Spielman to Apply Lessons from Miami

Rick Spielman spent a roller-coaster five years with the personnel department of the Miami Dolphins and says he learned what he would do differently in certain situations now that he is the Vikings' new vice president of player personnel. One of those situations was in dealing with running back Ricky Williams.

It's always good to learn from mistakes, and the Vikings' new vice president of player personnel says he did.

Rick Spielman spent five years with the Miami Dolphins' player personnel department, during which time he endured professional hardships, some of which he couldn't have controlled.

The Dolphins dealt with some bad weather during those times, but Hurricane Katrina was the bigger blow to the community in 2005, just after Spielman was effectively rendered powerless by new head coach Nick Saban and forced to the media sidelines.

"To go through those experiences – we had natural disasters down there, we had a head coaching change in the middle, we had three offensive coordinators in one season, we had a lot of different things happen that you can't predict going into a season," Spielman said. "But in my professional opinion you always look at things as a glass half full, and to go through those experiences and to learn what worked and what didn't work and then why it didn't work and what you would do differently, now as you move forward into your career, there are not a lot of people that had the same experiences that I had from that aspect, from a lot of the disasters that hit.

"To me, it's such a great learning tool in how you handle everything and then if those things, or something similar, come up again, you know exactly how you would do something differently than you maybe did the last time you did it. In this job you're always learning because there's always something new and always something different coming up."

But the Vikings don't anticipate changing coaches again soon, and they certainly aren't in the path of any hurricanes.

There is one situation with which Spielman and the Vikings are both intimately familiar – losing a productive, starting running back.

The Vikings have dealt with the suspensions of Onterrio Smith for four games and one year in 2004 and 2005, respectively. The Dolphins dealt with the unexpected "retirement" of star running back Ricky Williams in 2004 and then a four-game suspension before he was booted from the league for 2005.

"Every show I did on ESPN, any time there was a Ricky Williams thing, I was the star of the show," said Spielman, who joined ESPN after being forced out in Miami in June 2005. "There are a lot of things that come up that you can't control, but the more experience you have controlling the uncontrollable, maybe you can head it off by putting some things in place that could possibly help alleviate some of those things that could happen."

So, we asked: What exactly did Spielman take away from the strange saga that Williams saddled onto his teammates and the front office in Miami?

"I learned that the one thing that you always do is you always go out and get the best personnel that you can possibly get. If you have a star running back or a star player on your team, that shouldn't prevent you from going out and getting another great running back," he said. "Just for example, watching this year and observing from a media standpoint, and I wrote a couple articles on this on ESPN.com, was that teams have to have two running backs to be successful in this league. Even if you take a great back like LaDainian Tomlinson, who I think is one of the best running backs in the game right now, if you watch him from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, because he was their main guy and took most of the reps, he started to wear down toward the end.

"It will be interesting to see with Larry Johnson in Kansas City. He was a phenom and probably the league MVP in nine games, but you also had a Priest Holmes before he got hurt. You're always going out to get players and upgrade your roster and upgrade the back end of your roster as best as you can so if a disaster does happen and you have to plug another player in, then it's not going to affect your team."

The Vikings were fortunate and prepared to have Mewelde Moore, Moe Williams and Michael Bennett in reserve when Smith's NFL career went up in smoke. The Dolphins weren't so fortunate when wandering Williams decided to desert his former teammates.

Ironically, both of those players are now trying to make a go of things north of the border, presumably hoping to eventually get back into the bigger-money NFL contracts.

Spielman also seems to have learned from the Vikings' experience of the last four months. After dealing with a reportedly abrasive personality with their former VP of player personnel, Fran Foley, Spielman's broad smile and social demeanor showered his new coworkers and bosses with praise.

"To be a part of a new regime with new ownership, an ownership that is very committed to getting this team to where it needs to go and is going to give the organization the resources to get it to where it needs to go (is a great opportunity)," Spielman said. "Eventually everybody is in this business for one thing and that's to win a Super Bowl, so to get an opportunity to come in and work for that type of ownership, to work for this type of front office, to work for this head coach (Brad Childress), who I think is the best head coach that was available in the NFL this year when he took this job, is great. He was on the top of our list down in Miami last year when we went through our coaching search."

Instead, Childress never did get to interview for the Miami job, Saban took it … and forced Spielman out, and eventually into the arms of the Vikings.

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