Not expecting a major step back for Adam Gase, no matter what Las Vegas says

 

Not quite sure where I’m going with my Dolphins prediction right now. Training camp opens Thursday and it makes no sense to guess that there will be no injuries between now and September.

It does seem harsh, though, to predict a major step back in Adam Gase’s second year as coach. That’s what USA Today is doing with a 7-9 pick for Miami in 2017.

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase smiles as he speaks during a news conference after an NFL organized team activities football practice, Thursday, May 25, 2017, at the Dolphins training facility in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Back in May, the Southpoint Casino in Las Vegas went the same way, naming 7.5 as the over-under for the Dolphins.

Of course, it could happen that way. Gase, among all people, can be counted upon to stress to his players that a 10-6 playoff season in 2016 is wiped clean. The Dolphins of 2017 are a different animal, with some new players but all the old challenges.

Looking back, though, I can only find seven times in franchise history where the Dolphins had a dropoff of three or more wins from one year to the next. That’s seven times in 51 seasons. (Can’t count 1982, the strike-shortened season when Miami dropped from 11 wins to seven but reached the Super Bowl anyway.)

Don Shula had three of those precipitous drop-offs, proving that not even the winningest coach in NFL history can win them all.

The others were 2004, the year Dave Wannstedt resigned. He was 10-6 the previous season but stumbled to a 1-8 start and bailed on what turned out to be a 4-12 finish.

Nick Saban had a three-game dropoff in 2006, the year he already had one foot out the door for Alabama.

Cam Cameron broke all Dolphin standards by going 1-15 in 2007, a dropoff of five wins from Saban’s low point.

Finally, Tony Sparano went from that magical 11-win debut season in 2008 to 7-9 the following year.

In the last four cases, Miami didn’t have a great quarterback, or, at times, even a serviceable one.

Gase, on the other hand, seems to have something going now with Ryan Tannehill, providing all the good signs on that rehab from last December’s ACL injury continue to be good.

Working against Miami is a schedule that ranks sixth-toughest in the NFL. The Dolphins’ 2017 opponents had a winning percentage of .547 last year.

It’s possible, however, to read too much into that.

Prior to the 2016 season, and using the same methods, Buffalo was judged to have the 10th-toughest schedule in the league. Miami was No. 11 and Carolina No. 12.

Two of those teams wound up with losing records. Miami, going against the grain, had its best season in eight years.

[’72 Dolphins put up entirely different numbers during a different time]

[Here are trap games that should worry Seminoles, UM and Gators]

[A travel itinerary to attend all the best college football games in our state]

So my inclination right now is to say 9-7 for Miami this year. Sure, it’s a small step back, but I can find just one example of a Dolphins coach improving the team’s win total by four games from one season to the next and then immediately stepping it up again.

That was Shula, who went from six wins to 10 to 11 between 1976-78.

It’s a tough ask.

 

Gotta be the schedule, right? Adam Gase is lagging behind the other first-time NFL head coaches of 2016

 

Adam Gase, still looking for his first win, isn’t doing too well in comparison to the other first-time NFL head coaches in the class of 2016.

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase speaks to the media after an NFL football game against the New England Patriots Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase speaks to the media after last Sunday’s 31-24 loss to the New England Patriots. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Doug Pederson of the Philadelphia Eagles and Ben McAdoo of the New York Giants are each 2-0, making thing look fairly easy. Dirk Koetter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is 1-1, with a 40-7 loss at Arizona last week weighing him down.

Back in July I wrote a blog surmising that Gase had the toughest road among these four in establishing himself right away with winning credentials. That was based largely on being made to open the season at Seattle and New England, an especially cruel welcome to the job.

Now, though, it is time for Gase to win a game, to make that happy locker-room speech, to validate Stephen Ross’ decision to turn his team over to a guy with no head-coaching experience at any level.

Enter the Cleveland Browns, who also are winless and equally desperate with rookie Cody Kessler as their emergency starter at quarterback. In fact, you have to do a little digging to find a September Dolphins game as desperate as Sunday’s will be to both teams.

Only three previous times in franchise history has an 0-2 Miami team been matched against an 0-2 opponent.

In 1988 Don Shula’s Dolphins beat Green Bay 24-17 and went on to finish 6-10. That was one of only two losing records the Hall of Fame coach ever recorded.

Nick started 0-2 as Miami coach in 2006 and squeaked out a 13-10 win over 0-2 Tennessee on a late Olindo Mare field goal. Again, the Dolphins were bound for a 6-10 finish.

The closest parallel to where Gase stands now, however, is the disastrous debut of Cam Cameron in 2007. It’s not fair to compare the two in any other way. Gase presents himself as much more suited to a long and successful career as an NFL head coach. Here, though, are the facts.

Cameron, a first-time head coach, started out with tough games against a couple of eventual playoff teams, the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. The first game was an overtime loss on the road, fairly encouraging overall. The second, a 37-20 loss to the Cowboys, featured some offensive spark by the Dolphins but a ton of wild and unpredictable mood swings, sort of like last week’s loss at New England.

Next came a match with the 0-2 New York Jets at Giants Stadium. Losing that one 31-28 really exhausted any enthusiasm that remained for Cameron and his sunny outlook on awakening the Dolphins. It took a 15-point rally by Miami to even make the game close, with an unsuccessful on-side kick with 1:15 remaining as the final tease.

That became the lasting theme, one sad loss after another until Cameron finally broke through with a December upset win over Baltimore. In overtime, of course.

This is the kind of attitudinal avalanche that Gase can’t afford, not because he is in the slightest danger of being a one-and-done Dolphins coach but because 2016 doesn’t need to be a training exercise alone.

Miami fans and Dolphins players want to feel like somebody else’s problem for a change. On top of that, getting the Browns at home is the closest thing to a respite that Gase is going to get.

Without a victory over Cleveland on Sunday, it gets pretty dismal around here, and it might stay that way for a while, especially with a Thursday night trip to Cincinnati coming right up next week.

Should be easy but it won’t be. The Browns are in the same rut. Everybody knows it’s win or go utterly sour now.

 

 

 

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.

Adam Gase faces most brutal schedule as first-time NFL head coach

Of the four first-time NFL head coaches entering the league in 2016, I figure Miami’s Adam Gase has the most work ahead of him in order to establish his credentials and possibly compete for an immediate playoff spot.

Admittedly, this contradicts the official strength of schedule numbers, which are based on the 2015 records of opponents.

Dolphins new head coach Adam Gase is introduced at Dolphins training camp facility in Davie, FL on Jan. 9, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Dolphins new head coach Adam Gase is introduced at Dolphins training camp facility in Davie, FL on Jan. 9, 2016. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Tampa Bay’s Dirk Koetter, for instance, must face a slate of opponents that combined to go 139-117 a year ago. That .543 winning percentage is tied for the fifth-toughest in the league for 2016.

Gase and the Dolphins are scheduled against a group that went .516 last season. That ranks as the 11th-toughest schedule.

Koetter has two advantages over Gase, however.

First, he doesn’t open the season with trips to Seattle and New England. The Bucs open at Atlanta and Arizona instead, a difficult draw but not as brutal as Miami’s, and that opinion isn’t changed by the strong possibility that Tom Brady won’t be available early to the Patriots.

Second, Koetter previously has been a head coach, three years at Boise State and six more at Arizona State. There are things about delegation and organization you can’t know until you’ve actually done the job, things that Gase will be picking up on the fly.

Two other first-time NFL head coaches got a break in scheduling, as if any NFL schedule can be considered a light load.

Doug Pederson of Philadelphia draws the 26th-toughest schedule in 2016. The Giants’ Ben McAdoo goes against a group that ties for 30th.

Gase, 38, is the youngest head coach in the league and has never run an entire program at any level but he doesn’t lack for confidence. In the end, he will probably fall into the middle of the pack when it comes to first-time NFL head coaches who made their debuts with the Dolphins.

Tony Sparano won the AFC East in 2008, leading Miami to an 11-5 record and a wild-card playoff spot. Tony had previous college head coaching experience at New Haven.

[Coming off 10-win season, Gators’ Jim McElwain still has some heavy lifting to do]

[If Dolphins’ stadium debut doesn’t go smoothly, it won’t be the first time]

[Buddy Ryan always loved a good feud, even if it was against Don Shula]

Nick Saban went 9-7 with the Dolphins in 2005 without a playoff appearance. His college head coaching experience was extensive and impressive both before and after that NFL experiment.

Joe Philbin and Cam Cameron had no head coaching experience when they took the Dolphins’ job. Joe went 7-9 in his first season and Cam went 1-15.

Each coach has a different set of circumstances and strength-of-schedule is only one of them.

It might help to know, though, that the three teams in Miami’s division face a slightly tougher list of opponents than the Dolphins do. The New York Jets’ task is tied for seventh-toughest, New England comes in at No. 9 and Buffalo is No. 10.

 

Rate the Adam Gase offseason buzz against other Dolphins coaching debuts

It’s pretty exciting having a new coach with the Miami Dolphins. Fresh ideas. Great expectations. And then there’s that undefeated 0-0 record.

Where, though, do you rate the buzz level on Adam Gase compared to other coaches who have come this way since the departure of Don Shula?

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, right foreground, watches the players perform drills during practice at the team's NFL football training facility, Monday, June 6, 2016, in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
DAVIE – Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, right foreground, watches the players perform drills during practice at the team’s training facility on Monday. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

I’m talking about how many people you meet who are talking about the Dolphins with less than 100 days before the season opener, and how many times you have checked in to see what Gase is saying or doing at OTA’s, just in case he’s right about a lot of stuff and Miami is about to make some noise.

Here’s my list in order, from (A)South Florida is crazy-go-nuts over the Dolphins’ new direction to (Z) South Florida is stuck somewhere between ambivalent over what’s coming up and fast asleep in the midst of the offseason lull.

 

  1. Jimmy Johnson – 1996 – He had Super Bowl-winning credentials plus a high Miami profile as former coach of the national champion Hurricanes. Also there was the mystery of what the Dolphins would feel and look like without Shula leading them onto the field for the first time in 26 years.
  2. Nick Saban – 2005 – He was a championship coach at LSU, not to mention previous NFL experience as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns. A proven winner who had been given full control of the Dolphins operation and was ready to make the move up from college ball.
  3. Adam Gase – 2016 – Hey, an aggressive head coach who calls his own plays rather than standing around with one hand on the red challenge flag and hoping his staff is on point with the game plan. If Ryan Tannehill ever is going to take off, this should be the year.
  4. Dave Wannstedt – 2000 – Raw deal being the one who had to tell Dan Marino his time was up, but on the other hand he was Jimmy’s hand-picked successor and a trusted partner during great years with the Hurricanes and the Cowboys. Handed a playoff team in Miami, he figured to do fine.
  5. Cam Cameron – 2007 – Sure, this seems completely out of whack now, but that summer Cameron was viewed as the offensive wizard behind San Diego’s high-scoring teams and one of the top coordinators available around the league. If you’re drawing comparisons to Gase, just stop.
  6. Tony Sparano – 2008 – Nobody knew a thing about this guy but Bill Parcells was newly in charge of the Dolphins and he wanted Sparano after working together in Dallas so that was good enough. Most of all, whoever served as head coach immediately after Cameron was going to shine.
  7. Joe Philbin – 2012 – This one was puzzling from the start, and Philbin certainly wasn’t helped by everybody knowing the Dolphins really wanted Jeff Fisher. Joe was helped by coming from Green Bay but hurt by the fact he was a coordinator who didn’t call plays. No outward intensity either.

[One last quick look at all those great Doral moments]

[There’s really no such thing as a simple summer for Dwyane Wade]

[A modest proposal for spicing up Dolphins OTA workouts]

Mix and match these names as you wish. The big thing is it’s good to get a fresh look at the Dolphins. Sooner or later, if only by accident, this franchise needs to start winning again.

When Dolphins hired Cameron, Huizenga wondered aloud ‘Could this thing blow up on us?’

 

The Miami Dolphins’ coach search should go a lot smoother this time around than it did in 2007, when the worst hire in franchise history resulted from team owner Wayne Huizenga and his top assistants talking each other into Cam Cameron at the end of an exhaustive search.

You’d like to think it would go a lot smoother, anyway, given the fact that the Dolphins have had since Joe Philbin’s firing three months ago to think about which two or three candidates they are most interested in getting.

In 2007 Huizenga thought he was all set until Alabama started flirting with his head coach. Then, on Jan. 3, Nick Saban was gone.

111807 spt fins owls Staff photo by Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post--0045222A--Philadelphia, PA...Lincoln Financial Field..Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles..Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron studies his play list on fourth down and goal in the fourth quarter.
Former Miami Dolphins head coach Cam Cameron in 2007. (Photo by Allen Eyestone, Palm Beach Post)

The frantic rush to stop the bleeding led Huizenga and his staff to interview a dozen candidates over the next two weeks. Included in that rush was Huizenga flying the team plane to Costa Rica, where Pete Carroll, then the coach at USC, was vacationing.

Eventually a list of five finalists emerged – Cameron, the offensive coordinator at San Diego, plus Chan Gailey, Mike Shula, Dom Capers and Jim Mora, Jr.

When the choice finally was made, it was only after Dolphins executives met with Cameron in Davie, went home to sleep on it and returned in the morning to try to find a consensus. Still, nothing. Eventually, they called Cameron back from a local hotel to meet again and, after another question-and-answer session, offered the job.

“There were times when we vacillated,” Huizenga said at the press conference to introduce Cameron. “To be honest with you, it was not an easy decision.”

If that sounds like a businessman still trying to convince himself of a good deal, get a load of this as Huizenga continued to sell Cameron to reporters.

“Everybody looked at how we were going all over the place to find a coach and thought we didn’t know what we were doing,” Huizenga said. “Sometimes it did feel like that.

“Was he (Cameron) the safe choice? No. A little more risky? Yeah. Could this thing blow up on us? Maybe. But we said we’re going for the gold.”

Fool’s gold, as it turned out. Cameron, who was 18-37 at Indiana University in his only previous try at head coaching, went 1-15 in his one season at Miami and was lucky to get that one victory in overtime.

At least Mike Tannenbaum, the executive in charge of the current Dolphins search, appears confident in his decision-making. Within a week or so he should settle on somebody and get busy on a contract.

[If Dolphins can find a coach as tough as Don Shula, I don’t care how old he is]

[Bill Belichick’s primer on how long it takes a new coach to fully install his system]

Until then, there’s a sense of waiting on the dominoes to fall as a half dozen other teams take turns interviewing the same basic list of candidates. When one or two of them get snapped up, the Dolphins don’t want to be left wishing they had been more decisive, more prepared.

This isn’t like Saban’s departure, a total shock. Miami’s been warming up for this moment for months.

Great stinkbombs in the home-opener history of Miami sports

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) makes a reception on a long pass play defended by Miami Dolphins cornerback Brice McCain (24) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on September 27, 2015.  (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins (14) makes a reception on a long pass play defended by Miami Dolphins cornerback Brice McCain (24) at Sun Life Stadium on September 27, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Everyone was calling that lifeless 41-14 loss to Buffalo the worst home opener in Miami Dolphins history and it was easy enough to play along, since at the moment it felt like just about the worst anything anywhere.

Took a later look, though, to confirm. Not only is it true, but there’s nothing even close to this 27-point deficit.

Second on the lopsided list comes a 37-20 loss to Dallas in 2007, Cam Cameron’s one and only season as Miami coach. A big difference is that the Cowboys didn’t put that game away until the fourth quarter. Sunday’s slide, of course, was immediate, with the Bills up 27-0 at halftime.

Hey, wait a minute, tied for third-lousiest home opener is a 14-point loss to New England in 2011, Tony Sparano’s last season running the Dolphins. Just coincidence, right, when it comes to Joe Philbin?

There’s nothing more damaging than treating hopeful fans this way. It’s like inviting everybody over for a housewarming party and sending them all home with food poisoning. Makes you never want to come back again. Makes you feel like a boob for buying a season ticket for a season that’s already shot in September.

[Hey, somebody’s got to be No. 25 so the Gators will take it]

[The comeback of Chris Bosh is as much mental as physical]

[Home-run balls aren’t exactly landing in Mike Wallace’s mitts with Vikings either]

One game doesn’t have to mean everything, of course. In 1995 the Dolphins mauled the Jets 52-14 in the home opener, giving birth to Super Bowl dreams, but by year’s end Don Shula was out. Can’t get any more drastic than that when it comes to turnarounds.

Just saying.

Here are a few more stinkers in South Florida pro sports history. Sorry that so many of you were there to experience them in person.

The Miami Heat won their first NBA title in 2006 and planned a spectacular ring-presentation ceremony to open the following season. Trouble is, the Chicago Bulls were not in the mood to participate in the fun. Miami lost 108-66, got outrebounded by 20 and had just one player, Dwyane Wade, who scored in double figures.

If it had been an exhibition, both teams would have agreed to stop after three quarters, to avoid both injuries and further humiliation.

Naturally, a fan can shake something like that off in the wake of a championship run. What happened at the inaugural opening night at Marlins Park, on the other hand, was merely the first unforgivable sin in a 2012 season that featured manager Ozzie Guillen getting in trouble for saying he admired Fidel Castro and ended with 93 losses.

Here are the lowlights of the first regular-season game at Marlins Park, attended by a sellout crowd of 36,601. St. Louis went up 3-0 in a heartbeat. The Marlins didn’t have a baserunner until the fourth inning, when a hit batsman got erased in a double play. They didn’t have a hit until the seventh and they didn’t have a run until the eighth. Final, St. Louis 4-1, but it felt like 400-1.

Maybe the worst is over for the Dolphins, at least in terms of blowouts. To be fair, the Bills would only have won this game by 26 points if only Andrew Franks hadn’t missed an extra point.

Because of the quirk of the London trip, however, it’s going to be a while before Miami gets another chance to make it up to the home crowd directly. The next game at Sun Life Stadium is a month away, Oct. 25, against the Houston Texans.

Strange to think that this stuff used to be so automatic. The Dolphins won 13 home openers in a row between 1976 and 1988.

Back then the team was pretty shiny and the stadium drab, not the other way around.