How NFL Hall of Famer Bill Parcells destroyed the Miami Dolphins franchise from within
Bill Parcells has been named to the National Football League Hall of Fame, on the strength of his legendary multi-title tenure with the New York Giants, his resurrection of the New England Patriots, and to a lesser extent his minor revitalizations of the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys franchises. But in South Florida, Parcells is one of the most hated figures in all of football, and not because of the wins he racked up against the Miami Dolphins while coaching their rivals. In a final chapter of his storied career, Parcells came out of retirement in 2008 to serve as the Dolphins head of football operations. It became his job to hire the head coach, hire the general manager, and oversee the direction of the team. Five years later and the Miami Dolphins franchise still has yet to recover…
When the Dolphins hired Parcells in 2008, the move was widely heralded by Miami fans. The team had just come off a rock bottom 1-15 season, had no quarterback, no direction, and no hope as the memory of the Don Shula – Dan Marino years continued to fade. Parcells quickly hired an offensive line coach named Tony Sparano as head coach, and a talent scout named Jeff Ireland to be the general manager. Neither seemed to have had enough prior experience for the promotions they were receiving, but few questioned the moves. Parcells oversaw a 2008 draft in which the Dolphins held the number one overall pick, and while the team needed a quarterback, he passed on Matt Ryan (who went on to succeed in Atlanta) and chose offensive lineman Jake Long. He then took quarterback Chad Henne in the second round. Years later the revelation surfaced that Parcells had intended to select Joe Flacco in the second round, but misjudged the fact that the Baltimore Ravens were planning to take him in the first round.
Henne underwhelmed from nearly from day one, but that got temporarily swept under the rug by the fact that the Jets surprisingly cut Chad Pennington loose just days before the regular season, whom the Dolphins quickly snapped up as their starter. The oft injured Pennington finally had an injury-free season, and combined with a trick play called the Wildcat in which running back Ronnie Brown would sometimes play quarterback, the Dolphins won eleven games against a soft schedule and made the playoffs. For one year, Parcells and Sparano and Ireland were considered kings of Miami. But then things quickly went downhill.
By the next season, the Wildcat was a one-off gimmick that the league quickly solved. Sparano, as it turned out, couldn’t coach his way out of a paper bag. Pennington went back to being oft-injured. Henne turned out to be a bust. The decision to select Jake Long over Matt Ryan came to be seen as a move that would set the Dolphins back a decade. Parcells went on to pick a fight with Dolphins legend Jason Taylor, ultimately trading him, then bringing him back a year later, then getting rid of him again in what became a farce. As year two became year three, it became clear that Ireland’s draft picks were a mess across the board, with second and third round picks routinely going bust. At one point he spent a second rounder on quarterback Pat White, who proved so inept that (you can’t make this up) he recently signed a minor league contract for the cross town Miami Marlins – a baseball team.
When Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga sold the team to Steve Ross, Parcells agreed to remain on board only if his contract was renegotiated such that he could quit at any time and would still get paid for the remainder of the years on the deal. Shortly thereafter Parcells did precisely that, amid consecutive losing seasons. At the end of the season Sparano was fired, sort of, and then brought back for one more year which saw the team bottom out. Ireland continued to blow draft picks and found consistent failure among his free agent signings, and finally became a household name when he asked potential draft pick Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute. As a result of the controversy, the Dolphins passed on Bryant and traded for Brandon Marshall instead, who was then traded away two years later for half the draft pick compensation which had originally been given up for him. After Sparano was finally fired for real a year later, Ireland was inexplicably retained. The search for a new head coach saw leading candidates like Jeff Fisher take a pass, presumably because they didn’t want to work with Ireland. The Dolphins ended up with Joe Philbin as their new head coach, an offensive coordinator who, as it turns out, held that title in name only and had never called plays.
While the Dolphins have ten draft picks in the upcoming seven round draft and significant salary cap space for signing free agents, the buzz around Miami is that fans have little expectation that Ireland will make better personnel moves this offseason than he has in years past. And now, as it turns out, Jake Long is injury prone and will likely be allowed to walk away from the Dolphins this offseason with no compensation in return. Five years after Parcells arrived in town, the Dolphins have almost literally nothing to show for it beyond the fact that the guy who was supposed to be their franchise quarterback plays in Atlanta instead, and the other guy who was supposed to be their franchise quarterback is playing for Baltimore in the Super Bowl – and any hope for the future is hindered by the fact that, while he may well be the least competent general manager in all of pro sports, Jeff Ireland is still running the Miami Dolphins.
So while fans in New York, New Jersey, New England, and perhaps even Dallas will cheerfully tune in to see Bill Parcells give his Hall of Fame induction speech, Dolphins fans might only tune in to snicker and boo. Most Dolphins home games in 2012 saw the stadium half empty, with shockingly low attendance by NFL standards, particularly for a team which came within two missed field goals of having a winning record. In hindsight, all Parcells did in Miami was hire two incompetent buddies for jobs for which they were grossly unqualified, screw up the quarterback position three times in one day, skip town with years left on his contract, and on his way out the door, con the new owner into keeping Ireland around to keep screwing up the personnel moves. So while Dolphins fans want to hold out hope that Philbin might turn out to be a competent head coach despite the paper thin resume, and that new quarterback Ryan Tannehill might turn out to be a star despite a middling rookie season which saw three other teams’ rookie quarterbacks perform better, the general feeling is that pro football in Miami is a lost cause until the Parcells warped family tree has finally been fully uprooted.
Jason Taylor got the last laugh, however: after Parcells skipped town, Taylor signed on with the Dolphins for one final season. In his final game he played on defense and offense, and was ultimately carried off the field by his teammates and now has his name in the stadium Ring of Honor. Miami remembers Taylor as a hero, while “Parcells” has evolved into little more than a local curse word.