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Miami Dolphins finally make GM hire, but can Stephen Ross’ power structure work?

Eric Edholm
Shutdown Corner

First, there's news: Dennis Hickey was named the new general manager of the Miami Dolphins, and he's the kind of hard-working, behind-the-scenes talent evaluator who, frankly, should be considered for more high-profile jobs such as this around the league.

But it's the way the Dolphins had to land their man — their fifth choice, at least — that has the league talking.

When your GM search is this arduous, this taxing, this publicly embarrassing — on par with the Cleveland Browns' awkward head coaching search — well, you maybe have to reassess what you're doing as an organization. It's not that the Dolphins are a bad football team, necessarily (although hovering at or below the .500 mark for five straight seasons isn't something to brag of), but the structure of the team is roundly seen as a convoluted mess.

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Dolphins owner Stephen Ross had an interesting time filling the team's GM spot. (Getty Images)

Owner Stephen Ross holds final say on the status of head coach Joe Philbin, and Ross wasn't willing to relinquish that. It was clear during the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin mess that Ross believes in Philbin.

But Ross wasn't willing to keep Jeff Ireland in the GM post, and now Ross is finding out what happens when you try to find a new one: Not a shocker, but they like to pick their own coaches, and they like to have final say on draft picks and the 53-man roster.

That's what happened when the Dolphins talked to Lake Dawson, Ray Farmer and Nick Caserio, all of whom wanted a fresh-start head coach, something Ross didn't want. Their answers to Ross, paraphrased: Thanks, but no thanks.

And, also, there's Ross himself. League observers the past several years comment on his lack of knowledge of how the NFL works and is surprised when money can't buy him credibility. Consider this report of the interview of Farmer, whom the Dolphins reportedly said was someone they badly wanted to hire.

Apparently #Dolphins owner Stephen Ross kept calling GM candidate Ray Farmer "Roy" during interview. And they wonder why they're a joke

— Anthony DiMoro (@AnthonyDiMoro) January 24, 2014

Clouding the entire situation is the unknown role of vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte — how much power does she wield, even if everyone effectively reports to the owner?

That's why at least three strong candidates passed on the job and it was given to a career personnel man who, while talented, was about to be fired by new Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Jason Licht, per the Miami Herald.

Ross must reconsider how he runs his team. He has had a rough go of it since buying the team in the respect-earning department from other teams and prospective free agents, head coaches and general managers. In short, everyone is suspicious of the Ross-run Dolphins, and most people who entertain an interview with them for an open spot appear to be doing so for leverage elsewhere. That's no way to run a team.

Hickey has some good things to work with: a young quarterback with promise, a solid infrastructure and more freedom to build through trades and free agency. But what happens if he and Philbin are at odds over cutting a draft pick? Do they run to Ross crying? Does Aponte take sides?

There is the potential for trouble here. Most successful organizations have a clear-cut structure with a determined pecking order. And owners who stay out of the way of football decisions and remember candidates' first names on interviews.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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