The Miami Herald from Miami, Florida on January 29, 2014 · D3
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The Miami Herald from Miami, Florida · D3

Miami, Florida
Issue Date:
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
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Page: Sports_2 Pub. date: Wednesday, January 29 Last user: cci Edition: 1st Section, zone: Sports, Herald Last change at: 20:45:52 January 28 start there.” Regarding his trust in Philbin, Ross said: “We’re not playing fantasy football. With the great organiza- tions, there’s consistency in it. You just don’t change ev- ery time something goes wrong, or if you don’t win a game, or something, you just don’t replace everybo- dy. We were in it this year. I feel as bad as anybody we didn’t make the playoffs. “We were competitive. There’s such a fine line be- tween winning and losing. You just don’t start all over again. Talking to outsiders, we’re not that far away. I have a lot of faith and confi- dence in Coach Philbin and his staff and the direction we’re headed. So there was no reason to make whole- sale changes.” Ross said he doesn’t un- derstand why some candi- dates were confused about the organizational structure. “I was pretty clear in the structure,” he said. “Not an unusual structure. General manager reports to me. Coach reports to me. I can’t answer the question for [why several people we- ren’t interested in the job]. They might have had other reasons.” Dawn Aponte, the Dol- phins’ vice president of football administration, will report to Hickey, who said he was impressed by Aponte’s “knowledge of the cap and … ability to work with people.” Hickey, who accepted relationship with Philbin 14 years ago when Hickey was a Midwest scout for the Buccaneers and Philbin was a coach at Iowa. Hickey, introduced at a news conference Tuesday, didn’t seem bothered that two others rejected the job before him, and that at least four others declined interviews. “I always believed I was the right person for this job,” he said. Hickey, who spent 18 years with Tampa Bay in- cluding the past three as player personnel director, will have final say on the 53-man roster but said he will consult with Philbin on personnel decisions. Hickey said that when he met with Philbin during his interview, “It was kind of like, this fits. I feel like we’re already on the same page. Our philosophies are the same. “We want to build a win- ner and do it collectively. We want a tough, smart, physical football team. A big draw to me was the op- portunity to work along- side Coach Philbin.” That was just what Ross wanted to hear. The owner believed the disagreements between Ireland and Phil- bin — regarding playing time, personnel decisions and other issues — were destructive. Ross said the reason he parted ways with Ireland “wasn’t because I didn’t think highly of Jeff. I have a lot of confidence in Jeff. He’s a good friend. We needed to have harmony in the organization and think as one organization where everyone has respect for each other and operate with the same mind-set in all situations. “Unless you have an or- ganization that could all be together and pulling that same oar with the same common goal, you’re really not going to succeed. That’s why we had a change. We have the right fit [now].” He said successful GMs, whom he declined to name, told him the GM had to be “joined at the hip with your head coach.” According to multiple sources, Patriots player personnel director Nick Caserio and Titans player personnel director Lake Dawson turned down the job because they wanted the authority to fire the coach whenever they chose. Asked why he insisted on retaining that power, Ross said: “I own the team. Let’s the job Sunday morning when he was driving home from church with his fam- ily, said he wasn’t ready to discuss the Dolphins’ per- sonnel needs or whether assistant general manager Brian Gaine will be re- tained. But he said he likes the Dolphins’ cap flexibility (about $30 million in space) and “I thought [they] had a good nucleus of young players that I felt could de- velop into a championship- caliber roster.” Hickey said he is drawn to players “that have been achievers … team captains … leaders, guys like [former University of Miami run- ning back] Mike James,” whom the Buccaneers drafted last April. “I’m about winning,” Hickey said. “My competi- tive outlet is scouting, eval- uating players, being inno- vative, looking at different ways to approach team building that can be better than the other 31 teams.” The Dolphins know the organization has taken an- other public-relations hit with the public rejections by several candidates. Asked how the organiza- tion is perceived, Ross said: “The organization is per- ceived by the won/loss rec- ords. You are what your record says you are [8-8 in 2013]. “People believe we have a lot of talent on our team. I feel comfortable we’re headed in the right direction.” FROM THE SPORTS FRONT Big draw for new GM: working with Philbin •DOLPHINS, FROM 1D DENNIS HICKEY’S FOOTBALL BIO 1996-2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers l Pro Personnel Assistant (1996-97) l Midwest Scout (1998-04) l Director of College Scouting (2005-10) l Director of Player Personnel (2011-13) 1994-95 Blinn Junior College – Defensive Backs 1992-94 University of Tulsa – Safety 1991 Coffeyville CC – Safety AL DIAZ/MIAMI HERALD STAFF MIAMI HERALD | H1 WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 29, 2014 | 3D FLORIDA SPORTS BUZZ NFL F ormer Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Do- minik, who was new Dol- phins general manager Dennis Hickey’s boss the past five years, has some theories why he believes Hickey will be a good GM. Among them: l Dominik believes Hick- ey, who was Tampa’s player personnel director, “has a keen eye for talent.” He said Hickey advocat- ed and was “instrumental” in the drafting of four key recent players who were outstanding picks: impact linebacker Lavonte David (selected 58th in 2012), running back Doug Martin (31st in 2012), quarterback Mike Glennon (73rd in 2013) and former UM run- ning back Mike James (189th in 2013). He said Hickey was strongly in favor of drafting Glennon, who had a higher quarterback rating in 2013 than Ryan Tannehill (83.9 to 81.7). “He was always the top quarterback on our board, higher than Geno Smith and EJ Manuel and Matt Barkley,” Dominik said. “And he was the best quarterback in the rookie class this year.” Dominik said that over the past five seasons, Tam- pa Bay rookies finished in the top five in snaps by rookie draft classes, and that Hickey deserves some credit there. Was there any pick that Hickey had to really sell Dominik on? Dominik cited former Michigan State defensive end William Gholston, who was picked 126th last April and flashed considerable potential as a rookie. He also said Hickey suggested selecting FSU’s Dekoda Watson in the seventh round in 2010; Watson has become a key reserve. l He said Hickey is ag- gressive on waiver wire pickups. After Tennessee signed and later cut undrafted running back LeGarrette Blount in 2010, Hickey suggested pouncing on him, which Tampa did. He ran for 1,007 yards on 5.0 per carry in 2010 and played well before Tampa traded him to New England in 2013. It wouldn’t be surpris- ing if Miami pursues him in free agency in March. Dominik said Hickey also advocated the Buccaneers sign undrafted defensive end Michael Bennett after Seattle signed and then cut him. He had 15 sacks in four years for Tampa before returning to Seattle last offseason. l Hickey’s character. “He’s got a tremendous work ethic — strongest I’ve been around,” Dominik said. “He has great integri- ty, which is very important in this business.” l Dominik said Hickey was “instrumental” in mak- ing the Buccaneers techno- logically advanced: “We were one of the first to use iPads, making everything digital” in draft preparation. l He said Hickey, who was a Buccaneers scout when they won the 2002 Super Bowl, is a winner. “Everywhere, he’s had suc- cess,” Dominik said, citing high school and junior college, too. “He’s deserv- ing of this.” But Tampa was 28-52 the past five seasons, and it’s difficult to overlook that in evaluating any prominent Buccaneers executive. Hick- ey never had final say but had a “fairly significant” role in decisions, Dominik said. Hickey pointed to draft day trade-ups for David and Martin as what he’s most proud of in Tampa. CHATTER l Former Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland said he liked to “marry” a team need with the best player in the first round of the draft. But Hickey said he believes in strictly taking the best player and will rank players 1 through 500. l Hickey believes in making decisions “collec- tively” with his coach. Con- sidering Joe Philbin tried to persuade Ireland to ac- quire Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert last spring, it won’t be surpris- ing if Albert emerges as a potential target in free agency in March. l With his knees improv- ing, Dwyane Wade said he will return to the starting lineup Wednesday. Though he asked Erik Spoelstra to play him off the bench against the Spurs after missing four games, “I didn’t ask him to take me out as a starter for the whole year. We can quit that conversation right now.” l Wednesday will be the first meeting between Wade and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant since their testy exchange in Septem- ber, when Durant said James Harden should replace Wade on Sports Illustrated’s list of top 10 players. Wade tweeted then: “Note to self: Make him respect your place in history.” Durant responded: “Show me, don’t tweet me.” Wade said Tuesday he holds no grudge against Durant: “From what I’ve known of KD, I’ve been cordial, he’s been cordial. ... I have no ill intent toward him. I don’t live my life that way. I’ve won three cham- pionships. I’m living in a dream, from the standpoint of basketball. Somebody has to take shots [at you] somewhere.” But Wade said, smiling: “My top 10 is different from his top 10.” l An NFC scout who watched UM’s Stephen Morris closely at Senior Bowl practices: “His accu- racy was erratic, like he was during the season. He will throw late to a receiver on an out route, or his ball will sail on him — more high than low. I’m not sure he judges the speed of receiv- ers coming across the mid- dle. I’m disappointed he didn’t improve from his junior to senior year. He probably will be picked between the fourth and seventh rounds.” Hickey draws high praise from former Bucs GM IN MY OPINION Barry Jackson bjackson@ about how Hickey will shape the roster. Before he brings in a single new player, he has already brought this: Harmony. Before he makes a single significant decision, he has already made this: Peace. All of what has happened here was about a belea- guered NFL franchise trying to get on that proverbial “same page.” The departure of unpopular former GM Jeff Ireland, other candi- dates turning the job down, the settling on Hickey — all of it was about an owner gambling that a front office figuratively arm in arm and singing Kumbaya would be a necessary step toward winning. Peace, love and happiness work great on a Hallmark card. They are a fragile premise to making cham- pions of a team that last appeared in a Super Bowl in 1985, when Dan Marino had curly hair and peach fuzz. Ireland and head coach Joe Philbin had a deteriorat- ing relationship that be- came corrosive, and that’s why we were here Tuesday: In the Dolphins’ main meet- ing room where major an- nouncements are made, listening to a newly anoint- ed rookie GM who was so thrilled for his big break he could hardly stand it. Hick- ey’s young son, Barrett, wore a No. 17 Ryan Tanne- hill jersey. Hickey is good with everything. With the owner he called “Mr. Ross,” with the head coach he doesn’t have the power to fire, with influential salary-cap maven Dawn Aponte — it’s all good. Now let’s see if Hickey is all good, or any good, at being a GM. Ross admitted “compat- ibility with the head coach” was a priority in this job search. He chose Philbin over Ireland and the in- coming GM wasn’t going to mess with that. Candidates who didn’t like the power structure or didn’t like Phil- bin came and went. Hickey was left. The new man spoke of a “unified vision.” He recalled telling his wife after his first meeting with Philbin, “Yeah, this fits.” Now let’s see if it works. There was no question the Dolphins needed change. What was happening privately last season, away from public view, was an embarrassment. At least the Richie In- cognito/Jonathan Martin/ Bullygate thing was out there in the open. What was going on with Ireland and Philbin hurt the team far more. And it festered. Ross became aware of it but said Tuesday, “It’s not something you address in the middle of a season.” He said of the Ireland/Philbin relationship, “It goes back to having respect for each other. I didn’t feel it. We had to make a decision and move on.” That moving on is per- sonified now by an agree- able new GM with much to prove. There are natural concerns. Hickey was a Tampa Bay Buccaneers lifer, 18 years with the club, the past three as director player person- nel, and yet was passed over for the Bucs’ recent GM opening. He was not even one of Miami’s top five choices for the job originally, just the last, most agreeable one. Hickey (and Ross, and Philbin) must understand this and can’t know it enough: This cannot be a slow build. Miami should have made the playoffs this season before blowing it the last two games. Dolfans who were in high school cheer- ing the club’s last Super Bowl win are now thinking retirement. When Hickey asked rhetorically Tuesday, “Is this a place I can win cham- pionships?” and referred to “a nucleus of young players that can develop into a championship-caliber ros- ter,” Dolfans were thinking, “Tick-tock, pal.” When Ross said Tuesday, “We’re not that far away” and “We have a lot of confi- dence in coach Philbin and the direction we’re headed,” well, he should know fans are going to hold him to that belief and all it implies. Hickey referred to Mia- mi’s “passionate fan base.” I might say “impatient” as much as passionate. Hey, this guy might turn out great. Hopefulness is a wonderful thing. Hickey might prove to be a rising GM star who mines hidden talent in the draft, who makes brilliant free agent signings, who dove- tails with Philbin magically and who becomes a talent- finder other teams go after. It could happen. It could! But this is the Dolphins, where the long drought has made the expectation of disappointment a fan’s default emotion. This is the Dolphins, where years of mismanage- ment, missteps and missed playoffs have erased all but the fumes of benefit of doubt. For sure, the new GM means the Dolphins front office has that coveted har- mony that it lacked, that “same page.” Now we wipe that page blank, if we might be charit- able, and we wait to see if that page is filled from here with gibberish or poetry or the same forgettable medi- ocrity to which we’ve be- come accustomed. So, welcome to Miami, Dennis Hickey. Now wow us. Right now, if you wouldn’t mind. FROM THE SPORTS FRONT Peace is brought to Dolphins •COTE, FROM 1D THE LEADERS: From left, Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel, executive Dawn Aponte, new general manager Dennis Hickey, team owner Stephen Ross and coach Joe Philbin at the Dolphins’ training facility on Tuesday. AL DIAZ/MIAMI HERALD STAFF

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