Miami Dolphinsowner Stephen Ross learned a valuable lesson in 2011 when he and then General Manager Jeff Ireland pursued Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh to come fill the top coaching position in the South Florida franchise. The problem was, they already had a head coach in Tony Sparano. Harbaugh passed on joining a team that had a coach in place, instead choosing to stay in California and join the San Francisco 49ers.
Since then, the Dolphins have fired Sparano, hired former Green Bay Packersoffensive coordinator Joe Philbin, and continued a string of non-winning seasons. The 49ers, meanwhile, have racked up a 36-11-1 record in Harbaugh's first three years, earning playoff berths all three seasons, including a trip to the Super Bowl in 2012.
Despite that success, however, Harbaugh may be out-staying his welcome in San Francisco, with more and more reports of players expressing dissatisfaction with their coach. According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, "the voices are getting louder and louder" amid "serious doubt about whether Harbaugh is actually all in like he professes."
Rapoport goes on to explain, "Some of the complaints include the fact that he kind of treats them like children. In fact, on planes, I'm told, they're not allowed to play music, they're not allowed to play cards. Small things, but these are the things that really can rankle players, even though the veterans do get to sit in first class."
Enter the Dolphins. It has widely been rumored that Ross is still infatuated with handing the Dolphins over to Harbaugh. Could Miami take another swing at the former Pro Bowl quarterback?
According to a CBS Sports report over the weekend, things may be heading that way, no matter what happens during the season for the Dolphins. Jason La Canfora writes that, after the Dolphins fired Ireland following the 2013 season, in no small part of a rift between the GM and Dolphins executive Dawn Aponte, a similar schism is beginning to form between Aponte and Philbin. That gap, according to La Canfora, "is at the core of the team's prevailing issues and leading to a sense that more change will be coming in 2015."
The separation between Philbin and the front office grew this past week, according to La Canfora's report, when Philbin refused to acknowledge to the media that Ryan Tannehillwould remain the team's starting quarterback. Philbin, who traditionally refuses to discuss the depth chart, repeatedly stated that the team would "play the best 46 players" against the Raiders, leading to speculation that Matt Moore, and not Tannehill, could take the opening snaps under center. Despite there being no change to practice repetitions, and Philbin telling Tannehill he was still the team's starter, the speculation led to a media frenzy around the club, a situation Tannehill rightly described as a distraction.
"Philbin has been increasingly intrigued by the prospect of veteran backup quarterback Matt Moore running his offense," La Canfora writes. "The idea dates back to the end of last season, according to numerous sources with knowledge of the situation, and, toying with the idea of playing Moore has only further added to the rift with the front office."
There have also been multiple media reports over the past couple of weeks that players are beginning to question the play calling and game planning of defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. Miami lost back-to-back games by 19 points in Weeks 2 and 3 before their 24 point win over the Raiders on Sunday.
If the players and front office are losing confidence in Philbin, positioning the team to make a run at Harbaugh could be exactly the right move to make. How early, however, would the Dolphins have to fire Philbin in order to enter the fray for Harbaugh? According to La Canfora, they may already be making the moves: "Several league sources said that Ross is covertly working to be positioned to potentially trade for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh - like Ross a prominent Michigan alumnus - at the season's end, with Philbin and first-year general manager Dennis Hickey in essence lame ducks."
The Dolphins are not the only team rumored to be interested in Harbaugh if the 49ers do decide they have to make a change. The University of Michigan, USC, Texas, and the Cleveland Browns have all been mentioned as possible landing places, according to Niners Nation's David Fucillo. Fucillo goes on to explain that Harbaugh has stated he is not interested in another job, but we have all seen how that works out - Nick Saban, anyone? Fucillo writes, "it is difficult to not at least figure where there's smoke, there's fire."
Does it make sense for Miami to pursue a coach that seems to be alienating his players and the franchise executives to replace a coach who seems to be alienating his players and the franchise executives? You cannot argue with his success, but will the team be willing to give Harbaugh the free-reign and ultimate decision making power he will want? How long could they handle his hard-line stance, and would whatever that period of time is be worth whatever it would cost in a "trade" with the 49ers?
If Miami were to play like they did against the Raiders for the remainder of the year and earn the team's first winning season and playoff berth since 2008, would Ross retain Philbin? Would he give up on his second chance to get Harbaugh?
Miami has been tied to Harbaugh almost since Ross took over the team. Being told no is not something the 85th wealthiest Americanis used to hearing. Will Ross take another run at Harbaugh? It certainly seems possible.