DAVIE - Sometimes it is not what you say that's important, it is what you don't say. Or the message within the message.
Slips of the tongue are cool. But I've discovered those can be intentional (like the pillar of defense comment in '08). The best indicators are when someone is holding back, forced to dial it down a notch.
Part of my job is to figure that stuff out based on what's said, listening out for what's not said, then matching it with what I know.
Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross is a pretty easy read in this regard because he's a billionaire, and usually plays by his own rules.
That has gotten him in trouble - we call that foot in mouth syndrome - the past few offseasons. But lately he's gotten the hang of talking to the media.
Ross understands his role as the owner NOW, and I believe he's come to terms with the fact you'll never love him until he provides a Super Bowl title.
Today's lunch with Ross was informative on many fronts because it filled in a couple of gaps.
Let me try to explain.
Ross said: "The good certainly outweighed a lot of the bad here and the fact is that we do have a head coach that I think will be here, and we have the makings of a quarterback that will be here a long time that has a lot of great potential. I think, when you look at it from that standpoint, you can be very positive.”
Ross likely meant: We finished 7-9 with a rookie quarterback as the starter, and the head coach laid a pretty good foundation for his culture. That's not bad for a first-year of a new regime in hindsight.
Ross said: “When I bought the team I told everybody that whatever resources we have, what I have, I want to build a winning team. That goes first and I think Jeff (Ireland) and the whole organization knows that. This isn’t one of these organizations that tries to slap together, keep it together just for the sake of doing that. I’m willing to spend whatever it takes to build it. I think sometimes people look at spending as a way of winning and in business it isn’t money that solves problems. It’s brains that solve problems and using your abilities. But certainly all my resources are there and if the right players are there, I don’t care what it costs. We’ll go after them.”
Ross likely meant: I told you I'd spend whatever it takes to produce a winner, and I mean that. I'm not cheap, and my first two years I spent more cash than any other NFL owner. But we've got to spend money wisely.
Ross said: "[Stability] is important every season. It’s the nucleus of a franchise and I think having the right mix between the coach and the personnel department is essential. It takes those two ingredients to have a winning organization. I think if you have a plan and you stick to that plan, you’re going to win. It’s when you’re changing all the time that you don’t really know where you stand.”
Ross likely meant: When I didn't fire Ireland last offseason I knew I'd see this thing through. He helped me hire the coach, selected the quarterback, and now we need to see if he can find that coach and quarterback the pieces they need. Now is the time for Ireland to deliver.
Ross said: "We’re well-positioned in the Draft. I think Jeff’s done a great job from that standpoint. We had probably, I think it’s the second-youngest team in the NFL and the question is what’s going to be available in free agency and getting the right mix. I think that’s not a decision that I make. It’s the decision of what I think the Coach and Jeff will do together.”
Ross likely meant: We've got draft picks from trading away talented player that didn't fit, and now its on Ireland to find quality players to replace them. I don't get involved with personnel decisions. I'm not Jerry Jones."
Ross said: "As the Coach has stated, you want to build through the Draft and you certainly look and see what’s out there in free agency and seeing you get the right player that will fit in in that locker room and would bring the right kind of ingredients, and is still hungry enough, that isn’t just signing for the big contract. Free agency certainly isn’t the answer. We’ve all seen that. You can talk about the failures in free agency more than you can about the successes… Everybody gets all excited (that) you sign a player and, ‘My God, we’re going to win.’ You haven’t seen that, I can’t think of a player you could say that really happened with because I think the philosophy is you know you’re players better than anybody else and you know who you want to sign, who you want to keep as part of that. Often times, there’s a reason why a guy is out there as a free agent.”
Ross likely meant: Philbin wants to build his team through the draft, and we all know most free agents are damaged goods, and usually overpaid. But Ireland needs them to fill some holes he can't find in the draft so hopefully he spends my money better than he has in the past. Man did they make me waste a lot of money in the 2009 offseason. But fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, that's your ....."
How certain are you that the right people are running the Dolphins?
Ross said: “How in life are you ever certain? You take it one day, you look at it and then you deal with the people and they’re the kind of people who are pretty consistent level people and I think that’s one thing you can say about the organization. I believe they have the talent to deliver day-in and day-out. But this is a business that’s really measured. It’s probably like no other business in the world. You measure it with wins and losses, but you want to see the direction they’re going and just how it’s moving and I think it’s important to not have a volatile situation. I think the type of people we have aren’t volatile type people.”
Ross likely meant: I don't know if Ireland and Philbin are good at their jobs, or if they'll produce a winning franchise. Their record will speak for them. I expect a playoff team in 2013 and if we're not they better have a very good reason, or else changes will be made. But this is a better relationship than the one Tony Sparano and Ireland had. That became volatile and it wasn't a healthy situation for the franchise. Maybe we should have moved on sooner, but I've learned my lesson.
Ross said: “I think one of the characteristics that Joe had – he was probably one of the most organized presentations I’ve ever seen, and you can look back at it and you can say he followed that. He did everything that he said he would do and he’s probably, you guys got to know him pretty well. I think he’s about as organized and consistent as anybody you’ll ever meet. I was talking to his secretary (Ann Rodriguez) the other day and she said she’s been here all this time and there’s nobody that’s more organized than Joe and really sets forth what his plans are. I think that’s important because, when you hear what his plans are, you really believe in him.”
Ross likely meant: Philbin's a rigid, stubborn guy who plans out everything and is intent on building his culture. He's meticulous by nature. He didn't deliver me the offense I expected, but I'm confident he'll figure out how to fix that problem.
Ross said: “I don’t think I shouldn’t be the one making the decisions of who we pick and who we play and what the plays are. You want to have the best people doing that. This is a much more sophisticated game than all of us fans think it is. The more you get inside it, you really find out how sophisticated it is in the football operations. It’s really like any organizations. I know the organization I built that I started, it’s about the people and you’re only as good as the people you have. It’s just not the guy at the top. The guy at the top facilitates it and makes sure it happens and gives them the resources and the ability to do everything to become a best in class organization.”
Ross likely meant: Again, I don't make football decisions. I just write the checks. Hopefully the people in charge make the right decisions moving forward. I hear the plans before hand and watch if they can execute it. Was the product they sold me delivered? I believe in hiring the right people. Hopefully I did that, but we'll see.
Ross said: “I can understand when you’re not winning why some people might not show up. I think we put a winning team on the field, I think we’ll fill up those stadiums. That’s what I’m counting on. I really believe that how important the Miami Dolphins are to South Florida and really bringing the community together. I think once we’re winning that’ll be evident and people will want to be here every Sunday. Hopefully, some Monday nights too.”
Ross likely meant: I understand you don't care about my product enough to buy tickets, but I'll probably keep eating money to put games on TV because I know seeing the games is important to this community. But hopefully we start winning soon and you'll come back.
Ross said: "I saw [Ryan Tannehill] before the game how he went about it. He won the starting nod in preseason and the guy was confident. When you meet him, you feel good. Certain people you meet, there’s not a lot of trepidation that he has. He goes about his business in a very serious manner and he wants to win. I think that it was a great start that he had.”
Ross likely meant: There's a lot to like about Tannehill, especially his personality and how he took command of the team as a rookie. I was wrong about saying Chad Henne will be the next Dan Marino, so I'm going to be very guarded about my endorsement of this quarterback. But I'm optimistic.
Ross said: "I think it is important that you have a plan, you follow that plan, and you remain consistent towards that plan. When you no longer have confidence in that plan, then you make changes. I have belief in the plans that we set out, and we are going to follow that plan.”
Ross likely meant: I'm told continuity is the only way to build a winning organization in the NFL. The best teams have it. That's why Ireland's still around. If he shows me he can't manage $48.7 million and all these early draft picks then clearly we need to go in another direction. I do realize the Dolphins have produced four straight losing seasons, but Ireland's only REALLY been in charge for two offseasons.
Ross said: “This is really the first time I’ve really gotten involved. I didn’t select the people that were here before. I was handed a situation that, for one, I was kind of painted to the wall. When (Bill) Parcells left it was my fault, when Miami lost it was my fault, and all that. I have a lot of respect for Bill, but I didn’t put together that organization. I also felt that I should learn a little bit before I started making moves. Making moves for the sake of making moves is sometimes probably the worst move you can make. You want to sit back and really assess the situation, which I was able to do, so that was probably good from that standpoint.”
Ross likely meant: I was handcuffed by the organization Wayne H. Huizenga left me. Parcells held me hostage and told me to sit down and shut up. I watched and learned as much as I could and I'm finally at a point where I understand enough about the NFL to make the type of decisions that can help the football side of the operation improve. My clock started with last offseason's hiring of Philbin, and my decision to retain Ireland. Judge me on that, not what came before me. That was Parcells' doing.
Ross said: "(I’m) always a fan, and wanting to build the best organization, but you want to look at other organizations and see what they had. You know, talk to a lot of people.... I think the more familiar you become with it and the more you talk to people and you’re watching and assessing, I think that’s how you really learn and put it together to come up with something. Look, what’s important to everyone in this room is that the Miami Dolphins become a winning organization over a long period of time. As opposed to just talking about it. You have to put it together, you have to believe in the plan, and you have to follow the plan.”
Ross likely meant: I've watched and learned, asked around, and I finally feel I know what it takes to be a good NFL owner. All I care about is producing a winning organization that's best in class. Right now that's hard to do with the Patriots, but Tom Brady will have to retire sometimes soon. We need to take baby steps and the next step is get to the playoff again.
Ross said: "I learned from the real estate business that I started. That’s a business where it’s not like a day trade, you have to have patience. You have to realize that you have to look at things with a vision and a long term aspect. I look at things from a long-term perspective as opposed to a very short-term perspective. So, you might be suffering, and you know I hated those Monday mornings, and I still do when we have those losses, but it’s something where I feel we are on the right track. We’re moving in the right direction, and I feel good about it, more so today than I ever have.”
Ross likely meant: I know the Redskins and Colts transformed their franchises into winners with rookie quarterbacks, but that's more Luck (no pun intended) and fortune than skill. I suffer through losses just like everyone else, maybe more considering I sign the checks. But I'm optimistic this franchise is moving in the right direction IF Tannehill can develop. I have one more win this season to back me up.
Ross on the new logo?
Ross said: "There have been a lot leaked, so I don’t know what you saw from that standpoint. We will have a new logo, we will have it by the (NFL) Draft. We’re looking at it, finalizing it, but I am excited about that fact. It’s time for an update.”
Ross likely meant: Why stay the same? Sometimes change is good. I need to sell some new merchandise and make back some of this $1.1 billion I spent for this franchise. Hopefully these designers come up with something better than the supposedly leaked logo.
Okay, that last line wasn't Ross. It was me.
Ross' long term vision for the Dolphins?
Ross said: “The end game is really, over five to ten years what is your win/loss record over that period of time? How many Super Bowls did you win? That’s how you are going to be judged. So I am prepared for that.”
Ross likely meant: I've given up on you folks loving me. These guys better get me to the playoffs and find, or develop an upper echelon quarterback because I know the next person on your hit list is me.
Ross said: "It’s not a magic formula and this is a very competitive game. So I would like to certainly think that next year we will be in the playoffs and we’re winning, but I can’t tell you for sure. I just know that we will be very competitive next year and that the idea is first you have to get in the playoffs, and then how that football bounces, you never know.”
Ross likely meant: I can't promise you the Super Bowl. First we need to get to the playoffs. We need to start winning more games than we lose each season. Baby steps!
Ross said: “The two biggest ingredients in a winning team are your coach, I think that’s important and I think we have our head coach, and second is a quarterback you can build around. This is a quarterback centric league and you see every great team that is there consistently has a quarterback. I think we have our quarterback. Once you are there, it is a lot easier I think to put the building blocks around. We have needs....Coach has indicated what needs we have; we have to be more explosive and we have to create more takeaways on defense. Those are the things that we have to improve upon."
Ross likely meant: I like the coach and I'm comfortable with Tannehill's upside. Ireland and his staff need to find this franchise some explosive players that create mismatch problems, and impact players on defense who can force fumbles and bring down interceptions or else it will be time to find a new General Manager.
Hopefully no billionaires were harmed during this interpretation of the Dolphins situation.
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