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There has to be a richer and more ironic word than luck to describe what is happening in the life of Dolphins owner Stephen Ross right now. We’ll get to the team’s stunning, three-touchdown comeback and the fact that Tua-Freaking-Tagovailoa threw six touchdown passes against the Ravens in a moment. But for now, let’s turn the clock back a few months (and years) to the secret recesses of their office buildings where a plot to subvert NFL rules was afoot.
Here was a Dolphins franchise so starving for relevance that it tried, multiple times, to swindle Tom Brady away from the Patriots and the Buccaneers. Ross was in the ear of Sean Payton as he backed away from the Saints and entered the broadcasting world. Because of Ross’s tampering efforts, the Dolphins were stripped of their 2023 first-round and 2024 third-round picks, he was fined $1.5 million and suspended through Oct. 17, and limited partner Bruce Beal was fined $500,000. In addition, Ross was banned from all league meetings this year. Ross wanted Brady so badly that he reportedly was willing to give him a stake of ownership. Lest we also forget, this was the club in heated negotiations with Deshaun Watson at the trade deadline last year.
And then, after getting released by the NFL’s special investigations unit, Ross emerges to find that still no one has hired Mike McDaniel, the coach who if you’d ask anyone within a stone’s throw of the Kyle Shanahan tree over the past four years, was among the game’s most brilliant minds. He was as much an architect of the league’s most copied scheme as the coach whose name sits atop the tree (and, yes, here he is appearing on our head coaching watch list back in 2019, so we feel safe in spiking the football a bit).
Imagine getting caught robbing a bank, getting out of jail and purchasing a tract of land littered with gold bullion. Call it luck, or whatever you’d like. Some guys have all of it.
The Dolphins are 2-0, but more importantly, they are a success story that completely eschews the philosophy Ross had adopted, the one that led him to act like Swackhammer from Space Jam, trying to kidnap all the sport’s biggest names in the absence of a true plan (Michael Jordan would have never let this happen). McDaniel’s regime is one that seems willing to understand players from a holistic perspective. To meet them at their level and create something that is the sum of their greatest parts. On Sunday against one of the best franchises in sports, one of the best NFL coaches (John Harbaugh), and one of its most consistently talented defenses, they climbed back from a three-touchdown deficit based largely on the philosophy that Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and the rest are good at certain stuff, and we’ll keep doing it in a smart way. According to ESPN Stats and Information, it was the first time in more than a decade that an NFL team came back from more than 21 points down in the fourth quarter. It was a game in which Tua became the second-youngest player since 1950 to throw for at least 450 pass yards and six touchdowns behind only Patrick Mahomes.
We’re not saying that Payton and Brady wouldn’t have been great. Payton will have whatever job he wants in 2023 and the Buccaneers are 2-0 despite Brady having missed a large slice of the preseason.
But we are saying that there are coaches such as McDaniel around the NFL. There is another way. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked when placed next to the game’s perceived stalwarts. We would rather commit a league violation than hand the headset over to someone deemed non-traditional from a head coaching perspective. And, yet, if Ross, or any owner who has tried and failed to hire a head coach since 2019 had surveyed the NFL, they would have told you that McDaniel was for real, and that Shanahan would do (and has done) a great deal to keep him a secret.
While we have no idea how long this will last, it’s an early reminder to those in hiring positions that there are other options available to you. Payton’s voicemail box is full right now. Bill Cowher is probably not leaving the CBS studio. Bill Parcells is 81 and the only friends of Sean McVay who haven’t been hired are the ones he’s kept since high school who aren’t in the coaching business. So how about turning on the games each week and wondering about the source of some creativity we’re seeing on the field right now. Ask questions.
Because the truth is that no one is going to fall upward quite like this again. After all but abandoning your franchise QB, watching him get shredded by a half-dozen offensive coordinators and leaving him to flail publicly while you chased Watson and Brady, you landed on the coach who was willing to dig in and just make it work, to create an offense he was comfortable with.
Six touchdown passes and 469 yards passing later, how does that sound?
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