"He has one year left on [his] contract and is coming back," said Ross, who three months later then handed Philbin an extension through the 2016 campaign, so Philbin could avoid lame-duck status this season.
It took only four weeks of dismal play from the high-priced Dolphins to undo all the owner's faith in his head coach. Ross fired Philbin on Monday, with the Dolphins sitting at 1-3 following a 27-14 loss in London to the Jets. Since rallying to beat Washington in Week 1, Miami has lost three straight games—the last two coming within the division by a combined score of 68-28.
The Dolphins needed to make a move, but it sure looks like Ross dropped the ball by not canning Philbin at the end of 2014. There was ample cause: a 23-25 record over three seasons, multiple cases last year where Philbin's in-game management cost the team, not to mention the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal that happened under Philbin's watch.
Firing Philbin now amounts to throwing in the towel on the season. There have been instances where an interim coach stepped in and held down the fort—Jason Garrett earned the Cowboys' full-time gig by posting a 5-3 record to close 2010; Bruce Arians, under totally different circumstances, helped the Colts to the playoffs in 2011 as Chuck Pagano underwent cancer treatments.
In general, though, promoting an interim coach usually means a complete shift is coming next off-season, as happened in Oakland last year. The lack of any NFL head-coaching experience on Miami's staff outside of Philbin makes that reconfiguration all but inevitable.
Dan Campbell, who will take over for Philbin, just retired from playing in 2009. He has five years' experience as Miami's tight ends coach.
His job moving forward will be thankless, because it will take a borderline miracle to turn this team around in short order. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle reportedly is out, too, and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is feeling the heat himself. Most legitimate options to replace Philbin permanently are under contract with other teams, meaning Ross will have to wait on them until the end of the season.
So, what's next for the Dolphins? Here are a few potential candidates, be it now or in January:
Jim Schwartz: A long shot, sure, but if the Dolphins are desperate to find someone right now with experience as a head coach, this is an option. Schwartz ran the show in Detroit from 2009 to '13 before being fired, taking the Lions to the playoffs in 2011. He then turned in a successful one-year run as Buffalo's defensive coordinator. Even if the Dolphins don't see Schwartz as their new head coach, he could be an upgrade as the defensive coordinator.
Bill Cowher: Ross reportedly wanted to swing for the fences last time he needed a new head coach, prior to hiring Philbin for the 2012 season. Jon Gruden then was linked to the Dolphins, and his name likely will surface again—but the contract extension he signed through 2021 with ESPN makes the odds of him returning to the sidelines quite slim.
Ross has a better chance with Cowher, though the 58-year-old also has settled in as a TV analyst, far removed from the stresses of coaching. Cowher last manned a head-coaching post for Pittsburgh in 2006. He has hinted in the past that he would be open to coming out of unofficial retirement, but is this the job that could lure him?
Jim Harbaugh: Ross denied back in March that he had courted Harbaugh once the latter left the 49ers. Ross's presence at the University of Michigan—he donated $200 million to the eponymous business school—makes it almost unfathomable to believe he would ask Harbaugh to leave Ann Arbor after just one year on the job there. Count on hearing the suggestion, though.
Kyle Shanahan: The Falcons' offensive coordinator interviewed for the same job in Miami in 2014; Lazor was hired instead. However, Shanahan, 35, figures to receive a head-coaching shot at some point soon, especially considering his early success in Atlanta. His dad, Mike, could be another big-name possibility for Ross.
Adam Gase: Considered for multiple off-seasons now to be among the likeliest to be promoted from a coordinator role to head coach, somewhere. It didn't happen for him last off-season, so he followed John Fox to Chicago as offensive coordinator. Whenever a coaching vacancy opens in the coming months, Gase will be among the obvious candidates.
Teryl Austin: The Lions were afraid that they would lose their defensive coordinator after he turned in a brilliant 2014. The first few weeks of 2015 have not gone as swimmingly, but Austin, 50, remains a highly respected assistant with designs on a head-coaching job. The respective success stories (thus far) of Todd Bowles and Dan Quinn transitioning from defensive coordinator to head coach will help Austin's case.
David Shaw: Harbaugh's successor at Stanford has maintained that program's stature and very well could hop from there to the NFL, just as Harbaugh did. Shaw brings an old-school mentality to the college ranks, perfect for Stanford's heavy emphasis on academics. No college-to-pro transition comes with guarantees of success, but Shaw would be much less of a gamble than others.
Jim Mora: Third time's the charm? Mora did win the NFC South with an 11-5 record in his first season as the Falcons' head coach (2004), but he was let go after successive eight- and seven-win years. He then was one-and-done as Seattle's head coach, fired following a 5-11 mark in 2009—Pete Carroll replaced him. Still, his work at UCLA (33-12 over three-plus years) and coaching pedigree are appealing to NFL teams, even if his pro record is not.
Frank Reich: As was the case with Austin and Gase, Reich interviewed for multiple jobs last off-season, only to stick as the Chargers' offensive coordinator for a second season. While he does not have any head-coaching experience at any level, Reich has a lengthy NFL playing career that gives him a boost. So, too, does his work with San Diego to date.
Kevin Sumlin: Another coach whose name has come up repeatedly when anyone tries to guess where the next NCAA-to-NFL promotion may happen. Sumlin is 33-11 in his current role at Texas A&M and was 35-17 at the University of Houston. His consistently exciting offenses could appeal to Ross, whose staffs have yet to figure out how to utilize all the playmakers available.
Sean McDermott: While less-heralded than some of the other NFL assistants, McDermott has produced results as Carolina's defensive coordinator from 2011 to 15 that no one can argue. Philbin came from an offensive background (Green Bay O.C. before his hire in Miami) and Coyle was an outrageous disappointment in 2015. Could Ross focus on defense with his next hire?
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