Philbin helps Dolphins amid bullying scandal
By STEVEN WINE
— Dec. 11, 2013 6:19 PM EST
DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin maps out his team's
hourly schedule months in advance, begins most interview sessions by
praising that day's practice, and reads postgame locker-room speeches
from index cards.
He prefers the predictable, and working from a script. But when this
season strayed from the planned outline, and a bullying scandal
accelerated the team's tailspin, Philbin responded with steady
leadership that has won praise from his players and assistants — and
kept Miami in the playoff race.
"Joe Philbin has done a phenomenal job to get us to this point,"
offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said.
Given the Dolphins' disarray six weeks ago, it's remarkable they're 7-6
and in contention for the AFC's final wild-card berth heading into
their game Sunday against New England.
Tackle Jonathan Martin left the team Oct. 28 and alleged he was
harassed daily by teammates, including guard Richie Incognito, who was
suspended. The resulting furor threatened to divide the locker room
during a stretch when the Dolphins were playing poorly.
Sherman, a former head coach at Green Bay and Texas A&M,
empathized with the challenge Philbin faced.
"I never had to endure what he's had to endure with the distractions
that we had," Sherman said. "You have no idea what a task that is to
keep a team together and not splinter amid the adversity. I have to
give Joe Philbin tremendous credit for the focus that he demanded from
all of us to stay on task. We wouldn't be in this position if he wasn't
able to pull us all together, coaches and players alike."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who knows a thing or two about
off-the-field distractions, credited Philbin for steady improvement by
the Dolphins despite the scandal.
"I think the media blew a lot of that out of proportion — all the hype
and everything," Belichick said. "But that didn't derail them in any
way. They've been on track. If you watch them play on film, you
wouldn't have any sense that whatever else has been in the media has
affected the team. They've just gone out there and played very, very
competitively every week."
The season could yet unravel, sending the Dolphins to a losing record
for a fifth consecutive year. The findings of NFL investigator Ted
Wells might implicate coaches and staff.
But Miami also could make the playoffs for the first time since 2008,
which would be an improbable achievement given the state of the
franchise only a month ago.
The Dolphins appeared doomed after an embarrassing prime-time loss
against previously winless Tampa Bay dropped them to 4-5. Amid the
swirl of scandal and scrutiny of their workplace, players found comfort
in Philbin's stoic demeanor.
"He has been a good leader — even-keel the whole way," tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "You don't want to see somebody distressed. If they
always look the same all the time, you never know if they're up or
down. Sometimes that's a good thing."
When the season seemed to be slipping away, Philbin stuck to his
script. It's a long season, he repeatedly told his players. Take one
game at a time and worry only about what you can control.
Coaching cliches, yes. But the team embraced Philbin's message.
"He has done a wonderful job," tackle Tyson Clabo said. "He just goes
about his business every day and prepares to win a game. There's not a
lot of change, not a lot of peaks and valleys with him. It's just
steady every day. We all have a job to do regardless of what's going on
off the field, and that was his focus for us. And we obviously agreed."
As the bullying case mushroomed, it generated almost daily revelations,
some of which raised questions about Philbin's future. Team owner
Stephen Ross has remained publicly supportive of Philbin, and his job
security is helped by the team's recent surge.
Receiver Mike Wallace said Philbin seems more at ease lately, and even
acts as though he's having fun.
"He's cracking a lot more jokes. Every day. He's funny to me, some of
them. They're hit or miss," Wallace said. "He's looking a little bit
younger. Any time you go through the stuff we went through and come out
clean so far, you'll be more relaxed."
The Dolphins have actually played better since losing the two starting
offensive linemen. They've won four of six games since Martin's
departure, with the two defeats by a total of seven points, and they've
been buoyed by road victories the past two weeks against the Jets and
Philbin declined to discuss his role in the turnaround, other than to
say the recent victories reflect the professionalism of players who
have remained unified in difficult circumstances.
"It's a team sticking together," he said.
That part, at least, has gone according to Philbin's plan.
Philbin Keeps Dolphins Steady
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