Joe Philbin tried his best to defer his team's controversies, but some things won't just go away. (Michael Conroy/AP)
INDIANAPOLIS -- At 7:17 ET Wednesday evening, the Miami Dolphins sent out a press release announcing the firings of offensive line coach Jim Turner and head trainer Kevin O'Neill. Less than an hour later, the team sent out an e-mail announcing that head coach Joe Philbin would speak at the scouting combine; it was previously reported by several sources that he would not. Given the severity of the recently released Wells Report and what it said about his team, Philbin could be excused for wanting to avoid that melee. But he appeared to be on his game Thursday -- at least, as much as he could be.
When he came to the podium at Lucas Oil Stadium to kick off the four days of media availability for coaches, general managers and players, Philbin was certainly definitive. He didn't open it up for questions to start, and he didn't read from a script. Clearly, he was a coach who knew that his leadership was under fire, and justifiably so. After the Dolphins bullying scandal became public and viral and the Wells report was released, indicating almost 150 pages of anarchy going on in the team's locker room, Philbin had to start from ground zero in establishing himself as a coach who could lead men -- in any capacity.
"I remember the first day I interviewed for the Miami Dolphins head coaching job with [team owner Steve Ross]," Philbin said. "We talked a lot about the type of program I wanted to run in Miami. And one of things I told Steve was ... it's important to me that any player we have, or any staff member ... I wanted to create an atmosphere where their experience as a Miami Dolphin was the best professional experience they ever had. And if they left Miami and went to another organization, they would look back on their time as a Miami Dolphin and say, 'That organization was committed to helping me reach my full potential. That they committed the resources and invested in the individuals to make us a great football team.' So they could look back and say they had a tremendous experience.
"Any time that isn't accomplished; any time one of our players or staff members has an experience contrary to that, it requires my attention. It needs to be corrected. I want everyone to know: I'm the one responsible for the workplace environment at the Dolphins facility."
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Philbin went on to list the things that he controls about that workplace -- when the players meet, when they eat, when they lift, and on and on. And he mentioned multiple times that he would endeavor to do a better job of staying aware of what went on in his locker room -- specifically, he would be more "vigilant, diligent and visible."
But the problem is that the locker room is the NFL player's sanctuary from coaches and trainers -- from those men who command and control their lives. So, as much as Philbin wants to claim that there will be a new sheriff in town, it's not quite that simple.
"I'm in charge of the workplace. And I can tell everybody -- I can tell our fans, I can tell you sitting here, I can tell our players ... we're going to do things about it. We're going to make it better. We're going to look at every avenue, and uncover every stone, and we're going to have a better workplace. I promise you that."
Setting those promises into action? Not quite so simple. This, after all, was a coach who worked for an organization for two full years, allegedly in charge, and didn't know a single thing about the factors that would rip his team apart while they were actually occurring. And that's not an indictment of Philbin, per se -- it's just not how locker rooms work. Perhaps rather than insisting he'll change a culture that can't be changed so easily, Philbin might want to admit as much, and look to find better and more accountable team leaders.
Philbin first learned of the problems between Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin after Martin went AWOL from the team on Oct. 31, and he was able to fill in the blanks when the Wells investigators interviewed him on Nov. 18. As is usually the case, Philbin was praised in the report for his honesty and integrity. There is a real sense that he's a good man, who wants to get to the truth more easily next time.
"I have to do a better job," he said. "I have to look at everything -- how we educate, how we communicate, the way we teach one another. We have a lot of dedicated, committed people in our organization who make a lot of sacrifices every single day when they go to work. And I have to make sure that we create a better atmosphere and a better environment."
Philbin was asked repeatedly just how this would be put into place, but his speeches were short on specifics. Perhaps that's because he's dealing with a situation in which there are no easy answers -- and platitudes about accountability, no matter how well-intentioned, won't do the job.
"I don't have the benefit to look back," he concluded. "I would have hoped that I would have noticed some of these things. I can tell you that I never turned my back. If I heard this kind of language or these types of acts being done, I would have intervened immediately. There's a common decency that people need to have toward one another. When that gets violated, that's an issue. I certainly wish I had seen some of it and would have intervened quicker. And perhaps it would have not grown to this proportion that it's grown to.
"It's easy to look back. That's how it unfolded. Now I have to focus on the future and we're going to correct the problems."