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Why Ireland, Sherman paid for Dolphins' disappointment

The SportsXchange

DAVIE, Fla. -- It was a disappointing season for the Miami Dolphins, who missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season and two key people paid for it with their jobs -- general manager Jeff Ireland and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

Miami lived up to most pre-season expectations with its 8-8 record, but losing to Buffalo and the New York Jets in the final two games when a victory in either would have earned a playoff berth hurt badly. Scoring just seven points in those final two games added an extra layer of stink on the season.

Miami had many high points. It did well to overcome a possible crippling distraction in the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal. And it had two three-game winning streaks, one to start the season and one at the start of December. The December winning streak included dramatic victories at Pittsburgh and against New England. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill (23 touchdowns, 14 interceptions) also showed overall improvement, most notably in running hurryup/two-minute offense. Four players - defensive end Cam Wake, punter Brandon Fields, center Mike Pouncey and cornerback Brent Grimes - were named to the Pro Bowl. Wide receiver Brian Hartline had another 1,000-yard receiving season and defensive end Olivier Vernon had 11.5 sacks.

But the Dolphins had too many low points. The season-opening three-game winning streak was followed by a four-game losing streak. The December three-game winning streak was followed by those back-to-back, season-ending losses to Buffalo and the Jets. The Dolphins also lost to the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they lost twice to Buffalo under the guidance of quarterback Thad Lewis.

Such instability was the only constant to Miami's season. The Dolphins beat quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck (Indianapolis), Matt Ryan (Atlanta), Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh), Philip Rivers (San Diego) and Tom Brady (New England). But among the Dolphins' eight losses two were against Lewis, one was against Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon and another was against the Jets' Geno Smith, hardly a Who's Who of NFL quarterbacks.

The offensive line was at the root of the offensive problems, allowing a franchise-record and NFL-worst 58 sacks. The running game wasn't much better, churning out just 90 yards a game, which was 26th in the NFL. Both need to improve next season. The offense finished 27th, which led to Sherman being fired.

The defense was bad on the ground (24th at 124.9 yards per game) and good in the air (16th against the pass). Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle isn't in any danger of losing his job.

Ireland, who compiled a 46-50 record in six years at the helm, was largely blamed for providing inferior talent through the draft, free agency and trade. Ireland and owner Steve Ross "mutually agreed to part ways" on Tuesday evening.

Head coach Joe Philbin did a good job, but nothing special. And that pretty much sums up the Dolphins' season.

"We're an 8-8 football team," Philbin said. "That's an average record."

Ireland and the team "mutually agreed to part ways" on Tuesday. Ireland, who spent a lot of time in fans' crosshairs the past few years, presided over the Dolphins' two-year makeover that was capped by the team spending more than $200 million last off-season. But they still managed just a 15-17 record over the past two seasons.

"I've spent the last six years with the best organization in football," Ireland said in a statement. "Steve and I came to an agreement that the best thing moving forward for all parties would be to part ways. I'd like to thank Steve for all his support and kindness. I've had the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing people during this time and I'd like to thank them all from the bottom of my heart."

The main in-house candidates to fill the job are to be Dawn Aponte, the executive vice president for football operations and salary cap expert, and assistant general manager Brian Gaine.

The Dolphins fired Sherman on Monday. The offense finished 27th in the NFL this season, but the most critical blow was scoring just seven points in the final two games of the season, losses at Buffalo and to the New York Jets. A victory in either game would have earned the Dolphins a playoff berth.

There's no word on who tops the Dolphins' wish list or when interviews will begin.

Sherman, who just completed his second season, was a friend and mentor to Philbin. He' was also Tannehill's coach for the last six years (head coach for four years at Texas A&M and offensive coordinator the last two years in the NFL). There was a report Tannehill lost faith in Sherman but Tannehill seemed to dispel that notion with a statement.

"Coach Sherman and I have a great relationship," the statement said. "He has made significant contributions to the Dolphin organization, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to play for him for the last six years. I learned so much about football and life in that time, and for that I am forever grateful. I will always respect Coach Sherman both as a coach and more importantly for the kind of man he is. I wish him and his family the best in whatever God has in store for him next."
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