Beating Atlanta in tonight’s preseason game wouldn’t make Adam Gase a great coach, but it sure would set a tone

The Miami Dolphins’ third preseason game is tonight in Orlando and who cares if they lose?

Something tells me that Adam Gase does, whether or not he’ll admit it.

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase at Miami Dolphins training camp in Davie, Florida on August 10, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase at training camp in Davie, Florida. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

He’s a rookie head coach, for openers, and it builds confidence to have the other guy meeting you with congratulations at the postgame handshake rather than a conciliatory pat on the back.

Also, Gase means to build a winning culture in Miami. He wants every play to count on the practice field for every individual, and every group effort to yield positive results. Losing preseason games may not stop that momentum, but it does get in the way.

So the Dolphins prepare to play the Falcons, knowing that many of the players who take the field at Camping World Stadium won’t make the NFL regular-season rosters of their respective teams. Who cares if they lose?

Fans do. They see the good things that the first unit did, even in a lousy loss like last week’s 41-14 blowout at Dallas. They understand the process of winnowing through a long list of players and philosophies to see which ones stand up to pressure. They really do get what’s happening here, but they also really do want to trust in Gase’s ability to turn around the franchise, sooner rather than later.

That’s the difference between 2-1 and 1-2 once this Falcons game is finished.

That’s why Don Shula winning his first three preseason games as Dolphins coach was such a boost. Before his arrival the franchise had only won 20 games altogether, regular season and preseason included.

That also is why Joe Philbin going 0-4 in his first preseason as Dolphins coach was so predictive of the mood to come. Counting the regular season, Joe lost seven of his first eight games here. Each failure was met with calm analysis and a note of congratulation to the other side. There would be small winning streaks in the future, but never enough of a psychological wave in the opposite direction.

Now I’m not saying that exhibition records are the best method for dividing the sideline savants from the duds. Cam Cameron won his first two preseason games as Dolphins coach, after all, and Nick Saban lost his first three.

[Don’t tell Anthony Steen what happened to Dolphins’ last fill-in at center]

[If head coaches had to play QB in an emergency, who would you leading your team?]

[A look back at 1985 Dolphins, loaded for the Super Bowl return that never came]

Gase will make certain, however, that his players learn to hate disorganization, to hate sloppiness, to hate losing, no matter the opponent or the circumstances. That begins with the preseason, and in tonight’s game he will be earnestly working, too, on the art of head coaching, from the bus ride to the stadium to the final gun.

There’s just no use in wasting these opportunities. Cameron did. In the fourth and final preseason game of 2007, a 7-0 loss to New Orleans featuring tons of reserves on both sides, he didn’t even wear a headset, abdicating his normal playcalling duties and giving to an assistant coach the job of throwing the red challenge flag.

That’s not Gase. It can’t be.