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‘Culture’ Is Not A Magic Potion

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Omar Kelly: Time to raise the bar on Brian Flores and this year’s Dolphins Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

As the 2019 NFL season enters its fourth quarter, there are three words that Miami Dolphins fans are tired of hearing: ‘tank’, the first name of a certain Alabama quarterback who isn’t nearly as hip as he used to be (pun intended), and probably most of all, ‘culture’. But when we talk about ‘culture’, we’re not referring to some long lost buried treasure that we need a compass, a divining rod and metal detector to unearth.

Legendary Dolphins head coach Don Shula said at his very first press conference with the team in 1970 that there are no magic formulas, that he was just going to roll up his sleeves and go to work. Half a century later, first year Dolphins coach Brian Flores has emphatically proven once again that what Shula said then still rings true today. What the term ‘culture’ amounts to in 2019 for Dolphin fans seems to be sort of an umbrella term that encompasses a great many things.

When we talk about ‘culture’, what we’re really talking about is fundamentals, about doing the little things right. Unless you’re homeless or incarcerated, it is a virtual certainty that every single person who visits this site today has a better ‘culture’ than the Dolphins had from 2000 to 2018. Here’s why. Out here in the real world, if you don’t show up on time, put forth your very best effort every single day, or, if you’re in charge of your company’s financial transactions, fail to spend or allocate money judiciously, you’ll be shown the door in short order. If you fail to show up for work unannounced and it’s later determined that you were visiting a former coworker in another state, you will be fired. If you’re unfit to go to work because you were found by the authorities drunk at a strip club the morning you were supposed to report for work, you will, at the very least, be required to enroll in an alcohol or substance abuse program. The Dolphins released linebacker Rey Maualuga after his arrest, but they probably never should have signed him to begin with.

Which brings us to my next point. I’ll probably get blasted for saying this, but I’m going to say it anyway. The single biggest reason for the Dolphins winning ten or eleven games only twice in the past sixteen seasons is not because they didn’t have a franchise quarterback. It isn’t because they didn’t have a marquee head coach or Hall of Fame running back. It isn’t because of the New England Patriots or Buffalo Bills, or because Nick Saban left to become the head coach at Alabama. The number one reason why the Miami Dolphins have averaged about eight wins a season for most of the past decade or so is because of a chronic and repeated disinclination to draft and develop defensive players. It’s been said that I’ve been one of former Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s biggest detractors, but that’s not really true; what I’ve been, and remain, a detractor of, is what I refer to as the ‘DODO’ years -- Dolphins Only Draft Offense. I know, I know -- guys wish I would stop talking about this, but I can’t, because it’s cost the team so much, over such a long period of time. In 2014-’16, the Miami Dolphins spent more draft capital on wide receivers in a three year period than any other NFL team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. For those of you who can’t, or more likely, don’t want, to remember, here are the picks: 2014, second round, Jarvis Landry, sixth round, Matt Hazel. 2015, first round, DeVante Parker, third rounder, Kenny Stills. 2016, third, fourth and sixth rounders, Leonte Carroo. All told, that’s a first, a second, two thirds, a fourth and two sixths in three years, all of which came at a cost of almost completely ignoring a defense that was routinely one of the worst in football. So, it isn’t Ryan Tannehill that I’m angry about, but rather, the way the front office saw fit to try and prop him up with a huge pile of draft picks, resulting in the team’s performance being a huge pile of something else. Only in Miami do we think it’s perfectly fine to sign one of the top three or four defensive players in the game, in Ndamukong Suh, to the biggest contract, at the time in league history for a defensive player, and then sign multiple undrafted rookie free agents to play behind him at linebacker. If you were going to basically ignore the defense in the draft, then what was the point of signing Suh? Don’t ask any of the beat writers who cover the Dolphins for any of the South Florida papers, like I did; they’ll either ignore you or insist that something that’s never been done by any other NFL team in the past fifty years, and didn’t work, isn’t a story.

So, at the end of the day, when we talk about ‘culture’, we’re really just talking about common sense and about doing things the right way. The reason we’ve come to regard so called ‘culture’ as a kind of holy grail around here is because the team and the organization has been so bereft of common sense, and of doing things the right way, for so long. As Ellis Boyd Redding (Morgan Freeman) said of ‘rehabilitation’ in 1994’s ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, it’s just a made up word; that’s why I put it in quotation marks every time I type it. That’s the wrap for today, have a great week, everybody.