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Bills at Dolphins - Return of the Stache

With the Buffalo Bills traveling south to Miami this week, former Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstache - I mean Dave Wannstedt - returns to the stadium where he once patrolled the sidelines.  Wannstedt hasn't been back on the field of Sun Life Stadium (or Joe Robbie, or Pro Player Field, or Dolphins Stadium, or Dolphins Stadium, or Land Shark Stadium, or whatever name it was back then) since he abruptly resigned after starting the 2004 season with a 1&8 record.  

The one time Dolphins head man comes back to Miami this time as the assistant head coach of the Bills.  Even though Wannstedt is the second winningest coach in Miami history (42 wins, trailing Don Shula by just 215), and owns the best wining percentage in franchise history at .575, don't expect any cheering for the "Stache" as he comes into the stadium.

Of all the Miami Dolphins head coaches, the hatred felt by most Dolphins fans for Wannstedt is only surpassed by the collective loathing of university of Alabama head coach Nick Satan - I mean Nick Saban (wow, apparently I can't type coaches names today...I don't know what that's all about).  So, why does the fan base despise a man who led the team two 2 playoff appearances in less than 5 years, and brought in the second leading career rusher in franchise history, Ricky Williams?

Because Dave Wannstedt lived for the statistic.  He never craved for post season excellence - just wanting to put up regular season wins.  And, he still holds on to that attitude today. "The record speaks for itself," Wannstedt told the local media this week.

"You'd take 10 1/2 wins over four years," Wannstedt says. "And that's what we did."

Wannstedt was handed the reins to the franchise in 2000, following the 62-7 playoff debacle against the Jacksonville Jaguars to end the 1999 season.  After that game, then head coach Jimmy Johnson resigned, and Wannstedt was promoted from Defensive Coordinator to the top coaching spot.  Wannstedt made his first impact on the team immediately after taking the job - ushering Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino out the door.

He then went out and acquired the back up quarterback from the Jaguars, bringing in Jay Fielder to run the Dolphins - who eventually won 36 games in 5 years (60 starts) with Miami.  But, the tailspin the team finds itself in now was started the day Wannstedt took the position.

Wannstedt had full control of the team's personnel decisions from 2000-2003.  During that time, the Dolphins drafted notable names Todd Wade, Ben Kelly, Deon Dyer, Arturo Freeman, Jeff Harris, Jamar Fletcher, Travis Minor, Morlon Greenwood, Shawn Draper, Brandon Winey, Josh Heupel, Otis Leverette, Rick Crowell, Seth McKinney, Omare Lowe, Sam Simmons, Leonard Henry, Eddie Moore, Wade Smith, Taylor Whitley, Donals Lee, J.R. Tolver, Corey Jenkins, Tim Provost, and Darven Williams.  His only successful picks were Chris CHambers in 2001, Randy McMichael in 2002, and Yeremiah Bell in 2003. Vernon Carey in 2004 - the only other pick that had any impact on the Dolphins from Wannstedt's tenure - was made once the player personnel decisions had been removed from Wannstedt's purview.

He also traded two first round picks (2002 and 2003) to the New Orleans Saints for Ricky Williams (the aforementioned second leading Dolphins rusher).

The Dolphins returned to the playoffs in Wannstedt's first season as the head coach, going 11-5 in the 2000 regular season, and winning their wild card round game over the Indianapolis Colts before losing to the Oakland Raiders 27-0 in the division round.

The next year, the Dolphins again went 11-5 and found themselves in the playoffs, this time losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the wildcard round.

The dismantling of Ricky Williams started the next year.  Immediately upon arriving in Miami, Williams was handed the football, and was expected to carry the entire Dolphins team with him everywhere he went.  In two years, Wannstedt abused Williams to the tune of 775 carries.  Williams tallied 3,237 yards and 25 touchdowns - but the treatment was a huge portion of why Williams abruptly retired after the 2003 season, physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted.

The 2002  team was Wannstedt's opportunity to prove he had what it took to win in the NFL.  The team looked like a dominating team top start the year.  The team had just beaten the Denver Broncos on an Olindo Mare field goal, moving to 5-1 on the season, when, as Wannstedt retells it. "I come out the shower, and someone hands me a cold beer," Wannstedt says. "That's when I get informed that Jay [Fiedler] is out six to eight weeks, and our leading receiver, Oronde Gadsden, is probably out for the year."

The team would go 5-5 over the last 11 weeks of the year, and miss the playoffs.  Then, it all fell apart. The mismanagement of the salary cap, and the inability to draft, caught up with the Dolphins.  After a 10-6 and no playoff 2003, the Dolphins started 2004 with a 1-8 record, and players no longer listening to the coach, Wannstedt's days as the head coach in Miami were over, and he resigned, being replaced on an interim basis by assistant coach Jim Bates.

Wannstedt left Miami with a 42-31 record as a head coach, and was soon appointed as the head coach at his alama mater, Pittsburgh.  There, he was seen as a successful recruiter, and brought some attention back to, ironically, the college of Dan Marino. 

However, after 6 years of "The Stache's" coaching, Pittsburgh placed pressure on Wannstedt, who resigned following a 7-5 record over the 2010 season.  Coincidentally, Wannstedt left Pitt with the exact same 42-31 record he had when he left Miami.

"A new athletic director came in, and it just wasn't going to work between us," Wannstedt explains of his departure from Pittsburgh.    

Now, after being talked in to coming to Buffalo for a visit by head coach Chan Gailey during this past off season - a visit that ended with a contract - Wannstedt returns to Miami.  The team only has three players from his days with the franchise - Jason Taylor, Carey, and Bell.  

"Did we want to win a Super Bowl?" Wannstedt says of his days with the Dolphins. "Sure we did. But every coach has a window, whether college or pro, and you have to kind of hit it during that window, or it's tough to survive. As I look back, the real disappointing thing, the third year [2002] was really our window."    

But, looking back, Wannstedt says he has no regrets, and some good memories, from Miami.  "We had great guys there in Jason [Taylor], Zach [Thomas], Sam [Madison] and Jay [Fielder]," Wannstedt says. "They were winners."

Too bad his 42-31 record wasn't good enough to actually make the Dolphins into winners.