Friday, January 20, 2012

Joe Philbin tabbed as Dolphins' new head coach

Ending a search that has lasted more than two months since Tony Sparano was fired on Dec. 12, the Miami Dolphins announced Friday that 50-year-old Joe Philbin will become the eighth full-time head coach in franchise history.

The Packers' offensive coordinator for the past five seasons, Philbin initially interviewed with the Dolphins on Jan. 7 and was brought in for a second interview on Wednesday. He gets the nod over fellow finalists Mike McCoy (the Broncos' offensive coordinator) and Dolphins' interim head coach Todd Bowles, who may be retained on the defensive coaching staff.


Background

Between 1984 to 2002, Philbin held various collegiate coaching positions, primarily as either an offensive line coach and/or an offensive coordinator. His most recent role came as Iowa's offensive line coach under Kirk Ferentz from 1999 to 2002.

Philbin earned his first pro coaching position as the assistant offensive line coach for the Packers in 2003 under Mike Sherman. He added a tight ends coach title during the 2004 and 2005 seasons while continuing to assist with the offensive line.

Upon the arrival of new head coach Mike McCarthy in 2006, Philbin was promoted to offensive line coach and after one season became the team's offensive coordinator. Although McCarthy has continued to hold play-calling duties, Philbin has been an integral part of game-planning and tutoring a Packers' offense that hasn't ranked lower than ninth over the past five seasons and defeated the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV a year ago.

Although the 2011 season ended on a down note for the Packers with last weekend's playoff loss to the Giants, the team did make a historic run with a 15-1 record. The offense shattered various team records, including points per game (35.0) and fewest takeaways (14) while quarterback Aaron Rodgers set an NFL record with a 122.5 passer rating.

Excluding interim coaches, Philbin is the eighth head coach in Dolphins' franchise history, although he's the fifth since the 2004 season began. In that time, the team has fired Dave Wannstedt, Cam Cameron, and Tony Sparano; had Nick Saban bolt for Alabama; and had two interim head coaches installed. The Dolphins are 51-77 with just one playoff berth over that span.


Analysis

Owner Stephen M. Ross said after Sparano's departure that the he was looking for a "young Don Shula" and the 50-year-old Philbin doesn't exactly fit the bill. He does however come from a winning franchise and seems to be highly regarded in league circles as an up-and-coming assistant coach in the NFL.

The Packers' success under Philbin speaks for itself. Although he wasn't the primary play-caller, he was a key member of the offensive staff and you can't ignore the kind of aerial success the Packers have had. You also have to wonder if the Philbin-led Dolphins, who remain unsettled at quarterback, will pursue unrestricted free agent Matt Flynn.

A seventh-round pick by the Packers out of LSU in 2008, Flynn has developed something of a phantom reputation as the next big thing at quarterback despite seeing significant playing time in only two games over four seasons. He is coming off a 480-yard, six-touchdown performance in the regular season finale, but Flynn scares me because there just isn't enough a sample to be sure he can start in this league. I wouldn't mind him as competition, but I am opposed to giving him starter money and guaranteeing him the job if quarterback-needy teams get into a bidding war.

With Philbin coming from an offensive background, I expect he will hire a defensive coordinator that will keep that 3-4 scheme intact in Miami. That was one of my biggest concerns during the pursuit of Fisher and after Mike Nolan departed for Atlanta, so I'm glad to see the 3-4 might be here to stay.

Although Philbin was one of the reported finalists a few days ago, I have to say I was pretty shocked when I heard the news of his hiring because most people seemed to think McCoy was the favorite. Philbin is not a guy that's going to immediately excite all fans (especially those that were hoping for Jeff Fisher), but nothing will satisfy fans except wins and there's no reason to assume Philbin can't provide them.

The reality is we don't know what kind of head coach Philbin will be or what kind of success he'll have at this point. So much more goes into the job than calling plays and the staff he assembles (possibly with two new coordinators) will be vitally important. He'll also need Ross to stay out of things and general manager Jeff Ireland to do his job well, which includes finding a franchise quarterback.


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