Editor’s Take: Jeff Ireland Is Building A Winner

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has now struck out twice in his attempt to bring in a marquee head coach.

The first came last offseason when he tried to court Jim Harbaugh to leave Stanford and coach the Dolphins.

Harbaugh ended up leaving Stanford for San Francisco instead.

Stephen Ross and General Manager Jeff Ireland received criticism for trying to hire Harbaugh while Tony Sparano was still under contract.

That criticism was well-deserved.

Fast-forward to 2012 and Ross and Ireland are back where they started.

It was reported last week that Jeff Fisher had agreed to terms with the St. Louis Rams.

As more information became available it was clear Jeff Fisher wanted more personnel control then what Miami was offering.

But Stephen Ross believes “the team should be a collaboration of a coach and general manager.”

With Ross denying Fisher the final say in personnel decisions, Miami is left to pick up the pieces and fend off another wave of criticism.

With Fisher out of the mix, Miami’s next head coach won’t be the big name Ross was looking for.

Does Ross deserve the backlash this time around for essentially choosing Jeff Ireland over Jeff Fisher?

No.

While the results on the field have been mostly disappointing (Three straight losing seasons in four years) the Dolphins are only a few pieces away from making a serious playoff run.

It might be difficult for Miami fans to believe such a notion after a culture of mediocrity has engulfed this team for almost a decade but Ireland has brought in players that will help bring the Dolphins back to respectability.

The biggest void Miami needs to fill is obvious and they must fill it if this team is to progress.

Without a quarterback, Ireland will join the likes of Rick Spielman and Randy Mueller as failed GM’s.

Critics will argue Ireland should be fired because of the decision to draft quarterbacks Chad Henne and Pat White in the second round of the draft in 2008 and 2009 respectively . But if you remember, Bill Parcells was hired by then owner, Wayne Huizenga as Executive Vice President of Football Operations. Shortly after his arrival, Parcells hired Ireland to be the team’s General Manager but it was Parcells who held the final say in personnel decisions.

It was Parcells who decided he was too cheap to draft Matt Ryan over Jake Long and it was Parcells who made the mistake of drafting one of the biggest busts in franchise history.

Parcells would eventually reduce his role with the team to consultant before leaving all together and joining ESPN. Some Say Parcells stepped aside to protect Ireland and Tony Sparano. Others argue he left Miami because he knew the team was a “spinning plane about to crash into the mountains.”

Whatever Parcells’ reason was for leaving, his tenure wasn’t a complete disaster and he did leave Ireland with some pieces to build a franchise around.

The 2008 draft gave the Dolphins a franchise left tackle in Jake Long and undrafted signees WR, Davone Bess and K, Dan Carpenter.

While 2009 will be remembered for the disastrous Pat White pick, the draft was not a lost cause. Vontae Davis has become one of the better corners in the league and CB, Sean Smith, WR, Brian Hartline, and S, Chris Clemons have all become good role players for Miami. Before the draft Miami signed LB, Cameron Wake who continues to anchor Miami’s defense.

2010 was the last offseason Parcells had his hands in and it’s too early to tell whether the draft was a success but Miami does have promising players in DE, Jared Odrick and LB, Koa Misi. The offseason also included the signing of LB, Karlos Dansby and a trade for WR, Brandon Marshall.

Despite building a nice foundation for Ireland, Parcells failed to land the franchise quarterback this team desperately needs.

Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Josh McCown, Pat White, and Tyler Thigpen failed to impress.

With Parcells no longer in the shadows, Ireland had the entire 2011 season to continue building this team. In his first draft without Parcells’ influence, Ireland had a solid draft with six of his seven draft picks making solid contributions in the 2011 season.

First round pick Mike Pouncey has solidified his role as the center of the future. Second round pick Daniel Thomas was mired by injuries but when he was healthy he helped move the chains. Fourth round pick, WR, Clyde Gates was a great contributor on special teams.

Sixth round pick FB, Charles Clay was active in the offense and was a factor in helping Miami finish the season strong. While he didn’t have as big an impact, even seventh round pick CB, Jimmy Wilson helped the team. Wilson recorded an interception in Week  3 and managed to find the starting lineup in Week 8.

Dolphins fans were told Miami would bring in competition for Chad Henne and they were ready to trade for Kyle Orton but negotiations fell through. This left Miami to sign Matt Moore.

Inital reaction to the signing was not the best and criticism was even louder when Moore took over for Henne after he went down with a season-ending injury.

But Moore rebounded after a shaky 0-3 start to go 6-3 and give Miami some sort of stability at QB to end the season.

It’s unlikely that Moore is the answer at QB but at the very least, Ireland was able to recognize his talents and worst case scenario for Miami is Moore stays their backup.

Ireland’s other significant and controversial move was trading for RB, Reggie Bush. After letting fan favorites Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams walk away, Ireland brought Bush in to carry the load, something Bush had never done. After a slow start and losing carries to Daniel Thomas, Bush proved the doubters wrong and recorded the first 1,000 yard season of his career.

As the Dolphins embark into the offseason, Miami must carry the momentum they built in the final weeks of the 2011 season and re-establish the culture of winning that once surrounded this proud franchise.

Jeff Fisher would have been a fine addition and certainly could have turned things around quickly.

But Jeff Ireland deserves the chance to finish the job Bill Parcells couldn’t. Ireland will be entering his fifth year as GM but only his second full year without The Tuna swimming in the shadows.

Stephen Ross is giving Ireland the chance to finish the job.

Ireland must now head into the 2012 offseason and give the franchise and it’s fan base a reason to be optimistic. The first item on the agenda is a new head coach. That piece will soon be in place.

However, the most important item on the agenda is finding the future at quarterback. Whether it’s in free agency, via trade or through the draft, Ireland must address this need in 2012. Be it Robert Griffin III, Jason Campbell, Matt Flynn or someone else, Ireland will be defined by this decision more then anything else he does as GM.

He deserves the chance to make that decision and every other decision regarding player personnel.

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