Dolphins coach Joe Philbin is good at many things. No one becomes an NFL head coach without a variety of marketable skills. Philbin is a great organizer and planner, a manager and a preparer.
He is not an improviser or an adapter. The Incognito affair and Wells Report proved that. The last-minute decision to fire assistants Jim Turner and Kevin O'Neill, both singled out by the Wells Report as enablers of the misconduct directed at Jonathan Martin and other players and staffers, confirmed it. Thursday morning's press conference erased all doubt.
Joe Philbin does not dance. Even when bullets are spraying the sand around his feet.
Philbin arrived at his combine press conference prepared with a three-minute filibuster about workplace accountability and his expectations for employees. "I wanted to create an atmosphere where their experience as Miami Dolphins, whether it was three weeks, three months, three years, 10 years, was the best professional experience that they ever had," Philbin said. "And if they went to another organization, or left and went to work for General Electric, Goldman Sachs or whatever great company in America, that they would look back on their time as Miami Dolphins and say 'that organization was committed to helping me reach my full potential.'"
"Any time that isn't accomplished, any time one of our players or staff members has an experience contrary to that, it requires my attention. It needs to be corrected. It needs to be looked at. It needs to be fixed. I want everyone to know: I'm the one that's responsible for the workplace environment at the Miami Dolphins facility."
Philbin said he received the Wells Report at the same time the general public did on Friday afternoon, and that while he knew most of its contents as early as mid-November (when Wells and his investigators met with Dolphins coaches) he learned some "details" for the first time. "Some of the language that was outlined in the report was inappropriate and unacceptable … So I can tell you, I can tell our fans, I can tell you sitting here, I can tell our players, we're going to do things about it. We're going to make things better. We are going to look at every avenue, uncover every stone. And we're going to have a better workplace."
It was an impassioned speech. Philbin's jaw was set and his voice was clear, his volume rising to emphasize phrases like "I'm the one that's responsible." It painted the portrait of an executive eager to accept full accountability for a situation he allowed to spin out of control.
Then the speech ended. Philbin began answering questions, and a new portrait began to emerge.
When asked why he did not consistently follow up with Martin during the regular season and offseason, Philbin began to stammer, falling back on evasive protocol. "I immediately connected him with medical treatment," Philbin said. "I had subsequent discussions, nothing at great length, and out of my respect for Jonathan I am not going to get into the details … he should be the one who speaks about his health status." The Martin questions were clearly not about medical or psychological diagnoses but his relationship with his head coach, a subject the architect of a great American workplace was suddenly reluctant to discuss. Philbin also made it clear that team president Stephen Ross, not the head coach himself, would be reaching out to Martin at some future point in the offseason.
When asked why O'Neill had actually joined the Dolphins combine entourage in Indianapolis -- he was fired on Wednesday night -- and why Turner was initially retained despite such damning Wells Report revelations, Philbin suddenly forgot he claimed to know all but "little details" of the report's allegations months ago. "That was a timespan of 89 days," Philbin said of the interval between meetings with investigators and the release of the Wells Report. "As an organization, when you are talking about the careers and futures of people who are dedicated professionals, we felt we needed to deliberate, we needed to discuss. We didn't feel five days was an exorbitant amount of time."
Further questioning revealed Philbin's knowledge of the Wells Report's contents were trickling in from the media, as opposed to bubbling forth from the locker room for which he takes full responsibility. He knew only what we knew about text messages and phone conversations, learning along with the rest of us. He admitted he did not do much personal investigating, as there were football games to be coached.
The more Philbin answered impromptu questions, the further the "positive experience" of playing for the Dolphins receded into rhetoric. Martin's situation was marginalized, while O'Neill and Turner deserved extra deliberation. Eventually, Philbin's message of compassion and sympathy became dislodged and misplaced. "It's been tough on a lot of people," Philbin said of the fallout of the Wells Report. "It's been tough on our ownership. It's been tough for our fanbase. It's been tough on everybody in the locker room."
It was especially tough on Jonathan Martin, coach. Remember him?
When asked how Incognito could become a member of the Dolphins leadership council, even after the team became aware of Incognito's assault of a female volunteer at a golf tournament, even Philbin's buck-stops-here rhetoric of 10 minutes earlier evaporated. "I didn't necessarily name him a leader," Philbin said, cutting off a follow-up question. "There's a leadership council in place. The process is that the players elect the people that they want on the leadership council. Out of respect to the process, that's how the votes came in."
From philosophical workplace idealism to respect for a process that places Richie Incognito in a leadership role in just more than 10 minutes. Now there's a speed record that will put all the 40-times of this combine to shame.
And as for whether other Dolphins players would accept Martin back into the bosom of Philbin's Locker Room Utopia? Philbin refused to speculate. Gaining some control over opinions and attitudes in the Dolphins locker room is a stone Philbin should really considered overturning.
"I'm going to be more vigilant, I'm going to be more diligent, I'm going to be more visible, and I'm going to have a better pulse," Philbin assured early in the prepared segment of his press conference. Everything he said once he deviated from the script contradicted those statements. The Philbin who spoke extemporaneously plans to respect processes of player self-government and let chips fall where they may with Martin. His refusal to discuss Incognito, Martin or even Turner/O'Neill with any specificity went well beyond typical CYA press-conference deflections and leapt off a steep cliff of willful ignorance. Jonathan Martin was the absent heart of Philbin's rhetoric, the player whose Dolphins experience fell light-years short of Philbin's "great American company" ideal, but who ultimately received less sympathy than Kevin O'Neill, the Dolphins locker room or the poor "process."
Philbin stepped to the podium on Thursday planning to make an emphatic statement. He made one. He announced he is ill-suited to the task that faced him last year and faces him this year. The Dolphins hope to "turn the corner" on the Wells Report and Incognito affair, and Philbin clearly longs for a return to business as usual. But business as usual got him into this mess, business will remain unusual as long as Martin is in limbo and Wells Report supporting characters remain on the roster, and "business as usual" is a far cry from the "best professional experience" Philbin claimed to value when he had the luxury of sticking to a script.
Philbin is good at a lot of things. The things he is terrible at helped destroy a career. If an organization goes down as well, at least it will do so with his maximum respect for the process.