Ideally, the best reality television is able to catch lightning in a bottle by being there when things get truly real. For NFL Films, producers of the "Hard Knocks" series, that happened after Chad Johnson's recent domestic violence arrest, and the inevitability of his release from the Miami Dolphins.
The vignette begins with Dolphins head coach Philbin talking to the producers about how the scene would work, then explaining on the phone to someone -- most likely a team executive -- exactly what was about to happen, and saying that Johnson's "temperament wasn't good" for the team. Johnson then entered Philbin's office, and he seemed to know what was coming.
"I let you down a little bit -- a lot," Johnson told Philbin. " I understand what you're doing -- you got the message across loud and clear the first day we met. I [understood] what you wanted out of me and what you expected of me, especially after our talk about having fun. I apologize for embarrassing you and this organization."
"I appreciate that, and I respect that," Philbin responded. "I know you're very passionate, and I know you care about your profession. I hope you know that everything I do, to the best of my ability, I attempt to put some thought behind what we do."
Early on, this resembled more of a philosophical discussion, and one wonders if this discussion had taken place without what Johnson had done, whether Philbin and Johnson might have been able to bridge the gap. But Johnson's actions clearly put that past the Dolphins, and it was time to move on.
"I don't know if this is working for the benefit of you, me, or the Miami Dolphins," Philbin told Johnson. "I think you're a good person, and trust me, I acknowledge that people make mistakes..."
"Coach, I've never been in trouble before," Johnson broke in. "I adhered to your program, and I was hushed from that point on."
"I know that," Philbin responded. "But it's not just last night. Where we are as a program, and where you're headed, I just don't see the mesh right now. I wish it was different, and I wish I could tell you something more encouraging, but I think it's best for both of us that we part ways at this point."
What made this compelling television was that both men handled it about as well as could be expected, given the emotion surrounding the event. Johnson knew full well that he had made a mistake that could -- along with many other factors -- cost him his NFL career. Philbin, at this point, has to wonder what the heck he signed up for. In the end, Johnson left Philbin's office, and both parties began the "moving-on" process. The show ended with Johnson's gear removed from his locker, and his nameplate taken down.
Former Dolphins head coach Jimmy Johnson, who also ran quite the group of "characters" in Dallas in the early 1990s, told the NFL Network that he'd need more information before deciding what to do in that case.
"It's hard for me to make a decision on Chad, because I'm not privy to all the facts," Johnson said on "The Joe Rose Show" on WQAM. "I don't know what his relationship was with the Dolphins, and I don't know where he stood as far as the player. I don't know the facts as far as what really happened with him and his wife, so it's hard for me to say. I do know this -- his track record off the field was pretty good, so I probably would have cut him some slack."
Different coaches have different philosophies, but it's hard to argue with the way Philbin handled this. And it's certainly easy to see why the Dolphins were the right team for this year's show.
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