck, Vontae Davis is shaping up even without a 6 foot 4, 225 pound man screaming at him and throwing a football in his face. That's how "loud" Philbin's actions have been - he gets the same effect as Brandon Marshall, without the theatrics.
Now that Philbin has the players' attention, all he has to do is get this team to win some games (the easy part, I know).