Todd Bowles was 2-1 as Miami’s interim coach at the end of the 2011 season but didn’t get much time to see what else he could do with the Dolphins.
Too bad, because he might have been a solid long-term answer, and probably more productive than Joe Philbin turned out to be.
Now Dan Campbell is 2-1 in the same interim position with the rare opportunity to ride it out for nine more games. If he’s looking to make it stick as Miami’s head coach in 2016, it will take something special.
Losing at Buffalo on Sunday? Nothing special about that if it turns out that way. Philbin made it an annual practice.
Toggling back and forth between strong efforts and weak ones to finish around .500 or just below it as a head coach? Yeah, that was another Philbin fault, and Campbell needs to separate himself from that trend if he wants to be seen as more than a caretaker of a coach.
How about building a winning record within the AFC East? Philbin couldn’t do it in his first three seasons and was off to an 0-2 start in the division in 2015 when the Dolphins fired him.
Funny thing is, Bowles scored well in all of these categories but former Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and team owner Stephen Ross still didn’t have enough faith in his leadership.
Bowles’ first game as Dolphins interim coach was a 30-23 win at Buffalo. How’s that for a brawny debut?
He built a winning record, too, and did it exclusively within the AFC East with victories over the Bills and Jets and a tough 27-24 road loss to the Patriots, who went on to play in the Super Bowl that year.
Makes you think that the Dolphins quit too soon on Bowles, if they ever really took him seriously at all. Now he’s 4-3 as the Jets’ rookie coach, with a 27-14 London win over Miami included.
Also makes it clear that for all the good Campbell has brought to the team in terms of attitude and aggressive play, he still hasn’t done enough to stop Mike Tannenbaum and Dennis Hickey from looking around for a surer bet as head coach.
Consider Miami’s 36-7 drubbing at New England last week. It wasn’t even a game.
When Bowles went to Foxborough as the Dolphins’ interim coach, he had the team ready to compete. Matt Moore, nobody’s franchise quarterback, passed for three touchdowns that day. Reggie Bush rushed for 113 yards and Brandon Marshall totaled 143 yards in receptions.
So far Campbell’s Dolphins have delivered that kind of production against a couple of lesser teams in Tennessee and Houston. Of course, he has time to get it rolling against tougher competition, and across a couple of months.
My focus, though, will be on what he does against division opponents specifically.
At Buffalo on Sunday.
At the Jets on Nov. 29.
Against New England in the Jan. 3 season finale at home.
If Campbell can push those guys around, that would be pretty strong evidence that he can find his way to the playoffs one day as Miami’s coach.
If he can’t, well, no other NFL interim could ever say he got a fairer, longer opportunity to demonstrate just how special he is.