Dolphins fire offensive line coach Jim Turner in organizational shake-up
On Wednesday evening, the Miami Dolphins announced via statement that offensive line coach Jim Turner and head athletic trainer Kevin O'Neill have been relieved of their duties, effective immediately. It had previously been reported that head coach Joe Philbin did not intend to participate in a media session during the scouting combine this week, and that Turner did not accompany the team to the event in Indianapolis.
"The language and behavior as described in the Ted Wells report are against the core values of our organization," team owner Stephen Ross said in the statement. "After receiving the report, I conducted my own internal review of the facts to determine the appropriate steps for our organization. Jim Turner and Kevin O'Neill are good people who care a great deal about their profession and the players whom they serve, but both exhibited poor judgment at times which led me to this conclusion."
A few hours after that statement was released, the Dolphins released another statement, indicating that Philbin and new general manager Dennis Hickey would speak at the combine on Thursday.
As to the firings: Turner was a major player in the bullying scandal that named left guard Richie Incognito as its main instigator and left tackle Jonathan Martin as its main alleged victim. Martin left the team on Oct. 31, apparently unable to deal anymore with what Incognito and other teammates (primarily fellow offensive linemen John Jerry and Mike Pouncey) had been putting him through.
In the report released Feb. 14, attorney Ted Wells named Turner as a major problem regarding the culture in the Miami locker room.
“Turner was aware of the running ‘joke’ that Player A [later identified as offensive tackle Andrew McDonald] was gay, and on at least one occasion, he participated in the taunting,” the report states. “Around Christmas 2012, Coach Turner gave the offensive linemen gift bags that included a variety of stocking stuffers. The gifts included inflatable female dolls for all of the offensive linemen except Player A, who received a male ‘blow-up’ doll. Martin and another player reported that they were surprised Coach Turner did this; Martin further said that he was offended that Turner had endorsed the humiliating treatment of Player A by participating in it. Incognito and others agreed that this incident with Coach Turner occurred. When interviewed, Turner was asked if he gave Player A a male blow-up doll. He replied, ‘I can’t remember.’ We do not believe that Turner forgot this incident, which many others recalled.”
So, Turner came off to Wells as a witness whose testimony was less than credible. And it's entirely possible that Turner's adherence to a line of immature intimidation exacerbated what Martin was going through.
"And in meetings, when offensive linemen were berated for missing assignments, and opined that a teammate might be responsible for an offensive play that went wrong, Turner would term that player as a 'Judas.'" As the report states, “We accept that the fear of being labeled a ‘snitch’ or a ‘Judas’ played a role in Martin’s decision not to report abuse from his teammates. Martin believed that going to his coaches or other authority figures meant risking ostracism or even retaliation from his fellow linemen."
As for O'Neill, his termination appears to be related -- at least in part -- to the treatment one of his assistants endured at the hands of Incognito and others.
“On December 7, 2012 (the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor), Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey donned traditional Japanese headbands that featured a rising sun emblem and jokingly threatened to harm the Assistant Trainer physically in retaliation for the Pearl Harbor attack. Martin reported that the Assistant Trainer confided to him that he was upset about the Pearl Harbor prank, finding it derogatory and demeaning.
“Jerry and Pouncey each admitted that they repeatedly used racial language toward the Assistant Trainer—including calling him a ‘Jap’ and a ‘Chinaman’—and acknowledged their Pearl Harbor Day stunt.”
Turner also tried to intimidate Martin in order to relieve some of the pressure on Incognito soon after the bullying story broke. Turner and Martin exchanged the following text messages last year:
November 2, 2013:
Turner: Richie incognito is getting hammered on national TV. This is not right. You could put an end to all the rumors with a simple statement. DO THE RIGHT THING. NOW.
Martin: Coach. I want to put out a statement. Believe me I do. This thing has become such a huge story somehow. But I’ve been advised not to… And I’m not supposed to text anyone either cuz last time I responded to a teammate (Richie) I was intentionally manipulated and the conversation was immediately forwarded to a reporter.
Turner: He is protecting himself. He has been beat up for 4 days. Put an end to this. You are a grown man. Do the right thing
Turner: John I want the best for you and your health but make a statement and take the heat off Richie and the lockerroom. This isn’t right.
November 3, 2013:
Turner: I know you are a man of character. Where is it?
November 6, 2013:
Turner: It is never to (sic) late to do the right thing!
"Turner sent these text messages to Martin knowing that Martin had hospitalized himself in connection with a mental health condition, and in the face of public reports indicating that Martin’s emotional condition may have been a reaction to his teammates’ bullying and abusive behavior," the report states.
Philbin has stated over and over that he had no knowledge of what Martin had been going through until Martin actually left the team. But it's clear that Turner did, at least from the report's evidence, and O'Neill's involvement has yet to be determined -- as does the real reason behind his firing. One thing's for sure -- with Turner gone, it will be up to Philbin and Hickey to answer all the remaining questions, and convince those able to be convinced that the Dolphins are on a new and more sensible path. And that process begins this week.