A first impression? The new head football coach of the Miami Dolphins is a very impressive man.
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In his introductory press conference held late Saturday afternoon at the Dolphins training facility, Joe Philbin – to borrow a baseball analogy -- knocked it out of the park. You could see his passion. You could hear his smarts. You could feel his energy. If first days are any indication, there are going to be many more good ones with Joe Philbin now in charge.
I was skeptical going in. Never been a head coach before. Never really heard much about him. You had to wonder. But this is clearly a man who is ready for this opportunity, clearly a man who has a precise vision, who knows how to lead and who bristles with confidence and certainty.
“We are looking for sustained success,” he said.
Little wonder, during the interview process, that a confidante turned to Stephen Ross after listening to Philbin, and said it was the best presentation by a perspective head coach that he had ever seen. Little wonder General Manager Jeff Ireland says with firmness: “We found the right guy.”
We’ve seen so many head coaches come and go over the last 10-12 years. It gets old. It gets tiring. I’ve got a feeling that Philbin is going to be here a while. “I’m 50 years old,” he said. “This is the last job I anticipate I’m ever going to take.”
Refreshing stuff indeed.
I took Philbin aside after his press conference and asked him what he was like away from football.
He smiled. “Guess I’m dull. With me, it’s family and football.”
This is what the Miami Dolphins have gotten in their new head coach. No distractions. Plenty of focus. A football guy – 28 years in the business -- filled with football ideas. A coach who will easily relate to his players, but one with high expectations and important priorities. That he worked with Aaron Rodgers in particular and the Green Bay offense in general is impossible overlook. If you’re searching for a quarterback and an offense as a model, the Packers are a pretty good place to start.
Saturday, though, was just the first chapter. Philbin hadn’t even met with his staff yet. Doesn’t know any of his players. The smarts in him will tell you that the judge and jury on his head-coaching career won’t be press conferences or promises, but instead wins and losses. It will be his starting quarterback and the game plan he and Ireland devise to point this franchise in a better direction. Those are things that matter most.
But I can clearly see why Stephen Ross ultimately made this decision, why he had a look of both relief and joy as Philbin answered questions. “Now you see what I saw,” Ross said of Philbin.
For so many years, this has been a league of coaching retreads. You get fired from one job; you’ll get hired for another. But in recent years, fresh faces have taken over. Mike McCarthy in Green Bay. Sean Peyton in New Orleans. Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh. The list goes on. Even at 50 years old, Joe Philbin clearly fits that category.
While it is understandable that there was disappointment when the Dolphins did not hire Jeff Fisher, that is now yesterday’s news. Ross knows that his tenure as owner of this team could very well be defined by Philbin’s success. We were not in on the coaching interviews. We didn’t hear the questions nor the answers. But it is clear that Philbin possessed the intangibles and the credentials Ross was searching for.
The Dolphins need new ideas and a creative approach. Joe Philbin certainly brings that.
As he stood at the podium on Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t help but think of what Philbin has been through in the last few weeks. His 21-year-old son was found dead in a Wisconsin river. I can’t imagine the grief and heartbreak he had to deal with.
For Philbin to show up for work only a few days later to coach the Packers against the Giants in the divisional playoff says so much about commitment, so much about the man. For him to be able to impress Ross and Ireland, despite that ongoing grief, must have provided a clear example of his leadership abilities.
But now the real work begins. Like every other coach, Philbin will be tied to his quarterback and this is a search that must now begin in earnest. There are some possibilities, but no easy answers.
It is far too early to know how this scenario will play out. That’s for another day, perhaps another press conference.
Saturday was a day for first impressions. And Joe Philbin certainly passed that test in impressive fashion.