Men For the Job: Dolphins Writers Rank Their Top 5 Choices for Head Coach
The Miami Dolphins’ head coach search is now in full swing. The team has several interviews scheduled, and even more have been requested by the front office. Now, it is simply time to wait and see who the Dolphins’ front office selects as the next leader of the team.
In the mean time, we decided to compile the opinion of several Dolphins experts to rank their top choices, in an exercise to determine who will be best for the team going forward. Here are their answers, not attempting to tackle who is the most likely candidate, rather who is the best candidate to become the 9th head coach in Miami Dolphins history.
Max Himmelrich: Lead Writer, TheDeepEndMiami.com
1. Hue Jackson
Hue Jackson checks off all of the boxes. He is a young coach, an innovative football mind, and has head coaching experience. He is a fiery leader, and was able to turn the Oakland Raiders into a 0.500 team in just one season, a feat that should not be scoffed at. After being fired in Oakland, Jackson became the running backs coach in Cincinnati, eventually becoming the offensive coordinator. This year, he showed just what he is capable of when handed the reins of the offense. He rebuilt the Bengals’ attack, finding ways to utilize all of their weapons efficiently and in a way that maximizes their talent on the field.
The Dolphins have a good number of weapons on offense, and if Hue Jackson can help convince Lamar Miller to resign, he could have Miami competitive very quickly.
Jackson is also a well-respected coach around the league, and would be a good bet to bring in a strong class of coordinators. The Dolphins will also most likely be the most attractive job to Jackson, who could work with Tannehill, Landry, Parker, Ajayi, and potentially Miller.
Overall, no candidate makes more sense than Jackson, as he brings everything that the Miami Dolphins need at the head coaching position.
2. Matt Patricia:
This would be a major gamble, and there is no guarantee that Patricia would leave the defensive coordinator post in New England. It actually seems very unlikely. However, there is nothing more intriguing in my eyes than what Patricia has been able to do with the Patriots’ defense. While he might not be the best option, I feel that he is the most interesting.
Consistently, players leave Foxboro, and decline immediately. Just as consistently, subpar players enter Foxboro and become major contributors. The ability of the Patriots’ staff to maximize the talent on their roster, and create a new and unique way to use players to their advantage each week, makes them one of the best teams in the league. They are the chameleon franchise; whatever they have to do to beat you that week, they find a way to utilize their personnel to achieve it.
The obvious question is if Patricia is a product of his own football genius, or if he is a product of Bill Belichick, the greatest coach in recent history. This is a question that will not be answered until Patricia steps out from the shadows of his teacher and enters a post with greater independence. It is also entirely possible that Patricia does not want to step into that post, and that he is satisfied in New England. However, if there is a chance to bring in a young coach, who could potentially be the NFL’s next great defensive mind, then I am all in on taking the risk.
3. Mike Shanahan:
Mike Shanahan is the best win now option for the Miami Dolphins. He is the most veteran coach you could possibly imagine as a candidate at any stage, having won three Super Bowls (two as head coach, one as the 49ers offensive coordinator) and coached several franchises over his 20+ year career. Shanahan is adept at maximizing current running back and offensive line talent, and therefore is able to make the best out of any quarterback. For god sakes, he won a playoff game with Jake Plummer.
Ryan Tannehill was also in Shanahan’s crosshairs at the time of the 2012 draft, before ownership forced him to take RGIII. That being said, Shanahan is a documented fan of the Dolphins’ quarterback, which is a good sign as to his ability to work his offense around Tannehill’s skill set.The only red flag is Shanahan’s history of struggling with ownership. That being said, I am not concerned with this issue, given he was forced to work with Dan Snyder and Al Davis, two of the most difficult owners in NFL history.
Shanahan has met twice with Tannenbaum, once in a formal interview and once prior in a more casual meeting. It seems that Shanahan is one of the more likely candidates, and that is for good reason. He would have the Miami Dolphins competitive instantly, and could bring in a great crop of coordinators (potentially including his own son, Kyle Shanahan).
4. Mike Smith
Smith built a perennial playoff contender in Atlanta, but was forced out after two seasons of mediocrity. NFL coaches often need to learn how to make mistakes in their first coaching job before they can move on and become winners in other destinations. I believe that Mike Smith could be one of those coaches that is ready to make a name for himself in his second stop on the head coaching carousel.
There are two misconceptions about Mike Smith. First is that he ran the Falcons into the ground. This is simply impossible because he was not the general manager, and had no personnel authority whatsoever. Yes, he was a poor time manager, and made some questionable decisions, but the blame for the Falcons’ personnel issues cannot be placed on Smith. The next myth is that he is old. I am going to be blunt. He looks much older than he is. Smith is 56, which is much younger than Shanahan, Bruce Arians, and Bill Belichick, while only 4 years older than Sean Payton.
I believe that Smith is a good option, and one of the safer ones for Miami. He arrived in Atlanta and immediately had the team competing in the NFC, with 10 or more wins in 4 of his first 5 years. Smith represents a safe option for Miami, as an experienced head coach who has to potential to make the Dolphins competitive just as quickly as he did for the Falcons.
5. Adam Gase:
Youth is a powerful thing during a head-coaching search.
Gase, 37, will be the youngest head coach in the NFL if hired this offseason. He has been a heralded coordinator during his tenure in the league, most notably with the Denver Broncos, helping to construct the offense run with Peyton Manning. He moved to Chicago with his head coach, John Fox, and was able to help clean up some of the issues with Jay Cutler. While he did help, it was not a meteoric rise from inconsistent starter to elite quarterback. Jay Cutler, for the most part, was the same old Jay Cutler.
The question we have to ask about Gase is if his success was thanks to Peyton Manning, or if he is responsible in large part towards the construction of the offense. His youth also has to be alarming, as he might not be developed enough in his own coaching persona to take the heat that comes with being subjected to the South Florida media. These are large issues, but many feel that Gase is exactly what Ryan Tannehill needs to help make the jump.
With Gase, it would be entirely about bringing in trusted, veteran coordinators to help him through the transition to being a head coach. The Dolphins (along with many other teams) are reportedly very hot on Gase, and for good reason. However, a coach of his age should be approached cautiously, as we do not know if he will be the next Sean Payton, or the next Josh McDaniels.
Matthew Cannata: Columnist, The Phinsider
Hue is one of the top offensive masterminds in the National Football League. In the NFL, he has coached in Washington, Atlanta, Baltimore, Oakland and Cincinnati. He was named the head coach of the Raiders in 2011 and finished 8-8 after starting the season 7-4. Soon after, he was fired and returned to Cincinnati where he was the assistant defensive backs coach. He was then moved to running backs coach, and then offensive coordinator in January 2014. He is able to get the most out of his players, can relate to them well, and can scheme with the best of them around the league. He will instantly turn Miami’s offense into one of the most dangerous ones in the NFL and will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience with him. Just look at what he’s doing right now with A.J. McCarron in Cincinnati. That is nothing short of a miracle.
2. Mike Smith
I am in the extreme minority here but I think Smith will do a fantastic job his second time around. With the Atlanta Falcons, he finished with a 66-46 record from 2008-2014. He was fired after a 4-12 and 6-10 season, respectively. His players respected him a ton and Smith has come out and publicly noted his mistakes he made. Of note, he says that after they lost in the NFC Championship Game in 2012, he lost sight of the real focus and everyone became obsessed with making it back to the Championship Game. Thus, he wasn’t relating to players anymore and was solely focused on winning on the field. Smith is a big believer in winning over the locker room first, and promises to stay truly focused to that the second time around. His defense wasn’t good in Atlanta but part of the blame geos to the front office for bringing in players who didn’t truly fit. While some may compare Smith to Joe Philbin in terms of demeanor, he is a completely different coach and one who knows how to get the most out of his players.
3. Teryl Austin
Here is one name that many people know. He has coached at Penn State, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Florida, and Michigan at the college level and Seattle, Arizona, Baltimore and Detroit at the NFL level. He’s been the defensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions the past two seasons and has propelled them into one of the top defenses throughout the league. With Ndamukong Suh, the Lions finished 21, 23, 13 and 16 in total defense. When Austin took over, they finished second. When Darius Slay was drafted in 2013, he was a lost cause. Austin came in and became a top-20 cornerback. Austin is well known for not pulling any punches while being direct and honest with players. He isn’t your typical players’ coach, but he demands and gets the respect of those he leads.
4. Adam Gase
Adam Gase is the hottest name on the market right now as he is considered a bright and young offensive mind. While I am having trouble getting fully on board with Gase, plenty of those connected within the industry think he’s the real deal. He worked in Denver under then offensive coordinator Mike McCoy while Tim Tebow was quarterback. He was then promoted to offensive coordinator when McCoy left. When John Fox was fired this offseason, he followed him to Chicago. Gase was quarterbacks coach with Tebow and is credited for changing the system on the fly when they benched Kyle Orton in 2011. Peyton Manning calls him one of the smartest coaches he has ever worked with and Gase worked wonders with Jay Cutler this past season. One insider I spoke to said that he has the potential to be the Nick Saban of offense. Pretty high praise, but I still have my concerns as to whether or not he can lead and command a room of 53 players on a consistent basis. According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, Gase is the front-runner for the job as of Wednesday.
5. Mike Shanahan
The caveat in this one is that it would need to be without personnel control, which he has demanded everywhere he has been as head coach in the NFL, with the exception of the Los Angeles Raiders. There is no question that he is an offensive genius and will immediately transform Miami’s offense into one of the top units throughout the league. However, there are lots of questions about his ability to work with the defensive side of the ball. In almost every stop he’s been, his defense has not performed up to standards and he has had trouble finding that one defensive coordinator who can run with it, so he can focus on the offensive side of the ball. Shanahan would bring instant credibility and stability to the team. Would he be able to work collaboratively with Mike Tannenbaum, Chris Grier and the rest of them? That remains to be seen, but this is one situation you should keep your eye on as I have been told he is a fallback option if the Dolphins don’t go with one of their other top candidates.
Luis Sung: Owner, Phinmaniacs
1. Hue Jackson
The entire basis for wanting Hue Jackson is what he was able to accomplish while he was the head coach for the Oakland Raiders. He only had one year with the Raiders before then brand new GM Reggie McKenzie shipped him out, but he was able to lead the team to their second consecutive non-losing season, matching their 8-8 record from 2010 under Tom Cable. Jackson was the offensive coordinator at that time. The Oakland Raiders were an absolute mess, and Jackson’s presence somehow turned the Raiders into a respectable football team. The talent level was poor, the organization was in a shambles, but Jackson was able to get the best out of what he had, and that’s exactly what Miami needs: someone who can take the talent that is already there, and get the best out of each individual player instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
2. Mike Shanahan
At this point, the very idea of Mike Shanahan becoming the head coach for the Miami Dolphins enrages the fan base like you wouldn’t believe. Then again, every coaching candidate seems to be doing that at this point, but I digress. What makes Shanahan attractive is that there are few NFL coaches out there right now who have more experience at being a head coach. He knows what needs to be done to lead a team and he’s had a history of putting together excellent offensive lines and turning no-name running backs into impressive players. Not to mention he’s been part of three Super Bowl Teams, two of which as a head coach. As of now, no aspect of the Miami Dolphins’ offense needs more help than the offensive line and the running game, and Shanahan would probably be able to piece it together. As an added bonus, it was widely reported back in 2012 that Shanahan really wanted Ryan Tannehill to be the quarterback for the Washington Redskins. It was Dan Snyder who forced Robert Griffin III on him, and made it so Shanahan couldn’t hold the rookie QB accountable. They still won the division in RG3’s rookie year. So Shanahan is intriguing in that sense. The only concern is what he can put together on the defensive side of the ball.
3. Tom Coughlin
Some people mock Tom Coughlin because of how old he is, but there’s no denying Coughlin’s resume. He won two Super Bowls in his twelve years as the head coach for the New York Giants, and against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s Patriots no less. Coughlin is known as a strict disciplinarian and pays extreme attention to detail. A common criticism about the soon-to-be 70-year old coach is that he has an inability to connect with his players, which could be seen as a red flag. However, even players who admitted this – including former Pro Bowl running back Tiki Barber, who recently went on the radio and described Coughlin as a “pain in the ass” – also said that Coughlin managed to make them better players thanks to his style of coaching. Miami could use someone like that: someone to fix the little things so they don’t add up to become big things, such as the record-breaking penalty count Miami had in 2015. There’s also the mindset that Coughlin could retain Dan Campbell and teach him to become a head coach, so that when Coughlin eventually retires, Campbell could step in and take over in his wake. It’s an intriguing idea, but Miami currently doesn’t seem interested in the former Giants’ head coach.
4. Sean Payton*
*List formulated prior to Sean Payton’s announcement that he will remain the head coach of the Saints.
The head coach for the New Orleans Saints has apparently worn out his welcome in the bayou, and the team is trying desperately to get some sort of compensation for their Super Bowl winning coach, although no one seems willing to give up a draft pick for him. Neither am I, which is why Payton is so low on this list. He was able to polish up Drew Brees and make him an elite quarterback, but Brees wasn’t a scrub before Payton got his hands on him, so there was very little “development” there. The other red flag in my mind regarding Payton is that his defenses have been consistently bad, which is scary considering the Dolphins’ defense has been steadily declining since the second half of 2014. Payton would undoubtedly find a way to fix the offense, he’s a genius in that regard, and he could probably polish up Ryan Tannehill…but the thought of what Payton would do to the defense – or rather not do – fills me with fear.
5. Adam Gase
At first I was really intrigued by the idea of hiring Adam Gase, but since then the fire has cooled significantly. Obviously, Gase has some credentials working with quarterbacks. He was able to bring down Jay Cutler’s turnover numbers and make it so Chicago Bears fans no longer want him run out of town, he previously worked with Peyton Manning when he broke records in 2013 and 2014, and before that he worked with Tim Tebow as his QB coach when the Broncos made the playoffs. But the biggest thing against Gase is actually the same thing against Bill Lazor: how much of what happened was due to the head coach, and how much of it was actually him? Bill Lazor was expected to turn Ryan Tannehill into a star, and that didn’t work out at all. Is Gase another version of Lazor? First-time head coaches have not been kind to the Dolphins in the past several years, whether it’s Tony Sparano, Joe Philbin or Dan Campbell. Gase would be another rookie head coach, and experience would definitely be a major plus since there’d be no learning on the job to do. Gase has potential to be sure, and he’s earned raving reviews from players under his coaching, but he’d be another roll of the dice; One that I’m growing more and more uncomfortable with.
Chris Early: Writer, The Phinsider
He’s a proven winner that demands respect from players and opponents. He would bring the culture change the front office wants and one that knows how to connect to the players. The question is how much longer does he want to coach? He’s not a spring chicken and you would have to wonder how much fire he has left.
2. Teryl Austin
Miami can go with a defensive minded coach to get more out of a struggling defense. He had a good track record with the Lions as defensive coordinator. He seems to be a man that can command respect of the locker room and gets the most out of his players.
3. Hue Jackson
Jackson has made the Bengals offense into a dangerous one and would have plenty to work with on the Dolphins. He has head coaching experience and could forge an immediate turnaround with the Dolphins’ offense.
4. Mike Shula/Sean McDermott
I’m putting these two guys together. Both Carolina coordinators have worked wonders with the Carolina personnel. If either one could duplicate the production they got with the Panthers, they would be fine additions. I would worry/be annoyed with Mike Shula and the constant comparisons to his father that you know will inevitably happen. However, if he can make this team into a winner, it would be worth it.
5. Dan Campbell
I’m a little higher on the Dan Campbell idea than others. The players love him and want to see him back. He has plenty to learn about being a head coaching position, but who’s to say he can’t become a great one. They all start somewhere. The key to his interview will be how he puts together a staff. He was stuck with leftovers during his interim stint. How he feels about Tannehill is a big question as well. If, as Armando Salguero suggested, you could get a package deal with Tom Coughlin as short term head coach and Campbell as his assistant head coach/successor, that would be great.