Greg Cote: Why Brian Daboll, key to unlocking Tua, is Dolphins’ best way out of coach mess they’ve made
MIAMI — The Miami Dolphins are doing more than searching for a new head coach at the moment. They are trying to dig themselves out of a public relations mess over the crazy-sudden and unpopular firing of Brian Flores.
It is quite remarkable what the Dolphins and owner Stephen Ross have accomplished, because coaching changes almost always are universally cheered by fans.
It’s the easiest, most safely popular thing a club can do in the age of impatience, never-satisfied and what’s next? Fire the coach! Yay! The Bears firing Matt Nagy was anticipated for weeks. Giants fans are in parade mode over the dismissal of Joe Judge.
But Flores? Now? After he just authored Miami’s first back-to-back winning seasons since 2002-03? Didn’t make sense and never will. And, yes, I’ve heard the reports about the supposedly toxic work environment Flores created, and his supposed stubborn nature.
Yeah, so what? He was a pretty bad postgame quote, too. Who cares? He won. He was good. He was a leader admired by players. The best coaching hire by a lot in Ross’ 13 years as majority owner, his tenure for the most part a litter of losing and failure.
So now what? Who’s next as Ross scrambles to save face? As he aims for a home run hire that makes Dolfans say, “Well, OK, Flores got a raw deal … but this new guy is good!”
It might be a marquee hire, say, Jim Harbaugh from Michigan. And don’t believe Ross saying he won’t be the one to hire Harbaugh away from his alma mater. If Jim wants back in the NFL and winks at Ross — bam, it’s a marriage.
Or it might be a hire less on star wattage but more fine-tuned and strategic, say, Brian Daboll, the Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator. Daboll, 46, has become quite the hot new name in head coach searches. He is given credit for the sharp upward development of Josh Allen. Daboll was 2020 NFL assistant coach of the year because of it.
He also is a Bill Belichick protégé who has five Patriots Super Bowl rings to show for it.
Oh, and he coached Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama in 2017.
If there is a just criticism of Flores, a brilliant defensive coach, it’s that his two-headed offensive coordinator didn’t work. The offense stunk all season. We saw Year 2 progress in Tagovailoa, but it wasn’t remarkable, and not enough to reverse the lingering doubts about him.
If Daboll is the quarterback whisperer who can personally elevate Tagovailoa to realize his full potential, that alone would make it a smart hire. Or at least one you can sell to a skeptical fan base to help justify an unjustifiable coaching change.
Daboll some may recall was Dolphins offensive coordinator in 2011 under Tony Sparano. He did not fail. He lifted Miami’s ranking in points scored from a near-bottom 30th to a near-midpack 20th.
A positive byproduct of this coaching change, if we’re looking for air freshener against the stench, is that it makes more likely the Dolphins will commit full resources to the development of Tagoaviloa as their quarterback moving forward.
The wooing of embattled but available Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson might blessedly be over. I’ll believe that when I see him traded elsewhere, but Watson had said he would waive his no-trade clause and play in Miami because of his admiration for Flores.
Reports out of Houston suggest, logically, that Miami firing Flores makes Watson much less likely to now favor the Fins. Plenty of other franchises (Denver commonly mentioned) might now be favorites for Watson, who not only is beleaguered by 22 allegations of sexual impropriety by women related to massages, but who would command at least three first-round draft picks in a trade.
I have always said an improved, fully-formed Tagoavailoa with an improved supporting cast, and the three first-round draft picks and other capital you would save, is preferable to Watson.
Daboll seems like the smart hire. As a bonus you would be cherry-picking the most coveted assistant coach from the AFC East rival you have to beat. Miami’s defense is quite good. Now you would be giving it the man, in Daboll, who best knows Josh Allen and how to solve him.
If Daboll can turn Tagovailoa into the star Miami thought it was drafting No. 5 overall in 2020, then hire him. Right now. That is reason enough.
Because the best man to unlock Tagovailoa’s considerable potential would also be the best way to help Stephen Ross dig out of the mess he created and try to spin this coaching change as a positive after all.