DAVIE, Fla. -- Something needs to change with the Dolphins. That much is clear.
Things get murky trying to decide who should return next season in their current roles, and whether the returnees need to make some sort of philosophical change.
Let's start at the top. General manager Jeff Ireland shouldn't return. Head coach Joe Philbin and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman should return. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle should return. Offensive line coach Jim Turner shouldn't return, and three of his starting offensive linemen shouldn't be back as starters. Also, running back Lamar Miller shouldn't return as a starter, and two other defensive starters shouldn't return in their current roles.
How's that for a blueprint?
After the season finale Dolphins owner Steve Ross said he hadn't made a decision on Ireland or Philbin.
"We're going to look at everything," Ross said.
The review process kicked into overdrive on Thursday. That's when Ross landed his helicopter on the practice field at the team's training facility at 11 a.m., spent the day meeting with key personnel, and departed at 6:30 p.m.
Decisions could be announced any day.
This season, which ended with disappointing losses to Buffalo and the New York Jets, was the high point of the last five years. No one is expressing a sense of pride.
"It was 8-8," Philbin said. "It was an average season."
That's why change is necessary.
Ireland has presided over five consecutive non-winning seasons, the worst stretch in franchise history. He found a quarterback (Ryan Tannehill). But the offensive line hasn't been solidified.
And the second- and third-round draft picks of the last five years have produced average players, at best. The high end includes former cornerback Sean Smith, departed tackle Jonathan Martin, guard John Jerry, linebacker Koa Misi and defensive end Olivier Vernon.
The bulk of those picks are/were below-average players, guys such as running back Daniel Thomas, tight end Michael Egnew, quarterback Pat White, wide receiver Patrick Turner and this year's crew of cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis and guard Dallas Thomas.
The team has either flat-lined or gotten worse on Ireland's watch. In the last five seasons the Dolphins have posted records of 7-9, 7-9, 6-10, 7-9 and 8-8, including a 10-game losing streak (the last three games of 2010 and the first seven of 2011). Even after the recently-concluded two-year makeover you can't pick in season in the last five years in which the Dolphins under-achieved and that's largely because the record has reflected the caliber of talent Ireland has obtained.
Talent is the No. 1 thing that has to improve in the organization. In the last four years the only free agents to make the Pro Bowl were guard Richie Incognito, wide receiver Brandon Marshall and cornerback Brent Grimes. That means signees such as wide receiver Mike Wallace, running back Reggie Bush, linebackers Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler didn't play at an elite level with the Dolphins. The only draftee since 2010 to make a Pro Bowl is center Mike Pouncey.
Philbin has a 15-17 record after two seasons. This year's collapse against Buffalo and the New York Jets is bad, but not unforgivable. He's safe. Plus, you need to give a new coach three seasons. But now the clock is ticking.
Coyle, the second-year defensive coordinator whose units ranked 21st this year and last year, also seems safe.
Sherman, Philbin's longtime friend, is a tough one. Sherman, whose offense ranked 27th this season and last season, hasn't had a wealth of talent. He's had two Pro Bowl players -- Pouncey and Incognito. But Sherman also hasn't fully utilized the talent he's been given. That's a major part of a coach's job. Sherman isn't creative. For example, he leaves wide receiver Mike Wallace on the right side of the formations and he seldom rolls out Tannehill. Philbin, however, has a high opinion of Sherman.
"I have a lot of confidence in our staff, our offensive staff with Mike Sherman," Philbin said. "He's an excellent football coach, and that's what I think."
The lackluster showing by the offense didn't totally stop Tannehill (23 touchdowns, 14 interceptions) from improving. This year it was accuracy, decision-making and footwork. Perhaps next year it'll be pocket presence and the deep ball. No one knows if he's special, but he's an improving young player and definitely worth keeping as a starter.
Turner, Sherman's offensive line coach at Texas A&M, just completed his second season as a NFL coach. The franchise-record 58 sacks aren't totally on the offensive line. The running backs, tight ends and quarterback share responsibility. The poor running game wasn't totally the offensive line's fault either. The running backs aren't very good. But there was nothing the offensive line did well. That's a damning statement.
Then again, so are five consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance.
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