The final verdict

Regardless of whether you believed he should have been there through the end of the season, there is little debate that Dave Wannstedt deserved to be replaced as head coach of the Dolphins. And now that he's gone, it's time to ask whether he was as bad a coach as all the criticism he endured would have you believe.

Wannstedt's final record with the Dolphins was 42-31, 43-33 if you include the playoffs. That's not horrible by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, in his first four seasons, prior to this year's disaster, Wannstedt's 41-23 was better than either Jimmy Johnson's four years in Miami or Don Shula's last four years.

But the problem was that the Dolphins kept getting worse every year. Division champs, second round of the playoffs in 2000; wild card, first round of the playoffs in 2001; no players in 2002; no playoffs in 2003; total embarrassment in 2004.

Not all of this is Wannstedt's fault, mind you. A lot of the things that happened to the Dolphins this season were out of his control, as he pointed out during his resignation press conference on Tuesday.

But Wannstedt was in charge of the personnel until this past offseason, so it falls on him the team's failure to build up much depth to withstand the setbacks they endured.

If Wannstedt was in charge, then the atrocious decision to draft cornerback Jamar Fletcher in the first round in 2001 falls on him. As does the bad decision of going with Eddie Moore as the top pick in 2003.

Keep in mind, those two guys were premium picks drafted to be backups. That they didn't pan out made those picks even worse.

Even the bad personnel moves of this year (think A.J. Feeley and Vernon Carey) have to be blamed on Wannstedt. Yes, GM Rick Spielman is now in charge, but it was Wannstedt who brought Spielman to Miami in the first place.

As was the case during his tenure in Chicago, Wannstedt had problems finding a dependable quarterback.

Why is that always an issue? Is the inability to find a quarterback a personnel failure? Or is it possible that Wannstedt's ultra-conservative approach makes it impossible for a quarterback to flourish under him?

Wannstedt always was quick to stress that his philosophy was to avoid mistakes and win with defense.

That's a defensive coordinator talking, not a head coach.

There is such a thing as adaptability, and Wannstedt clearly is not very good at it. Just look at Bill Belichick. His background is as a defensive coordinator, but looks at the Patriots. Do they look like a conversative team to you?

Wannstedt's other failing may have been that he's just too nice a guy, something cornerback Patrick Surtain suggested this week.

We're not advocating being a jerk to get results, but a certain amount of toughness is needed. In his first four years on the job, Wannstedt almost never called out a player to the media, even when it was obvious who wasn't playing well.

He actually did a little bit of that this year, but then again the team's record made it impossible for him to sugarcoat everything.

When Jimmy Johnson left the Dolphins after the 1999 playoff debacle at Jacksonville, he left in place a young and productive defense that could get the team a lot of wins.

Wannstedt did his best coaching job that first year when the Dolphins went 11-5 despite an unexciting offense that was led by the running of Lamar Smith.

But the Dolphins, despite the defense remaining intact, never built on that. And that falls on Wannstedt.

Most observers believed Wannstedt should have been gone after last season, but owner Wayne Huizenga decided to bring him back -- not only that, he gave him a two-year contract extension.

That, obviously, was a mistake. A bad mistake.

As classy a guy as he is, Wannstedt just isn't a great NFL head coach. The people of Chicago still curse his name, and he's been gone for over five years.

The Dolphins better hope history doesn't repeat.

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