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NFL Owners Meetings Notebook: Hickey's Mentor Sings His Praises

Posted Mar 24, 2014

Falcons GM Rich McKay saw potential early on in Tampa Bay.

ORLANDO – It was another day of firsts for Miami Dolphins General Manager Dennis Hickey, as he sat in on the opening day of the NFL owners meetings in his new role for the first time.

One seasoned veteran GM and now a team president, Rich McKay of the Atlanta Falcons, never doubted that Hickey would be here one day.

“His number one trait is hard work,” said McKay, who spent seven seasons as Hickey’s boss with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “It’s a good trait to have and I think it’s the ultimate trait when you measure guys that are successful. Usually it starts with hard work and Dennis is a very hard working guy. He is very diligent, and that’s why he had the ascension that he had in Tampa.”

McKay is in his second decade as a top front office man, having gotten his start with Buccaneers in 1993 and building a Super Bowl team there. He and Hickey were together there from 1996-2003 before he took the same role with the Atlanta Falcons that December and then in 2008 he took over as the team president and CEO.

There was a method behind McKay’s madness when he was in control of things in Tampa Bay and how he handled the people underneath him in the personnel department. He understood the value of having a balanced knowledge of the college front and the pro personnel front, and that’s the path Hickey took to his present position. He began as a pro personnel assistant from 1996-97, became a Midwest scout from 1998-2004, then was director of college scouting from 2005-10 and most recently director of player personnel from 2011-13.

“I was always one that thought you should get all those people to do everything and expose them to everything as opposed to being (isolated) because it gave them the best chance for success later,” McKay said. “The one thing I liked about Dennis in the college side was you knew exactly who the player was when you read his report. In other words, it’s easy to tell who can play and we can all write up how a player plays, but it’s hard to know who that player is as a person and their football character and their personal character and I always felt when you read Dennis’ report there was no issue. You knew exactly who he was, and sometimes he gave you the words and said, ‘I’m still willing to sign off and this is why.’ So he was a really, really good scout.”

DOLPHINS CEO GARFINKEL TALKS STADIUM AND MORE

Hickey wasn’t the only one taking in this setting for the first time in a new role, as Miami Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel was getting his bearings today as well.

“For me at these league meetings, I’m just taking a lot in, learning and listening a lot,” Garfinkel said. “I just continue to be impressed by all of my counterparts, everyone at the league, where the NFL is headed. There’s a lot of positive news, a lot of exciting things in the NFL. For me, these meetings are really about listening or learning a lot.”

On the heels of owner Steve Ross announcing earlier this month that he is willing to fund the renovation of Sun Life Stadium entirely with his own money and then turn over ownership of the stadium to Miami-Dade County, Garfinkel was pressed on the issue today.

“I’d say we're still in the early-stage process and we’re having discussions,” he said. “Those discussions are ongoing at this point. These things take a little bit of time, so I’m sure it’ll take some time.”

Garfinkel did acknowledge how serious Ross and the Dolphins are about making sure the city of Miami Gardens is not negatively impacted by any proposal that involves the team no longer having to pay property taxes. That’s something that will remain a priority in discussions.

“Miami Gardens is our neighbor. We want to work with them, as well as the school board to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make this work for everybody,” Garfinkel said. “I think it’s important in these situations that everybody works together to create a win-win for Dolphins fans for South Florida. These things just take some time. There are some discussions that need to take place. I know it’s important to Steve to ensure that the Dolphins are in South Florida for a long time to come. That’s what we're working to try to accomplish.”

Garfinkel also answered questions about this season’s game in London against the Oakland Raiders and about applying to be considered for the 2019 Super Bowl. He is fresh off of having interacted with season ticket members at the team’s inaugural membership launch party on Sunday and has a good feeling about how the team is being received.

“I’d say we’re very fortunate to have a fan base that has a real deep connection to the team,” said Garfinkel, who was very interactive with the season ticket members in the carnival-like atmosphere. “That’s something I continue to be blown away by when I talk to fans. To see almost 6,000 fans out there the other night, just celebrating Dolphins football in March, you would think the first game is next week, with all the enthusiasm they had. Fans continue to be engaged in this team. We’re certainly trying to add benefits, 12-month benefits. Fans get to select the membership that they want. Most importantly is the work that Dennis and Joe are doing, and everybody over there, to try to improve the team and bring back a proud tradition of winning football.”

ODDS AND ENDS

There were 32 compensatory draft picks awarded to 13 teams today but unlike last year, the Dolphins weren’t one of the teams. … The National Football League Foundation approved a $45 million grant to USA Football to support the growth of youth football. The grant will provide funding for USA Football over the next five years. … McKay, St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and Dean Blandino, the NFL’s director of instant replay, talked about some of the new rules change proposals that will be voted on over these three days, with Blandino addressing the proposal to go to a centralized replay system like the NHL.