The Pam Beach Posts' Ethan J. Skolnick wrote a great article today about how Miami Dolphins Head Coach Tony Sprarano and General Manager Jeff Ireland are coming out of the "three years and a cloud of busts," that former Vice President of Football Operations Bill Parcells brought to the team.
The Dolphins are starting their first full year without any tie to Parcells, who left at the start of last season. This is the first time that Ireland and Sparano have had the chance to mold the team to their vision, and the first time they haven't had the shadow of Parcells eclipsing whatever they are trying to do.
But, in a year where, as Skolinick points out, "owner Stephen Ross has tried to replace head coach Tony Sparano once and could do the same to General Manager Jeff Ireland if there's a third straight losing season," is the safety net being removed the ideal situation for the duo?
It might not be, but the Dolphins have changed their entire philosophy without Parcells. No longer is this a team that is looking for the biggest, hardest hitting player at every position. Now, there is an emphasis on speed. As Coach Sparano said earlier this preseason, "I worked too hard to get it on this roster to give it up."
Skolnick probably explained it best:
"Ireland's off-season emphasis on speed and versatility was welcome after three years of Best Available Brute. Yes, there was another massive investment in an interior offensive lineman, this time by expending a first-round pick, but at least the Dolphins targeted skill guys with big-play potential, such as Reggie Bush and Clyde Gates.
"The biggest change, however, may be in how the players are used, by a coach who was backed into a corner and - to his credit -- has come out thinking, tweaking and swinging."
Now, as the 2011 season is preparing to start, Sparano has added a spark to a team that was lost in "old school" football. In a league built on passing the ball, and spreading out the offense, the Bill Parcells model of a power running team was getting passed by. With the recognition that the run first, run second offensive style doesn't work in today's NFL, Parcells...well...ran. And Ireland and Sparano have been left to clean it up - or else they will find themselves looking for other employment.
The team made the first major change in philosophy with the hiring of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and charging him with adding explosiveness to the stagnant offense. More importantly, however, Sparano trusted Daboll to do just that. Sparano didn't meddle, didn't try to stop Daboll, and, from the four preseason games, the offense seems to be just that - explosive.
With Parcells' not in the Dolphins organization, Ireland and Sparano suddenly have the freedom to make the hard choices - and choices that go against everything a Parcells organization does. Sparano, who describes himself as a "grey beard, used to doing things one way," suddenly discovered a different method.
As Skolnick asks:
"Would Sparano felt comfortable attempting such a transformation, if the old-school Parcells still towered over him, on the top step of the Dolphins' football organizational chart? Would he and Ireland feel comfortable cutting their only traditional fullback? Would he have been able to assemble the current coaching staff, one with more former players and fewer Parcells cronies, one that Sparano recently called "the best group of guys I've been around in a long, long time?"
"Finally, would Chad Henne be getting so much more leeway at the line of scrimmage?"
Probably not. We would probably be getting ready to watch another season of "three yards and a cloud of dust" football. There's no way on a Bill Parcells team a trade for Reggie Bush is completed. There's no way on a Bill Parcells team that Lousaka Polite is cut. There's no way on a Bill Parcells team that Clyde Gates plays while he develops - focusing on his ability to get behind the coverage.
But, on a Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano team, apparently there is a way. As Skolnick points out, not every Parcells tactic is gone:
"Sparano hasn't abandoned all that Tuna taught. Gas tanks in the locker room? 'The origin of it was from Bill Parcells a while ago,' Sparano said. 'Just a message that I like to send some of the fellas every once in awhile. Make sure that they're loaded and ready to go.'"
But, even if you take all the lessons a great teacher taught, there's room to do it your own way. Now, it's time to see if the Ireland and Sparano way can exceed the last few years with Parcells.
And, with the New England Patriots coming to Miami tomorrow night, the Dolphins, and Ireland and Sparano, are about to be thrown into the fire. Will they get out? Will they succeed?
We'll know for sure in just 17 short weeks.