INDIANAPOLIS – It was all Joe Philbin’s fault. Emphatically. Without question.
That’s what the Miami Dolphins head coach wanted everyone to understand this week at the NFL Combine. Everything that happened in the Dolphins’ locker room
– all the poison spread by a dysfunctional offensive line, all the intimidation, the very presence of Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito in the same area code, the enormous black eye on a proud franchise – it was all Philbin’s doing.
“I want everybody to know I’m the one that is responsible for the work place, the environment, in the Miami Dolphins facility,” Philbin said. “I’m the one (who) sets the schedule, I decide when the practices are, I decide what time the players eat, how they meet, how they lift, everything that they do in the facility.”
“We’re going to make it better. We’re going to look at every avenue, uncover every stone and we’re going to have a better workplace,” Philbin added. “I promise you that. I’m going to make sure that happens.”
Falling on the sword was an expected result in the wake of the Wells report, a scathing review of what the Dolphins did and didn’t do to deal with bullying in the team’s locker room. The tepid environment came to light early in the 2013 season when Martin left the team and primarily blamed Incognito for driving him to a mental state that required time away.
The Wells report made it clear Philbin knew little about the situation until Martin’s departure and he made it clear that was a serious regret. He heard the now-infamous voicemail at the same time as it became public.
“I don’t have the benefit to look back,” he said. I would have hoped that I would have noticed some of those things. I can tell you I never turned my back. If I heard this kind of language or these types of acts being done, I would have intervened immediately. There’s common decency that people need to have toward one another. “When that gets violated, that’s an issue.
“I certainly wish I had seen some of it and would have intervened quicker. And perhaps it would not have grown to this proportion that it has grwn to,” Philbin continued. “It’s easy to look back. That’s how it unfolded. Now I have to focus on the future and we’re going to correct the problem.”
One way of dealing with the problem is to blow up the entire offensive line. Throughout his time on the podium and when Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey spoke with the media, the offensive line was spoken of in past tense. Martin, Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry are not expected to return.
“Every day I wake up, I think about how can I get the Miami Dolphins to the best 53-man roster,” Hickey said. “And I think that encompasses all positions. I obviously believe it all starts up front with both sides of the ball, but every day we’re constantly looking, meeting with our scouts, talking with coach Philbin, watching film together and trying to detail what’s the best plan. We’re putting together that strategic plan and we’re going forward with that.”
Despite measures being taken by the Dolphins to resolve the issue, it is expected the team will be damaged by the scandal during the free-agent signing process. Hickey tried to downplay that problem by accentuating the franchise’s other draws.
“I think that free agents are going to be attracted to who we are because we have an excellent coaching staff, we live in Miami … that’s pretty strong,” he began. “We have a committed owner that will allocate the resources necessary and we have an environment, a collective strong environment.”
As for Philbin, whose reputation has been damaged to the point he was asked if he felt fortunate he was still employed, he claimed the team will be unaffected going forward.
“I’ve stated, I believe that when we first became aware of some of these allegations that I have faith in our locker room, faith in the guys we have,” he said. “I think we have an outstanding coaching staff. I know we have work to do like every other football team here. …
“I’m confident in the direction. I’m confident that we’re going to make the changes necessary to improve the workplace of the Miami Dolphins and improve our football team.”
Head coaches around the league said they watched the Miami situation with interest and took it as a warning of what can happen if a head coach isn’t completely engaged with the locker room.
“You can’t ever take anything for granted,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said. “As a head football coach, the working culture in that building is really my responsibility. So it’s unfortunate, but it brings those things to light and it makes you more aware making sure you’re being diligent about monitoring the locker room, monitoring the working environment that your players are dealing with.”
Is it realistic to expect a head coach to know everything that is going on?
“Being the head coach as it relates to the football team, the buck kind of stops here,” Denver head coach John Fox said. “Whether you went through it as a college player with alumni, the issues you have there, you try and you need to be on top of it. But if it’s totally realistic? I can’t answer it, but it’s hard. You try to set a good culture
– an environment – in your building.“
At least one head coach sounded a defiant tone about the environment in his organization. Considering his team’s success with wildly varying personalities and how it weathered a notable offseason scandal of its own, it is difficult to argue with his assessment.
“We’ll continue to do it the way we’ve done it,” New England head coach Bill Belichick said. The Patriots have been a home in recent seasons to controversial personalities (Randy Moss, Aquib Talib), circuses (Tim Tebow) and move on smoothly from the revelation of Aaron Hernandez’s alleged involvement in a murder.
“I’ve been in constant communication with our team on a daily basis,” Belichick said. “Our captains and so forth, we address any things that come up. Obviously this isn’t a new story. This has been out there for quite some time, along with a lot of other ones. What we feel is appropriate to talk to the team about, we’ll talk to the team about.”
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