As many of you know, or may have come to realize, I try not to be too opinionated here on The Phinsider. I don't have any issue with the amazing collection of contributors we have established here writing whatever they want to write about the Miami Dolphins, and I have never told any of them they can or cannot write something about any of the Dolphins personnel or direction. I just choose to stay fairly neutral, a position I think I should have as the managing editor of the site.
Taking that role has gotten me called an apologist for the team, a zombie, and many other ways of describing someone who does not advocate for change. It has also gotten me called over-reactive and too negative when I say things that are maybe not as flattering for the team as maybe they could be. I'm okay with all of that.
I also try very hard to keep myself out of the articles I write. This site is for fans, by fans. That's the great thing about this community. But, in my role as the managing editor, I try to keep that word, "I," out of most of the things I write. Occasionally it needs to be in there, but over all, this site is not about me, or even the contributors; it is about the Miami Dolphins and, even more so, it is about you, the reader. If we put on an air of superiority, and act like we know everything, The Phinsider would not be a place welcoming all opinions, thoughts, and discussions. Sometimes those discussions get heated, but, at the end of the day, everyone argues with their spouse, siblings, friends, everyone. The fact that we can have those arguments, and continue to come back here and discuss something else is exactly why we have, at least in my opinion, the greatest collection of Dolphins fans on the internet.
Today, I break my rule a little bit, bringing you an opinion based piece. This is not to tell you how you should think, but rather what I am thinking. A lot of people have asked via comments, Twitter, and email my thoughts on the Dolphins' hire of Mike Tannenbaum, the former New York Jets GM who is now the Vice President of Football Operations for the South Florida franchise. I deliberately have not said much on this topic, because I wanted the time to think it through, rather than just question everything. So, here are my thoughts.
I think I understand what Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was trying to do in hiring Tannenbaum. He walked into a franchise where Bill Parcells was the VP of Football Operations, the "football czar," in charge of everything on the football side of the house. Since Parcells left, the Dolphins have not had that head honco football mind in the organization. They have not had the one guy who Ross can turn to and get a pulse on the team. He's had general managers and coaches, but not that one person who is over-watching everything and, probably, has a better understanding of the game than either the GM or the coach.
Now, he has filled that role with Tannenbaum. Is he the right hire? Maybe, maybe not. I personally would have rather someone else landed in that spot, but Ross trusts Tannenbaum, who has been a "consultant" for the team for a year now, and that's what Ross wants above all else in that role. He wants to know that the guy he has in charge of all things football is a guy who will give him the information, good or bad, and tell him what is or is not working. That's really what the VP of Football Operations' job is.
Tannenbaum is not here to make decisions on players - either through acquisition or for on the field play - but he is here to make sure things do not get out of control either. Think about this: the last time the Dolphins went into a win-now season, with someone's job on the line if the team did not improve, Jeff Ireland was the general manager and went on a shopping spree of free agents. Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler, Mike Wallace. Two of those three fans would immediately call a bust, and the third is dealing with speculation that he may have quit on the team and was benched for the second half of the final game of the year. All big money, with impacts that continue to be felt heading into this off-season.
Fun fact, when the Dolphins started that spending spree, Tannenbaum was working at NFL Network. Guess how he reacted to the Wheeler signing. "I'm not so sure I understood the Wheeler dealer so quick into free agency."
Dennis Hickey, the Dolphins GM who was hired last year, retains control over the 53-man roster, and is responsible for free agent signing, the draft, trades, and everything else in building the Dolphins' roster. Now, however, instead of answering directly to Ross, he has a former GM and a "football mind" between himself and the Miami owner - the same owner fans repeatedly lambaste for not knowing anything about football. Tannenbaum may not make the decisions on who to target, but he can be the sanity check for Ross to make sure the Dolphins do not wildly spend money in a last ditch effort to save head coach Joe Philbin or Hickey from getting the axe if this season does not see drastic improvement over the two straight 8-8 seasons.
For that reason, maybe the Tannenbaum hire makes a lot of sense.
Tannenbaum is known for being a collaborator, someone who is willing to listen to all sides of any decision, argue for or against things, and then, when a decision is made, execute it in concert with everyone else. Sometimes it might be the stance Tannenbaum had going into the discussion, and sometimes it might not. But, he executes, and expects everyone else to execute, as if they had the idea. One voice from the team, moving in one direction. He stated in his introductory conference call that he will look to work exactly like that in Miami. Now, it's a matter of getting Philbin and Hickey to buy into that style of collaboration as well.
There is no doubting that Tannenbaum has experience. He has built teams that went to multiple Conference Championship games. He knows the sport, and developed under Parcells. He was also fired for some of his decisions as a GM, including overpaying Mark Sanchez. Has he learned from those mistakes, and can he adjust from the Parcells ground-and-pound mentality to Philbin's zone-blocking scheme/west coast-ish offense? There will be plenty of fans and people around the league who will doubt it, and, frankly, I am skeptical (remember when I said I was not sure Tannenbaum was the right person to fill a position that needed to be filled?). That does not mean he should not be given a chance, it just means we will all have to watch how this eventually comes together.
The power structure in Miami is a little convoluted with this hire. Hickey took a demotion in that he will no longer report directly to Ross, but he keeps all his roster powers and runs the scouting department, just has to report to Tannenbaum instead. Philbin, meanwhile, continues to report directly to Ross. That seems odd, but it could (a) be a factor of language written into Philbin's contract or (b) could just be a sign of Ross not wanting to give up firing power over his coach this year. Is Hickey a good talent evaluator, but Ross did not feel he had developed as a guiding force for the team, not yet ready to set a vision and achieve those goals? All of those are just speculation, but it could be reasons why the structure is set up like it is.
(For those asking, Dawn Aponte should continue to report to Hickey, as she did last year, unless that is an unannounced change.)
Of course, the other question in all of this is, "Where is Dan Marino?" The Dolphins actually hired Marino into the same role Tannenbaum now holds back in 2004, but he resigned from the position just a few weeks later. Now back with the franchise as a "special adviser" to Ross, and working with team CEO Tom Garfinkle, there was some thought that Marino was being groomed to eventually take on the role Tannenbaum now fills. Maybe that is something still on the table down the line. Maybe it was offered to Marino, and he prefers the role he is in now, where he can spend time with the quarterbacks, do some availability functions for the Dolphins, but is not tied into the every day grind of being a GM or VP of Football Operations. Again, more speculation that we will never know for sure, but a possibility.
Maybe I am a little bit on the apologetic side when it comes to the Dolphins. I sure do not see everything through aqua-colored glasses, but I do try to give things time to start working, rather than immediately declare something a bust, a failure, or misguided, simply because it was not what I expected. I think this move could work for Miami in the long run, because it does give Ross the football person in charge of things football, rather than Ross running everything. He has Garfinkle on the franchise and day-to-day side, and Tannenbaum on the football side, with Philbin answering for the actual game-day operations. That puts Garfinkle in charge of the broad-brush portion of the team (tickets, reputation, representation, etc.), Tannenbaum with the true operational side of the running of the football team, and Philbin in charge of the guys on the ground each Sunday. It is not a bad way to set up your power structure, and it is one that could reveal itself as successful. I'm not sold on Tannenbaum as the answer for that operational side, but, at least he is not Carl Peterson, right?