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Andy Cohen: For Stephen Ross It's All About Winning

Posted Jun 12, 2012

He is in his fourth season as owner of the Miami Dolphins and it is apparent Stephen Ross has reached a comfort zone. He will be the first to tell you that there were mistakes in the early years, that owning an NFL team is nothing like running a billion dollar real estate empire.

But now that seems like long ago. He has hired his own coach, provided a stamp of approval on his general manager, established a clear, concise vision for this franchise and now realizes more than ever that an open line of communication with the fans is essential in this instantaneous social media world of ours.

“We are now in a world where transparency is most important,” Ross said.

Ross made another phone call to the fans on Monday night, specifically to his season ticket holders and corporate sponsors. Listened to their thoughts. Fielded their questions. Responded to their concerns. Shared in their optimism. A conference call can be a great tool for an owner trying to spread the word and, with these Dolphins, there is a lot of spreading to do.

He spoke openly about this new regime and how these are the people he has chosen to run this organization as opposed to inheriting someone else’s hires.

“I can be judged on how this coach does, how this administration does,” he said. “The only reason to own a team is to have a winning team.”

I see some distinct differences in Ross since he first took over this franchise. He now has a feel for the oversized fish bowl in which he resides, how little remains behind-the-scenes, how eventually everything will come out, or so it seems. Maybe that’s one of the reasons for this open door policy that the Dolphins have adopted this season. Why not, after all, go right to the source instead of having them find out second hand?

It is important to Ross that the fans feel comfortable in the direction this team is heading. It is important to him that those fans realize that he is as impatient as they are. But it is also important for the fans to know that he will not meddle, that he will let the people he hired do their jobs.

“I believe you let the football people run the football team. I’m not going to be out there making talent evaluations or telling the football people what they should or shouldn’t be doing.”

Ross came in five years ago and set a goal of turning the game day experience into something special. He established the Orange Carpet, brought in some celebrity owners and did his best to create a Hollywood type buzz at Sun Life Stadium.

While those things are still important to him, Ross has never lost sight of the fact that it’s all about winning games, about putting the most competitive team possible on the field and about creating an identity that the fans can relate to.

Win games and the buzz will come. Lose games and you can fly in Frank Sinatra for a 50-yard line appearance and it wouldn’t really matter.

So everything now is about winning, about giving Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin everything they need to succeed and about making sure that the right building blocks are in place.

I remember talking to Ross the day he announced Philbin’s hiring. He was exhausted, confiding that he couldn’t remember ever spending so much time and effort into one hiring. That said plenty to me. It said that Ross understands the significance of the right people leading his franchise and how he absolutely had to make this hiring a successful one.

Ross was quick to use a Hard Knocks analogy as an example of what Joe Philbin is all about: “It surprised me Philbin wanted to do it this year. I figured maybe he’d be interested in his second or third season. But he wanted the fans to know what we are all about. These aren’t going to be the Dolphins you’ve seen the last eight seasons or so.

“This coach is unique. I don’t know if there is another head coach in the country who would take this on in his first year.”

Ross has given Ireland and Philbin total reign of this franchise. He has taken a step back, as good owners need to do. And now he is communicating with the fans on a regular basis, trying to instill in them the same optimism and enthusiasm that he possesses.

He answered all of their questions, whether it was about the fight song, the game day experience, the need for a No. 1 receiver or his hope of bringing the 50th Super Bowl to South Florida in 2016. He even went as far as to call Lamar Miller “an unbelievable steal for the fourth round.”

But perhaps his most poignant answer came when a fan asked Stephen Ross about Stephen Ross and if this NFL ownership experience was what he had expected when he first bought the team.

“It’s different than any other thing I’ve ever been in,” Ross said. “You start to realize how sophisticated a sport it is. It’s easier to build a great organization in business than it is a winning football team.

“It’s about hiring the best people. Be best in class. Do everything you can to help them win.”

Stephen Ross clearly gets it. What misconceptions he might have had five years ago have long ago disappeared. He understands the challenge. He embraces it. He desperately wants to connect with the fans.

Yes, Stephen Ross has come a long way. Now he’s ready for his football team to do the same.
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