Monday, January 6, 2014

Dolphins fire offensive coordinator Mike Sherman

Even for the most pessimistic of Miami Dolphins fans (and I likely fall somewhere in that group), the return of Mike Sherman for a third season seemed too improbable to come to fruition. Indeed, the Dolphins did take the first step to remedy their struggles of the 2013 campaign, as head coach Joe Philbin relieved his former coach and mentor of his duties on Monday.

It was clearly a difficult decision for Philbin, even though it's likely one he knew had to be made. The two go back to 1980 when Philbin a student-athlete at Worcester (Mass.) Academy and Sherman was his football coach and English instructor. In 2003, Sherman (then head coach of the Packers) gave Philbin his first NFL coaching job as an assistant offensive line coach.

But reports emerged recently that Philbin was questioning Sherman's play-calling during the season, and I should hope for the sake of Philbin's own intelligence the report is true. It's also entirely possible Philbin was presented with an ultimatum from above, as in "Get rid of Sherman or you're both gone."

There are excuses to be made, even for Sherman. Ryan Tannehill was playing just his second pro season at a quarterback position that often takes years to master. Tannehill himself still has major issues in his game, starting with accuracy and pocket presence. The offensive line was horrendously ineffective, even before Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin departed the team in a cloud of media-fueled scandal. Projected starting tight end Dustin Keller was lost to a knee injury before the season and slot receiver Brandon Gibson was lost to one in Week 8.

Nevertheless, Sherman was certainly a large culprit in the Dolphins' offensive struggles this season, with the team finishing 26th in points per game (19.8) and 27th in yards for the second consecutive season. Some of Sherman's baffling decisions and failure to bring his schemes into the 21st century were a humongous issue.

Sherman routinely abandoned the run early in games and became one-dimensional and predictable in his calls. His progression-based offense reportedly held Tannehill back from finding his open receivers, with a recent report saying the quarterback had grown weary of his long-time coach. Sherman failed to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers by changing routes and moving players around in formations to create mismatches in coverage.

And let's not forget the whole "Go, Go!" fiasco. The whole thing makes me feel like an idiot, because I question how much I know the sport if a professional team keeps doing it the same way despite how stupid it seems. I've never played football at a pro level, but I can't understand how "Go!" for run and "Go Go!" for pass nearly 100 percent of the time doesn't tip off a defense. Even play-action passes were "Go Go!" which entirely defeats the purpose of play-action. It was truly baffling to watch all season and I cannot find any reason in it.

Sherman was a dinosaur as an NFL offensive mind and moving on from him was the most obvious choice for the Dolphins to make this offseason. But the question remains, 'Is it enough?' Does offensive line coach Jim Turner (brought from Texas A&M with Sherman) need to be held accountable for his unit's performance? Does the same go for quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor, a former A&M grad student and Sherman's son-in-law? What about Philbin failing to inspire an ounce of effort from his team in the final two games of the season, where one win against an inferior opponent would have sent the Dolphins to the playoffs?

And then you have Jeff Ireland, who has a bad move in his past for every good move he's ever made. How do you explain the disastrous signings of linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, or the complete failure to address the offensive line? If you blame Philbin, do you not also blame the man who hired him? And even then, what if the man in charge of it all—owner Stephen Ross—isn't capable of making good decisions, either?

I said over the last few days on Twitter that no matter how little faith I had in the Dolphins organization right now, I couldn't envision Sherman keeping his job. That proved to be true. But Ireland remains at his post and Philbin appears to be safe for the 2014 season, given the fact that the team released a statement by the head coach along with the Sherman news.

We know the Dolphins will have a new offensive coordinator in 2014, and position coaches may be shuffled in and out as well. It's also still "possible" that Ireland gets shown the door, but that seems unlikely given Ross' past hesitations. However, there's a large amount of concern among us that the entire system is broken and that the owner is too afraid, too careful, or too whatever to make the necessary changes.

Barring a seriously productive and calculated free agency period and draft by Ireland...a huge turnaround in the way Philbin utilizes and motivates his players...a significant developmental leap forward by quarterback Ryan Tannehill in what will be his first new offensive system in over six years...

Barring all that, firing Sherman doesn't fix the problem. It is, as someone said on Twitter, treating cancer with a band-aid. Firing Sherman might not be the fix we need, but rather just delaying the inevitable rebuild coming down the road.