One of the most remarkable aspects of Black Monday is how revelatory it can be. Bad franchises often give insight into why they remain bad. Good franchises display some kind of noticeable pragmatism or patience, leading to a decision that is ultimately productive for the franchise.
There’s a reason teams like the Eagles and the Colts find themselves consistently in playoff contention despite regular turnover at the head coaching position. Philadelphia has had three head coaches since Andy Reid’s departure in 2012 and all three of them have made the postseason, one winning the Super Bowl. Indianapolis has had three head coaches since Tony Dungy left in 2009 and made the playoffs with each one. Jim Caldwell reached the Super Bowl. Chuck Pagano made the postseason three times and the conference title game once. Frank Reich has already made the playoffs twice.
There’s also a reason why we regularly chuckle at the various flailings of wayward franchises who never seem to make the playoffs. The Lions. The Giants post-Tom Coughlin. The Jaguars.
On Monday, Miami firmly entrenched themselves in this club with the firing of Brian Flores, a move that sent ripples throughout the coaching community and registered as the biggest surprise of the cycle thus far. As one tenured coaching agent put it succinctly: “Insane.”
Flores finished the 2021 season 9–8 after starting the season 1–7, capping the year off with a win over the playoff-bound Patriots. It was the first time since 2000 that a Dolphins team registered a season sweep of New England.
Leaked in the immediate aftermath by sympathetic insiders were promises that Michigan man owner Stephen Ross would not chase down Jim Harbaugh. There were suggestions that Flores had poor people skills. There was obvious evidence of a power struggle. The man who drafted Tua Tagovailoa over Justin Herbert got to stay. The guy who took a sack of expiring groceries and made three seasons’ worth of edible meals was given his walking papers.
A few years ago, through an extensive coaching search process, the Bills landed Sean McDermott and finally put to rest years of ineffective practice by installing around him all he needed to succeed. Buffalo is now a tentpole institution in the AFC East, a formidable, sustainable contender that can regularly foil Bill Belichick. They have a franchise quarterback. They have a deep roster full of talented and reliable players.
The Dolphins half heartedly attempted the same kind of turnaround when they hired Flores and paired him with general manager Chris Grier. They were going to rebuild the team, accumulate draft capital and emerge from a period of tumult as a consistent and reliable power.
What actually resulted was a frantic, firehose approach to the draft and free agency. Good players were dealt, mediocre ones were brought in. A quarterback was acquired without an offensive line to protect him. A deep threat wide receiver was brought in to assist a quarterback more comfortable in a mid-range RPO offense (Jaylen Waddle still managed to set a rookie receiving record anyway).
Despite all of this, Flores found a way to make it work. While he was not without his shortcomings—an inability to find the right offensive coordinator, one could argue, ultimately did him in—Flores developed franchise cornerstones like defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and safety Jevon Holland. He kept a team emotionally buoyant despite some extremely dire circumstances. He was the closest thing the Dolphins have been able to find to their McDermott, a coach who wouldn’t immediately melt into an anxious and incompetent mess every time Belichick came to town.
Now Flores is on the market, a coach who will undoubtedly receive overtures from other teams with vacancies. He will, at the very least, slot in behind Vic Fangio as the most aggressively pursued defensive coordinators of the cycle. The Dolphins, meanwhile, will do what bad teams do. They will anonymously shovel off all of their woes onto Flores’s plate. They will make some other big-money, half-hearted attempt at securing The Right Guy For The Job and they will ultimately continue acclimating themselves to the view right beneath Belichick and McDermott for the foreseeable future.
Sadly, this is not a curse the Dolphins can’t do anything about. They can start acting like a good franchise. They could have done it when they woke up this morning. Instead, they again chose politics and infighting. They failed to see the good in what they had and are off to chase the next poor soul to whom they’ll promise, It’s not like everyone else says it is here. We’ll see that person on Black Monday two or three years from now, completely bewildered, and the Dolphins no closer to where they’d like to be.
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