Other than the obvious storyline — Mike McDaniel acting very un-NFL-coach-like and prepping a second career as a stand-up comic — there’s a cinematographic technique HBO’s “Hard Knocks” could use to sell the Miami Dolphins:
You might remember the last time the Dolphins had the curtain pulled back on them by “Hard Knocks.” It was revealing and entertaining. It also was an organization disaster, confirming every fan’s fears about those in charge.
Remember? There was coach Joe Philbin stoically picking up spare pieces of litter around a locker, leftover wrappers on the field and generally showing the attention to detail of a chambermaid in a manner he never shook.
Such flashbacks should be sui generis, as they say on film sets, functioning both as a prequel and a sequel, and generally enhancing how the Dolphins are an entirely different organization right now. That’s because this is the kind of show meant to sell a team, if it knows how to sell it — meaning, if they’ve learned from previous mistakes as the first episode centers around Sunday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Dolphins have the right leading man for this, too. McDaniel might dislike “Hard Knocks'” prying cameras being foisted on him by league rules, but he grasps how public viewing can fundamentally help or hurt a team.
He showed that on the first day on the job by calling embattled quarterback Tua Tagovailoa from the plane that was taking the new coach to Miami. You don’t think he purposely set a new narrative? Or that Tagovailoa didn’t appreciate the public gesture?
Compare that to the organization that was. Flashback: General manager Jeff Ireland turned a staple of the “Hard Knocks” shows — a player getting cut or traded — into a compelling moment in awkward television.
When Ireland informed defensive back Vontae Davis he’d been traded, Davis had a very human reaction, getting emotional and wanting to call his grandmother. Ireland barged on, telling him to call her later and confirming all the questions about a front office’s questionable personal skills.
Even worse: The Dolphins could censor such clips from “Hard Knocks” and didn’t have the savvy to do so. That’s because this isn’t an actual, reality behind-the-scenes show. It’s a staged one. It’s in the team’s hands to decide what gets aired. This becomes a litmus test on how perceptive an organization is to use a show wanting to be used.
Philbin and vice president Dawn Aponte just let odd narratives go on in a manner that became early warning signs of a troubled organization. Some were funny unless you were the involved player, like rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s national introduction being an inability to name which NFL teams were in what division — or not even knowing some teams’ names.
There also was the episode that began with receiver Chad Johnson walking by security chief Stu Weinstein’s office, saying, “I’m going out to get arrested tonight.”
“Make sure you call me,” Weinstein said in joking back. “I’ll come get you.”
Later, Weinstein was out at dinner when the call came that Johnson was arrested for a domestic incident. It was apparent to everyone watching the show he was fired at that moment, but there he soon was in Philbin’s office, begging to keep his job. Entertaining. But awk-ward.
That summer of 2012 had to be the best “Hard Knocks” show of them all for getting closest to the actual behind-the-scenes look of a NFL franchise. You just didn’t want that to be your organization.
Most of “Hard Knocks”‘ memorable moments consist of skits like then-New York Jets coach Rex Ryan dropping f-bombs in a speech and saying, “Let’s go get a snack” or Rams defensive end William Hayes firmly believing dinosaurs never existed.
But that summer episode of “Hard Knocks” with the Dolphins previewed the troubled innards of an organization soon to be consumed by Bullygate.
Now comes the sequel. It’s too early to notice anything more than cameras set up around the offices. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said: “It hasn’t any effect on me yet. They haven’t inconvenienced me or been in my meetings yet … I’m sure it will as some time.”
These Dolphins players aren’t just a better fit for this show with big personalities across the roster. They’ve got a coach in charge who understands public messaging and, in his genuinely odd way, is usually spot-on with his words.
Flashbacks can only underline the better place where this team is now.