Will: What to make of Ireland, Dolphins mess?

Dol-Fans more frustrated than ever

By Will Manso - Sports Director
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MIAMI - I want to preface this by saying this will likely be the longest blog story I've ever written.  I just have so much to say about the Miami Dolphins that I don't know how far I will go.

Let's start with the frustration of Dolphins fans.  I watched video and pictures of the so-called "protest" that took place on Tuesday afternoon outside of the team's facility in Davie.  Roughly 30-60 fans stood outside to voice their displeasure.  I respect the passion Miami fans show, and I understand why they are so disappointed.  But, that gathering won't really impact the organization one bit. 

Yes, local and national media outlets picked up the story, but it'll pass over.  It's good for a laugh and another punch line about the Fins.

You know what will really impact this team?  The continuing decline of season ticket holders watching games at Sun Life Stadium.  We all saw the empty seats and threatening of TV blackout's during the dismal 2011 season.  Trust me, the team felt that.  They know how that impacts the future of this franchise.  What's the old saying?  You don't really feel things until it hits your pocketbook.

I'm not advocating boycotting the team or not going to games, but if you want to display your displeasure with the Dolphins, that's the way to go.

I moved to South Florida in 1985, and I've never seen this fan base so frustrated.  The image of the Miami Dolphins has taken a significant hit.  You mention the Dolphins to fans around the country and they chuckle.  Go figure, a once-storied franchise is now a national joke.

So, who do we blame for this?

Well, most fans want to pin the most recent struggles on general manager Jeff Ireland.  He was at the center of the small protest on Tuesday.  Fans held signs reading "Fireland" with his face right in the middle.  I get it.  He's the bad guy to fans.  Let's call him public enemy No. 1.

New owner Stephen Ross also hasn't exactly gained a good reputation around the NFL.   He and Ireland are being portrayed as "dumb and dumber" by Dolphins fans.  That's what losses and big promises will do for you.

Do I think Ireland needs to be fired?  I know what you want to hear; yes.  But, my actual answer is I want to see him complete this offseason first and then I'll assess the job he's done. 

Up to now, Ireland has made plenty of questionable moves, but he hasn't been as bad as portrayed.  What Ireland hasn't done well is make "impact" moves this offseason.  Ross promised upgrading the quarterback position, but signing a 34-year old David Garrard isn't exactly an upgrade.  Miami didn't feel it was worth moving up near the top of the draft to find a QB of the future.  It also had two potential long-term answers pass on by (Matt Flynn, Alex Smith).

It depends who you ask on what really happened with Flynn.  Miami set a price they felt he was worth and Flynn went elsewhere.  Coach Joe Philbin should know plenty about Flynn after coaching him in Green Bay, so I defer to his judgment of the QB.  But my question is, if the Dolphins felt he was good enough to pursue as a starter, why wouldn't they pay a little more to get their man?  It's especially odd when you promise to fans that you're going to upgrade the quarterback position.

Ireland's approach of making small moves, like obtaining offensive lineman Artis Hicks, is great for a successful team that already has the pieces in place to win.  Problem is the Dolphins don't have those pieces in place.  They have needs on the offensive and defensive line, the secondary, at wide receiver and at tight end. 

When the New York Giants or New England Patriots make those under-the-radar moves, they're seen as some sort of trend-setters.  That may be true, but it also helps when you have Eli Manning and Tom Brady at quarterback.

That's the problem with Ireland from a football standpoint.  He entered this offseason needing to make an impact.  The Dolphins had salary cap room to be players in free agency, but instead of going after a Vincent Jackson, or Mario Williams, heck, even making sure to obtain Eric Winston, they have gone the safe route.   Miami fans are tired of safe.  Making small moves likely won't help this team win games and it certainly won't win this fan base back.

All of this leads me to what's probably the biggest issue with Ireland, and it has nothing to do with his moves. 

He has a major image problem. 

I would've loved to have asked him some questions today on camera, but he refused to talk with the local TV media.  I specifically called the Dolphins and made my case.  Remember, a big part of my job is asking the questions that fans can't ask.  I'm supposed to have the access to help you get answers.

Ireland did make some quotes to a few local newspapers, but those were phone calls he made to try and clear things up.  Unfortunately, that doesn't allow the fans to see his face and really hear the sincerity in his voice when he says he has a plan for this football team.

This team has so many issues right now that they can't even handle Ireland's comments to the press in a professional way.

As a Dolphins official explained to me, Ireland didn't want to hold a news conference and take away from the ongoing busy offseason.   Well, then why answer questions in the first place?

Meantime, former Dolphins and other NFL players keep taking shots at Ireland.  They say he's not a good person.  They say he's the reason no one wants to play in Miami.  I have no clue if this is true.  Remember, most of these people are players who have an ax to grind after being let go by Miami or not signing with the team.

In my few encounters with Ireland, I've actually seen a passionate worker and good family man.  People close to him have told me he's a kind person who loves his job, but he just likes to be more private when it comes to his work.  That sounds great, but none of that means a thing when it comes to business.

How is Ireland really behind closed doors?  Put it this way, if the Dolphins were winning football games would it really matter?  I know that nice guys finish last, but bad guys can finish last too.

The point is I really don't care what kind of person Ireland is and what current or former players think about him.  I'm more concerned that he hasn't been very good at his job.  Yes, I do think he gets more heat than he deserves from fans, but as his old boss Bill Parcells used to say, you are what your record says you are.

Let's look at the good.  Ireland was the key force in obtaining Reggie Bush.  He made a big impact for the Dolphins last season.  Ireland also made moves this offseason to keep defensive tackle Paul Soliai, which I think is a key for this defense. 

But, not truly addressing the quarterback position, trading his number one receiver for draft picks and letting Winston look elsewhere before signing in Kansas City are all legitimate reasons to criticize.

Something has to give this season.   His job is on the line, and it should be.

My advice to Dolphins fans is to try and relax.  As crazy as you think I may sound right now, give Ireland a chance.  What does this team really have to lose at this point?  Firing Ireland in the middle of the offseason would make zero sense.

Let's see how the rest of the offseason unfolds.  Let's see who the Dolphins pick up in the draft.  He has a plan, but the problem for fans is that they have no faith in how that plan will unfold.  Again, I'm with you on that 100%.  I totally understand.

My advice to Ireland is to either stay quiet or take some PR classes on crisis management.  That's the stage the Dolphins have reached.  It's a crisis for this franchise.  Season ticket holders are dropping fast and fans are more frustrated than ever.

If the Dolphins fail again, trust me, we won't be having this conversation.  Your "Fireland" signs won't be needed.  He won't be around.   I truly believe that.  If that's the case, I'll say all you frustrated fans were right.

But, before you kick him to the curb, let's see if he can clean up this mess.  He didn't create it, but he sure as heck hasn't helped it.  It's his final chance to try.   

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