Hickey hit the ground running Monday less than 24 hours after being offered the job by owner Steve Ross, showing up in Davie and getting settled into his new office. He went about familiarizing himself with his surroundings and meeting his staff, the coaching staff and a couple of players that happened to be in the building at the time, all along remembering what it was about the franchise that attracted him.
“It struck me my first time in the building as I was being led through and seeing all the pictures of the Dolphin greats,” said Hickey, who spent the previous 18 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a number of different capacities. “That’s the one thing about this organization, it has a very proud past and a history of not only good players but great players, not only great players but legendary players, not only good coaches but great coaches, not only great coaches but legendary coaches, not only good teams but great teams and not only great teams but legendary teams. … Just knowing the rich tradition that has come before me and come before our future team, I think it’s so important that our players embrace the greatness that has been part of this organization and that was a huge part of my draw.”
This morning Hickey traveled down to Sun Life Stadium to meet the rest of the team’s personnel and then came back to Doctors Hospital Training Facility to officially be introduced to the South Florida media. He and Ross spoke and answered questions for close to 40 minutes about everything from what went into this decision for Ross to how Hickey plans to work with Philbin in building and maintaining the roster going forward.
Just like two years ago when he was impressed enough with Philbin to hire him as the Head Coach, Ross recognized something immediately in Hickey that reminded him of that meeting with Philbin. He thought long and hard about how he was going to about filling the GM vacancy, which is why the process took almost three weeks, and is confident in the end he got the right guy to partner with Philbin.
“I really felt the compatibility between the two of them and I know the coach said to me that ‘when I spoke to him we had the same philosophical fit,’ and felt that he could work with him,” Ross said. “Dennis is somebody who is really known for his work ethic, the amount of time and effort he spends at it and the respect that he has for what he does. I think this is the same kind of work ethic and respect that Coach Philbin has for what he does and how he’s looked at by other people and I just felt there’s a real compatibility there. I really look at them as they’re joined at the hip.”
Hickey arrived in Tampa Bay back in 1996, the same year that Tony Dungy took over as head coach, and he watched closely how Dungy and then general manager Rich McKay built a championship team that eventually won a Super Bowl after the 2002 season. The Bucs had gone from a struggling franchise to a perennial playoff participant that produced a Hall-of-Famer last year in defensive tackle Warren Sapp and has two former players and Dungy on the ballot this year.
Having had a front row seat to that process and then a direct hand in some recent successful drafts and free agency periods, Hickey believes he has a keen understanding how to deliver that same kind of success to the Miami Dolphins. He honed his personnel skills as an area scout and actually met Philbin for the first time in that capacity when Philbin was the offensive line coach at Iowa, so what he learned in Tampa Bay is palpable for his new position.
“What I saw first was there was a clear vision under Coach Dungy and Rich McKay and as a group on that coaching staff so many of them were teachers developing young players,” Hickey said. “So it was about bringing in talented players but also developing them it was always collective environment. Back then we were in the old One Buc Place and we kind of had a woodshed mentality. We were all in it just working together, trying to win a championship and not trying to do it one magic decision but doing it one sound good decision based on our philosophy and who we were at a time.”
That falls in line with what Philbin has tried to create with the Dolphins and Hickey even echoed Philbin’s desire to build a team that is tough, smart, physical and disciplined. He stressed how important it will be for he and Philbin to communicate and work together in these weeks leading up to free agency the NFL Draft in identifying the players they want to go after.
One thing Hickey did reveal as it concerns the draft and how he organizes his board is that it’s based on the best available player. He’ll rank them top to bottom based on their skills regardless of position of need and put that together long before the actual draft so that he and Philbin can then begin to decipher the board and formulate a plan.
“I don’t have set categories but I’m looking for productive players, guys that have been achievers and always a preference to team captains,” Hickey said. “Because the best indicator of future performance is past performance so bringing in leaders is important and making sure they’re a fit for our organization. That’s why I’m looking forward to sitting down with the coaches and really getting into all the schemes and the proper fits, but really just looking at good football players.”
Hickey made it clear how thorough of a process he wants to implement when it comes to player acquisition, emphasizing he importance of having those discussions with Philbin well ahead of time. He acknowledged that coaches and GMs are never going to agree on everything so this way they have time to go back and look at tape and work through the decisions to make the right ones collectively.
By the time he was finished, it had become a little easier to recognize what it was that Ross liked about Hickey and how he matches up with the attributes the owner set out looking for in his new executive.
“Before I started this search I spoke to probably the top successful general manager about what characteristics you really look for in a successful general manager as opposed to naming names,” said Ross, who is entering his sixth year as the primary owner of the Dolphins. “How do you find the right person? And the words that came out of his mouth were, ‘you have to fins somebody who can be joined at the hip with your head coach, somebody who puts the team and the organization first and can be totally compatible with the head coach and let the head coach be the representative of the team to the public.’
“With that you have to find evaluation skills because that’s about finding personnel. … And to that you want someone who’s obviously really passionate about football and has a lot of integrity. So those really were the characteristics we were looking for and I’m really happy today to say that I really feel that we found the person with all four of those characteristics.”
Hickey’s next opportunity to take a look at the potential draft choices coming up in May is in three weeks at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. He will be quite busy between now and then working closely with Philbin on a plan.