Mr. Ross –
Before getting into the meat of this open letter, I’d like to officially offer praise.
You should be lauded for your attempts to transform the Miami Dolphins back into a competitive franchise. While I disagree with your methods, you’ve at least tried. Also, you should receive applause for recent stadium upgrades, particularly through the use of your personal fortune.
What I would like to address are the methods you continue to apply in annual attempts to restore greatness to the franchise as well as pride among its tribe of fans.
The notion of a tribe creates an important distinction. You spent the money, you own the franchise lock-stock-and-barrel, but in the end, team ownership requires a custodial mindset in many ways. Fans ultimately drive everything associated with ownership, from revenues, to passion status among your ownership peers.
At this stage, fans can be pleased in regards to your efforts but require significant self-reflection and change via your ownership. I’ll address those points one by one.
We Are a Tribe:
Unilateral decisions such as changing the fight song, the logo and the uniforms with little care or feedback from the fans does nothing but alienate long-time, loyal supporters. There will always be some 50-50 or 60-40 split among fans who cling to either tradition or modernization, but in the end, changing a team logo and wordmark essentially amounts to changing the personal identification marks for fans.
This is a significant point because the current weak and much-maligned logo serves as an icon for the decline of the organization over the past 15 years. The current logo represents a constant reminder of how far the Dolphins have strayed from their roots as a marquee NFL franchise. The Dolphins once garnered respect from all corners of the NFL, fans and media.
Creating a Culture – The Dolphins Way:
Again, to start with praise, the creation of an analytics department offered a step in the right direction. I’m not familiar with how the department is structured or what services it provides, but if I were to establish such a group in my organization, I would focus it on four sources of intelligence: Draft Preparation, Internal Organizational Metrics (how opponents would game plan against the Dolphins), External Organizational Metrics (opponent study) and Pro Player Scouting (undrafted player acquisitions including free agents, trades and waivers).
But overall, I believe you continue to fall into an organizational trap amounting to Einstein’s definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.”
You continue to build a convoluted football operations infrastructure that can only result in political in-fighting and mistrust. Part of this atmosphere stems from the cadre of consultants who continue to provide some sort of advice or support. I would include Dan Marino’s role as part of this problem, although I support his involvement with the organization, however, coaches may secretly resent his input or suspect he’s serving as an internal critic of their work.
Another portion of the problem arose of out of half-measures on your part. Instead of replacing a GM and coach as a set, you’ve continually hired personnel and attempted to match them with incumbent personnel. With Mike Tannenbaum freshly installed as Exec VP of Football Operations, one can again clearly see how this will play out: Hickey potentially fired or subjugated further and a coaching staff search designed to fit with Tannenbaum.
The intention here is not to criticize Tannenbaum as much as it is to point out how his presence will affect the future of the organization in regards to important offseason decisions.
By tying yourself to Tannenbaum the Dolphins will once again narrow the field of candidates for either GM or head coach. The Dolphins desperately require a single person who can build a long-term organizational culture and turnaround.
Think about it: Candidates refused to interview for the most-recent GM opening. What does that say about the franchise’s reputation among NFL front office insiders?
As an example: Given the New Orleans Saints poor performance this season, there’s a possibility head coach Sean Payton could enter the marketplace. Do you really want to pass up an opportunity to hire a talent such as Payton out of loyalty or timing related to Tannenbaum’s hiring?
Do you really believe Tannenbaum has the skills to create a long-lasting cultural turnaround for the team?
The reality for the Dolphins – as it stood for the AFC East and Conference overall during Don Shula’s tenure – requires measurement against Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ football culture.
How do you propose to draw equal to and surpass the Patriots in terms of long-term consistent success?
What will you do to appease long-time, loyal fans? I currently reside in-state and would love to fulfill my life-long dream of owning Dolphins season tickets. I will not attend a Dolphins game until the team’s traditional logo and uniforms are restored. Modern Dolphins merchandise is not welcomed in my house.
My New Orleans-bred wife adorns our kids in Saints gear and trained them to shout “Who Dat!” at the sight of a fleur-de-lis. I have no plans on stopping this or encouraging my Florida-based kids to become Dolphins fans.
I can handle the losing. Teams cycle through years or decades of success or failure. Such is the nature of sports. But what I cannot abide is watching my once-proud organization deteriorate into a consistent, predictable disaster and the butt of jokes.
I look forward to and will appreciate your response.
Know this criticism evolves from a desire to drive change within your organization while providing an outside perspective from a long-time observer, former journalist and fan.