Before the game started, the vast majority of Dolphins fans, and even local and national media, were hyped up about interim head coach Dan Campbell and the job he has done with the team in just three weeks. Prior to the game against the Patriots, the Dolphins had a 2-0 record under Campbell, which included dominating performances against the Titans and Texans. Sure, we can say that they are bad teams, which they are. However, the manner in which the Dolphins faced off against them is not something that you should simply brush aside.
The media, along with fans, thought that there was no way the Dolphins would go in and get blown out by the Patriots. We all thought they would go in and put up a fight. Did we expect them to win? Some of us did, but many of us didn’t, noting that it was almost impossible to beat the Patriots on the road in a prime time game on a short week. However, we still held out hope that maybe, just maybe, the Dolphins would shock the world.
They didn’t put up a fight and they didn’t shock the world. They lost and immediately after, fans were calling for Campbell’s head and saying that he wasn’t the answer to this team’s long-term problems. Some members of the media were also saying that the adrenaline of having a new coach had worn off and now it was back to reality for the Dolphins. Keep in mind that these same people were singing so much praise for Campbell just hours before.
So why should one game change that view, especially against the best team in the NFL on a short week and on the road? Why should this one game, where Tom Brady is now a perfect 9-0 on Thursday Night Football, change what the perception is of Campbell?
The answer is that it shouldn’t because we have seen what Campbell has shown during his time as head coach. He has shown leadership. A leader, according to the dictionary, is a person who leads or commands a group, organization or country. The definition of command is someone who gives an authoritative order and to also be in strong enough position to have or secure something.
From the very first press conference to the locker room speeches following a victory, Campbell has commanded the room and has turned these players into something else. Dolphins president and CEO Tom Garfinkel told us that this is a completely different team under Campbell than it was under former head coach Joe Philbin. Rishard Matthews said that when Campbell speaks, you are ready to go and hit someone as soon as he is done talking. Other players have said similar things. Fans and media reacting on social media have also said the same, just by listening to him speak.
Besides being a leader, he has shown an ability to relate to his players. Many have come out and said they would do absolutely anything for him. Chris McCain, who has been inactive the past three games under Campbell, said he would run through a brick wall for him. Branden Albert said he would go to the Bermuda Triangle with him. Others have said that they are good with whatever Campbell has/will do because they trust him. After the game against the Houston Texans, Jarvis Landry expanded on it a bit more.
"It’s just us, you know? Dan (Campbell) has been giving a lot of guys an opportunity to speak in our meetings before the game, and it’s an attitude that we’re taking, it’s a mentality. Not only are we prepared to play the game, but it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, it’s about us, it’s about going out there and dominating. That’s the thing that we’re trying to spread around this league."
He has shown an ability to effectively communicate with the media. Members of the media, including the likes of Peter King and Jeff Darlington, have said that just by listening to him, they can feel the passion and fire that Campbell brings to the table. Local beat reporters have helped make him into almost a mythological figure because of what he has done in practice, such as the Oklahoma Drill and tug-of-war. His blunt and honest answers to question resonates with the media as he is someone who gets straight to the point and at the same time, isn’t afraid to use his press conferences as a way to sing praises to players who have been performing well. This includes calling Matthews a beast and saying that Lamar Miller had been running like his head was on fire.
He has shown an ability to fire up a fan base that hasn’t had much fun in well, for a very long time. The last time Dolphins fans were able to jump up on their sofa or bar stool and scream in excitement? December 2008, when the Dolphins defeated the Jets to clinch the AFC East and head to the playoffs. Like the media, fans have turned Campbell into an instant legend. Photoshops of him and Chuck Norris jokes have circulated around the internet in record fashion. The two blowout wins have only increased that, although the loss against the Patriots have somewhat slowed it down.
Campbell last played in the NFL in 2009 so he hasn’t been on the sidelines as a coach for too long. After starting with the Dolphins in 2010 under Tony Sparano as a coaching intern, he was promoted to Tight Ends coach under Philbin in 2011. His ability to relate to the players and understand what they are going through pays off for both sides and this will continue to happen throughout the remainder of the season and for as long as Campbell is a coach in the NFL.
After losing to the New England Patriots, Campbell said, "I just told them [the players] I don't believe that’s who we are one bit, not one bit did I believe that’s really who we are. I told them that I don't want them to forget that feeling right there – don't forget it – I hope it eats away at them just like it's eating away at me and I hope it drives them to not want to have that taste in their mouth ever again."
With someone like Philbin, we would have heard the same typical response, such as "it starts with me" or "we need to do a better job in all three phases" or "there’s no panic right now." With Campbell, he says it like it is and when he says that he wants this feeling to eat at them, he’s telling the truth. There is no doubt that this will be a continuing theme throughout the week leading up to the game against the Bills.
That’s because this past Friday, he continued with that theme and said that he liked what he saw from his players in the locker room following the game.
"The mood of these players, and I could tell last night, you could tell the attitude was right. You could tell it burned at them. They knew they didn’t play well. They’re far better than what was put on tape. They’re going to be ready to come back Monday and work. You’ve got to come back and do what we’ve done the last three weeks, when we’ve been able to go full speed at practice. Get back to a competitive level and we’ll get our swagger back."
And that is exactly what the Dolphins need right now. They need that physical environment in practice to get them ready for the game. This is the atmosphere that Campbell and his staff have created since the firing of Philbin. The players need to be hitting, need to be physical and need to be in a competitive environment leading up to each game.
I have been told that the Dolphins management team absolutely want Campbell to become the permanent head coach. However, they still need to figure out some answers to numerous questions. Is he over his head when it comes to game day? Is he struggling to stay afloat during the week with all the administrative tasks? We, along with the management team, don’t know how he is when scheming against opponents, besides the three games we have seen so far. Will other coaches adapt to his style of play as they get more tape on what he does? How will he handle adversity, such as a blowout loss and also losing Cameron Wake for the season. Don't forget Ja'Wuan James, who is out 4-6 weeks. How will Campbell get his guys to respond and stay focused at the task on hand? These are the questions that still need to be answered.
However, there are many questions that have already been answered. He has shown the ability to be a leader, relates to his players, effectively communicates with the media, fires up the fan base and more. Those boxes have been checked off. Over the next few weeks, we’ll see if the other boxes get checked off or if they remain blank. My bet is that they get checked off and Campbell becomes the permanent head coach.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter: @FinsInsider