With the Joe Philbin era in Miami ending as expected on Monday, the next pressing question facing the team is what are the Dolphins getting in their new, rather unexpected interim head coach, Dan Campbell?
To get a sense of who Campbell is and what Miami’s next 12 games might hold in store, I placed a quick call to Bill Parcells, who coached Campbell during the former 11-year NFL tight end’s three-year stint in Dallas from 2003–05, after the Cowboys signed him away from the Giants in free agency.
“He’s a hard-working guy, a really dedicated guy, and most importantly, a tough-minded guy,” Parcells said. “They made a good choice in going with him. He’s mentally tough enough to deal with the situation they have in Miami.”
Campbell was never a star for any of the four NFL teams he suited up with, but he was known as a savvy and intelligent player who had a good grasp of the game and how a team best functions. With his reputation as a gritty, hard-nosed player, Campbell was an obvious Parcells favorite as a player, and spent his final season in New Orleans in 2009, playing for Saints coach Sean Payton, another longtime Parcells disciple. Campbell won a Super Bowl ring with the 2009 Saints, despite being on IR that season.
Campbell spent the 2010 season with the Dolphins as an offensive coaching intern on offense, and was promoted to Miami's tight ends coach in 2011, Tony Sparano's last year on the job with the Dolphins. Somewhat surprisingly, Parcells told me he had no role in advising Dolphins owner Stephen Ross on Campbell’s elevation, but perhaps that’s because as a former Dolphins VP of football operations from 2007–10, Parcells had made his feelings known to Ross regarding Campbell’s qualities and coaching potential.
At 39 years old, Campbell becomes the league’s youngest coach, and he's never coached higher than the positional level. While Parcells expressed confidence in Campbell’s ability to handle the Dolphins’ top job, he also added a caveat that acknowledged the challenges that exist in Miami (1–3), a franchise that has struggled to escape mediocrity for years and is known for its underachieving ways. The Dolphins went 24–28 under Philbin, and have made just one playoff trip (2008) since the start of the '02 season. The Dolphins’ most recent postseason win came in the 2000 playoffs under coach Dave Wannstedt.
“That’s not an easy situation to take over,” Parcells said. “For Dan, or any coach for that matter. It’s a challenge. They’ve got some issues to deal with. But he’s a tough guy who will take the right approach and do a good job.”
Chief among those issues? How to push the right buttons and motivate $100-million-plus free-agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, whose uninspired and unproductive performances through four games this season has come to personify the Dolphins’ underwhelming play in 2015. Miami’s defense, expected to be its strength, has instead been an embarrassment, registering just one sack this season.
And then there’s the early season regression of franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who’s production hasn’t even lived up to the statistics he compiled during his rookie season of 2012. Tannehill’s has seven touchdowns and five interceptions, with career lows in completion percentage (56%) and average yard per pass attempt (6.3).
As Miami’s bye week begins, ahead of a Week 6 trip to Tennessee, the Dolphins are Campbell’s team to mold for the coming three months, and his unexpected opportunity to make a name for himself starts now.