The most coveted coach this offseason gave the Miami Dolphins every chance they needed. But in the end, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross chose general manager Jeff Ireland and the team's current power structure over Jeff Fisher.
Of course, maybe this will work out just fine for the Dolphins. Maybe from among the likes of Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and so many other fine men the team has interviewed, Ross' Dolphins will find the long-term leader they have so desperately wanted since Don Shula retired in 1995. Maybe, just maybe, the Dolphins will also find the quarterback they have searched for since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season.
And maybe, just maybe, I'll weigh 180 pounds by the Fourth of July.
Don't bet on any of those things to happen. For as wealthy and successful in real estate as Ross has been in his life, the problem this billionaire has in running a football team: NFL teams don't come with an owner's manual.
If they did, Ross would have given Fisher the power he wanted, according to three sources familiar with the situation, instead of watching Fisher choose the St. Louis Rams on Friday afternoon. After 17 years of struggling with the penurious ways of Tennessee Titans owner "Bottom Line" Bud Adams and his henchmen (Floyd Reese and Mike Reinfeldt), Fisher knew that if he was going to make this work, he was going to need more power.
Or as one source said of Fisher, he told Ross at one point, "I've been a head coach for 17 years and 12 of them sucked because I had to fight for what I wanted." In other cases, he had to fight against what he didn't want.
Fisher never wanted to draft quarterback Vince Young with the No. 3 overall pick in 2006. He knew Young was a project so fraught with problems (both physical and mental) that making it work was more difficult than imaginable. Instead, Adams, the man who felt like he was forced to move the franchise from his hometown of Houston, wanted to take fellow Houston native Young in order to get some convoluted form of revenge.
In the process, Adams also cut quarterback Steve McNair, a true team leader, and a guy who could have helped Young get better. Aside from Earl Campbell, McNair might be the greatest player Adams has ever had. Yet, when Adams got a younger option, McNair was tossed aside with zero regard.
And you wonder why the Oilers/Titans have only managed to make the Super Bowl once.
Fisher and McNair took the Titans there in 1999, coming up a yard short of glory. Through that season, Fisher learned the one constant in football: NFL teams are only as good as their owner.
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That's why, when Fisher was dealing with Ross, he was strident about what he needed. He didn't necessarily want to get rid of Ireland. He was comfortable with Ireland assessing players. He also didn't have a problem with Carl Peterson being around, even if Peterson has an extremely close relationship with Ross despite having no formal title with the Dolphins. It was Peterson (not Ireland) who reportedly approached Jon Gruden on the Dolphins behalf and Peterson who has sat in on every head coach interview the team has done, according to multiple sources.
However, when it came down to it, Fisher wanted the final say. He wanted the power to shape the roster how he saw fit. He wanted to know he could sign certain players to long-term contracts when necessary and spend on critical free agents.
He wanted stability in the organization from a football standpoint. Those are things Ross should want. Yet Ross fails to see stability even when it's staring him in the face.
A year ago, Ross bumbled his way through the Jim Harbaugh talks, turning coach Tony Sparano into a duck wishing it was strong enough to call lame. A week ago, Ross declared that he wasn't going to let money get in the way of signing Fisher. To be sure, money wasn't the issue. Power was the key because Fisher knows how much more important it is to have that for the success of a team rather than a big paycheck.
Now, Fisher goes to a St. Louis team that he surprisingly didn't think was a hands-down better choice from the start. The Rams have quarterback Sam Bradford, defensive end Chris Long, left tackle Roger Saffold and the No. 2 overall selection in the draft, which could be wide receiver Justin Blackmon or a treasure-trove of picks in trade for one of the top quarterbacks in the draft (Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III).
That's a good foundation. A seemingly better foundation than the Dolphins have right now. The Dolphins have left tackle Jake Long – who is now fighting injuries – the nucleus of a good defense (Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby and Vontae Davis), but only Matt Moore at quarterback. With either the No. 8 or 9 pick in the draft (it will be decided by a coin flip with the Carolina Panthers), the chances of getting a great quarterback were slim.
Still, Fisher was willing to go for it with the Dolphins.
Sadly, Ross has let another chance slip through his fingers.
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- Jeff Fisher