MIAMI -- Who is to blame? Where there is football, there must be accountability. When there are angry customers, there must be change. And where there are losses, there must be blame. Problems get solved in this particular world by banging your head against them violently, again and again. But as another Miami Dolphins head coach puts his house up for sale and another owner reportedly flirts with yet another alleged savior coach, this organization finds itself in a wash-rinse-repeat cycle that feels like quicksand:
Hire a coach to fix instability. Watch coach fail and get swallowed by instability. Create yet more instability.
Bill Cowher is an expensive, famous leader with a past. It is probably worth noting that he comes from the Pittsburgh Steelers, maybe the most stable organization in the sport. Probably worth noting, too, that Cowher won as many championships in 15 years in Pittsburgh as his novice replacement has won in four. Mike Tomlin, one of the youngest coaches in American sports, has a better winning percentage than Cowher, too. The Steelers don't miss the next potential Miami savior, in other words, and have actually been quantifiably better without him. Did Cowher create the stability or merely benefit from it? Should that even be an either/or question given that many of the most correct answers to sports questions ought to be "Both"?
Maybe Cowher fixes everything here. Someone will, eventually, even if it is by accident, given that the league legislates equality and that Buffalo, San Francisco, Oakland and even Detroit have all managed to emerge from a decade of sludge better and younger than Miami. But the last time a Steeler tried to bring that success and stability with him from Pittsburgh to Miami, his name was Joey Porter. The Steelers replaced him in 2007 with James Harrison, an undrafted player anyone could have had who went on to become Defensive Player of the Year while the very expensive Porter came here and went 1-15. The Steelers don't sign big-name free agents as either players or coaches; they draft and groom their own. They pay people who have performed for them, not people who have performed for others.
They value stability and entrust their coach with the fearlessness that comes with it. This while Tony Sparano wails on the sideline for a ref to please go to replay review on a Denver touchdown because he's about to get fired. Rest assured, the coaches Sparano is trying to beat in the division aren't thinking about job status on fourth-and-short. There are many ways to coach well. Afraid isn't one of them.
But what do you expect around here, in a bizarre environment so poisoned that the opposing quarterback is being honored during halftime before erasing a 15-point deficit with three minutes left while many Dolfans root for the loss? Miami has to lead the league in instability over the past decade, changing more coaches and quarterbacks and general leadership than any team in the sport. Are the losses causing the instability, or is the instability causing the losses? Probably both. But the instability can't be denied and can't be helping. The most famous face in this unstable organization is Jason Taylor, who has symbolically come and gone and come and gone. The most talented player remaining in this unstable organization is Brandon Marshall, who has a history of mental instability and was only available to the Dolphins because of it. Humans crave control, even if it is just the illusion of it, and that's why the savior coach always gets hired . . . to bring the appearance of control and leadership and blah, blah, blah. As if any of that mattered the way a good quarterback does.
A new coach brings the appearance of calm and traffics in hope and runs on a platform of promised change that got our president elected. What makes me good? I'm not the other guy. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who hasn't made a positive move yet, now must endure the pressure of hiring not the best guy but the guy who makes him look best. Those aren't synonyms. And isn't something confident, stable leadership ever has to consider -- making decisions that temporarily quiet the howling. Look at the top of the standings right now. Most of the winners weren't famous upon being hired.
This team has hired the candidate everyone coveted (Nick Saban, Bill Parcells), the guy who can allegedly make a quarterback (Cam Cameron) and the guy who is a workaholic grinder (Tony Sparano) in the past decade of misery. And there hasn't been a single playoff victory. The new saviors always apply their own plans and try to make their own splashes with no continuity, each of them with a different vision and expertise. Saban tried to get younger on defense with Southeastern Conference players, which is what he knew. Parcells built with tough offensive linemen, which is what he knew. Jeff Ireland and Sparano get former Cowboys, which is what they know. The next guy will get an unholy mishmash of leftovers, money tied up in the botched blueprint of other failed leaders, all these Dolphin orphans and stepchildren trying to knock off the stable marriage that has ruled the division for a decade (Tom Brady and Bill Belichick).
Buying the big-name savior coach doesn't really work very often. When is the last time it did? Washington's Dan Snyder, king of winning offseasons, tries it every couple of years. I've been writing that column for a decade, and you are probably as sick of it as I am, but here's the part I wonder about now, having seen a decade's worth of different leaders get swallowed by the instability here: How much actual control to these people have over what is happening to them?
You know why coaches work 20-hour days in this sport? Because they are control freaks competing against other control freaks, all of them with very little actual control over what is happening. You can prepare yourself and prepare your men, but then a helmet hits your running back where he is carrying the football and it pops out like a Coke out of a soda machine. Players are responsible for the execution amid all that violence and speed, and a lot of things can go wrong on the helpless control freak once his strategy is set in motion, and all he can do is watch it from the sideline, a spectator like the rest of us.
Add this, too: It has been proven again and again that the annual draft that heals is an unscientific playground. Saban knows talent, right? We can all agree on that. But the quarterback the Dolphins have needed since Dan Marino was available to him. His name was Aaron Rodgers. He instead took Ronnie Brown, a player he knew better from the SEC.
Makes you wonder, given the decade of sample size, if everyone who is brought in to lead the Dolphins really is a failure. Or is success in this sport something that can actually be controlled by the leadership? I know you want to see "Luck" on the back of a jersey, and that might fix a lot, but you need lowercase luck to even get him, hoping that the Colts and Rams are better than Miami this season and hoping that Miami doesn't accidentally win much in the next 10 games.
What you want above all else in this game is a good quarterback, obviously. The best teams have the best quarterbacks, not the best coaches.
There is no such thing as a great quarterback who goes the route George Seifert did, from champion to 1-15, from stable organization and stable quarterbacks to out of the league. The only one who has the real control in this league is the quarterback, which has to be maddening for all these expensive control freaks the Dolphins have hired to stand on the sideline and watch them.
You know what happens with a lot of luck and a little quarterback? The 11-5 the Dolphins put up back when we thought Parcells was the savior. Nobody got injured that year. Luck. The Dolphins didn't turn the ball over. Luck. Soft schedule. Luck. A 7-2 record in one-score games. Luck. We can quibble about if turnovers are luck, given that Chad Pennington seemed to be good at avoiding mistakes, and we can argue about whether winning close games is an ability, but the point is that whatever luck the Dolphins had that year unraveled the moment it arrived at the doorstep of Ray Lewis and hasn't stopped unraveling since.
You think you can fix this unholy mess, savior Cowher?