The decision to fire defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni didn't really surprise me that much. In fact, I was told by a source close to the team over the weekend that this was a strong possibility. The same source also told me that Dan Henning would be back, assuming he didn't retire - which isn't likely. But what has surprised me is how some fans were caught off guard by this move.
But should anyone really be surprised? Bill Parcells emphasizes how important it is to have a strong defense. The Dolphins were 22nd in the league in total defense in 2009, allowing nearly 350 yards per game. They also gave up 24.4 points per game, 25th in the league.
Clearly, we all probably should have seen this coming. Really, the only reason Pasqualoni could have remained in Miami was because Parcells is usually pretty loyal to "his guys." So it says a lot, in my opinion, that the Dolphins decided to kick Paul to the curb.
Now the hunt for his replacement begins.
There are many places the Dolphins could turn. Clearly, the early front-runner right now is Al Groh. Groh has worked with Parcells a number of times - including in New York with both the Jets and Giants as well as with the Patriots. He's been a defensive coordinator under Parcells for five seasons - one season with the Giants and four with the Patriots. And let's not forget that he was Bill's hand-picked successor in New York with the Jets - going 9-7 in one season as their head coach.
But Groh is reportedly in negotiations already with Georgia Tech to become their next defensive coordinator after being fired recently as head coach of Virginia, where he spent nine seasons. Perhaps the timing of Pasqualoni's firing relates to Groh and his negotiations with GT.
Groh was contacted about Miami's opening by the Palm Beach Post. Groh responded:
"Any speculation to that possibility would be very premature at this point. I have a certain criteria in place for which I’m interested. It starts with the people that are involved. I’m open to anything that would fit that criteria."
Or maybe the timing of this move has to do with Romeo Crennel. Crennel has been looking to get back into the league following his termination last offseason as head coach of the Browns. The Chiefs, though, are believed to be very close to hiring Crennel as their next defensive coordinator. And who runs things in Kansas City? It's Bill Parcells' son-in-law Scott Pioli.
Would Bill really swoop in and try stealing his son-in-law's defensive coordinator? Probably not. And an "NFL source" told the Palm Beach Post that Crennel will not be Miami's next DC.
Alright then. Who else?
One of the most intriguing possibilities might be current Bengals' defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Zimmer's contract with Cincinnati expires at the end of February and he's been a hot name in many circles already this offseason. And perhaps the timing of Miami's move is an indication that they might want to get in on the Zimmer sweepstakes.
Under Zimmer, Cincinnati's defense was the fourth ranked unit in the league in 2009 - completely changing the identity of that unit in just two seasons.
He also has the "Parcells connection." In 2003 when Parcells took over as head coach of the Cowboys, it was Zimmer who was the team's defensive coordinator. His unit even led the league in total defense in 2004. But in 2005, his unit took a step back as Zimmer implemented the 3-4 defense - the defense favored by Parcells.
So what makes Zimmer such an intriguing option, in my opinion? It's simple. While he has experience running a 3-4, Zimmer's preference is clearly to use a 4-3 alignment. And he's had success with that alignment, both in Dallas and in Cincinnati. Could the Dolphins potentially make the switch to a 4-3 defense?
If Jason Ferguson doesn't come back and the Dolphins don't land a stud nose tackle from somewhere, it might make the most sense. Randy Starks and Phillip Merling could both move to a 4-3 defensive end while Kendall Langford, Paul Soliai, and Tony McDaniel could play defensive tackle.
And let's not forget Cameron Wake. Wake would be able to maximize his talents by playing defensive end in a 4-3. He wouldn't have to ever worry about dropping into coverage - which is reportedly what is holding him back from a bigger role in Miami's current 3-4 defense. Jason Taylor could also return next year and play with his hand in the ground as well.
So those are probably the biggest names out there right now. Current Miami secondary coach (and assistant head coach) Todd Bowles is one in-house possibility. But considering his secondary was a big part of the problem in 2009, now probably isn't the time to promote Bowles.
Ideally, I think I'd like to see Zimmer come to Miami. But the Dolphins will probably want to have their guy hired by the time they head over to coach the Senior Bowl - with practices beginning January 25, I believe. Would the Bengals allow Zimmer to start interviewing prior to his contract expiring?
If I was a gambling man, I'd put my money on Al Groh getting hired as this team's next defensive coordinator. While that wouldn't particularly be a bad thing, it's not the "sexy" hiring. But Groh's units are usually fundamentally sound, if unspectacular.
So what do you all think? Who do you want to see in Miami?