Tom Szczerbowski via Getty Images
Jenny Vrentas, Sports Illustrated (http://mmqb.si.com/mmqb/2015/08/28/nfl-joe-philbin-miami-dolphins-talking-football?xid=si_social)
VRENTAS: The last few years, you have been a couple games away from the playoffs and then down the stretch…
PHILBIN: We haven’t played as well. Fair.
VRENTAS: How do you change that?
PHILBIN: We’ve looked into a lot of different things. We’re going to change our weekly schedule in-season. Part of it has been physical. Maybe we’ve done a little bit too much. Talking to some of our strength and conditioning people, and we’ve added a sports science department, and learning that everything is cumulative. Even what we are doing today can impact us six weeks from now, and so on down the road. We have probably sliced back a little bit the amount of work, the load that we are putting on players. You still have to go out and practice and work. We’re not going to eliminate that stuff, but we’re going to be smarter about what we’re doing from a physical demands standpoint. But I do think we have to have better mental toughness to finish the season off. Mentally, we’ve got to have a tougher football team. We’ve talked to the team about it.
VRENTAS: How do you create better mental toughness?
PHILBIN: We have hired a peak-performance coaching staff that we are now working with. And it’s more of an approach than anything. We’ve been talking to our guys about being a tougher football team and a more together football team. In my mind, those are the two things that are going to get us to the championship level. I think we have good enough players, I think we have a good staff, and I think we have all the resources that we need to be successful, but I don’t think we’ve been as tough, mentally, as we have to be. Our discipline, our execution when things get tough, has to improve. We’ve been practicing a multitude of situations, putting our guys on the field in practice in challenging, difficult positions from a game-situation standpoint. Hey, it’s fourth-and-2 with eight seconds left, or we’re down by 10 with eight minutes left, so let’s go practice that. One offense is playing two-minute, and the other offense is trying to protect a lead. So we’re trying to expose them to as many different situations we think are going to pop up during the course of the year and see them execute under fire a little bit. We’ve gotta be more together, better camaraderie, better chemistry, which I do feel like we have.
VRENTAS: There seems to be a lot more big-picture talk around the team this year. You’ve talked to the team, and you’ve talked publicly, about coming to the Dolphins to win championships.
PHILBIN: Going back to my assistant coach days or my coordinator days, one of the strengths I had—if I had any—was the ability to relate to the players, and I think maybe as a head coach early on I got too busy. There are 90 people right now. And you’ve got a lot of things you’re dealing with—the trainer, the this, the that—which you never dealt with when you’re coaching a position or coordinating an offense. So early in training camp, I just told them why I was here. I’m here to win championships. I didn’t come here to be 8-8. [Team owner Stephen Ross] didn’t hire me to be 8-8. The fans deserve better than 8-8. And every decision I make is based on us winning a championship. Now, you might not agree with every decision I make, but that’s part of being in the position you are in. Mr. Ross and I talk about a lot of things, and I don’t always agree with everything he says, but if he says, “Hey Joe, I want this done,” then it’s done. Because I respect the chain of command. I just told them more about me, I told them all about my background, growing up as a kid.
In the past, when we went on the road, I used to go through every little detail. This time, and that time, and do this and this. But when we went on the road to Chicago, I just told them, look, there are four or five things that are important to me when I travel. Use please and thank you. Please be on time. We’re going there for one reason, to win a football game. You guys have the itinerary, and you can figure the rest out. You’re a pro. If you can’t get to the meal on time, you’re probably not going to play Cover 2 right. I’m trying to simplify things for these guys, and trying to give them why we’re doing the things we do, which I think is important. When I was more involved in the teaching of football, the nuts and bolts of it, I always felt I did a good job of telling the players why, so then maybe they understood better. So as a head coach now, I’m trying to get a little bit better connection with the guys and give them the why, and try to simplify their job a little bit, too.
VRENTAS: Your reputation as a coach is that you are very serious and unemotional. Is that accurate, or is there a side we don’t see?
PHILBIN: I’m very serious about what I do, but I don’t take myself too seriously, I don’t think. I was brought up a certain way. I believe in sportsmanship, I don’t believe in trash talking. If I don’t have something good to say about somebody, I try to say nothing. But I am very passionate about winning championships. Now how I demonstrate that? It might be a little more understated. I probably come from a family that’s understated. I just like to do my job. I was taught that if you’re good at what you do, you don’t have to tell anybody, you just do your job and contribute. The great teams that I have been on, that I was fortunate enough to be a part of, whether it was college or pros, that’s really how it got done. Good people, hardworking people, unselfish people. And you have fun. I have fun in a different way. But yeah, I can see why people say I’m maybe a little serious or understated. I do have a little bit of a sense of humor, though.
VRENTAS: Stephen Ross announced before last season ended that he would be bringing you back for 2015. Why do you think he had that confidence in you, even after three seasons without the playoffs?
PHILBIN: I think he believes in me as a person, as a coach. I think he believes in the things that I believe are important, the things I talked to him about when I got the job, why he hired me in the first place. He’s been very supportive of me. And I told Steve, “Look, I want you to bring me back not because you like me, but because you think I can win a championship here. This is not personal, this is business. Don’t bring me back unless you believe in me, and you want me to be here.” I only want to be coaching somewhere where somebody wants me. And I never asked him to—he actually told me well before he announced it, that he wanted me to come back. I never asked him for an extension. When I was in Green Bay, I think I got promoted three times, and I just kept working. Whoever I was working for came down to my office and asked me if I was interested in the job, so I said, “Yeah, sure.” I think your job should speak for itself. I was obviously delighted that he felt that way. Hopefully it will pay off.
VRENTAS: What you have learned about your role in the locker room over he past few years, since the bullying incident in 2013?
PHILBIN: The locker room, I tell the players all the time, is the most important room in the building. You guys are more important than the coaches. They’re not coming to see me; they’re coming to see you guys. You’ve got to have great communication with the players. It’s probably more important than it’s ever been. I do the bed checks, by myself. It’s something I started after last year. Some guys are snoring and they’re out, but it gives me a chance to see the guys in a different setting. Nobody wants to come up here and sit on the couch, because I’m the principal or whatever. You have to have some discipline, some structure, some rules, but at the same time, you have to be able to relate to these guys and get them to do what you want them to do without having to use a hammer, you know what I mean? Like, one summer I worked in a jail as a correctional officer. There were a bunch of us, maybe six or eight guys in college at the time. One guy was always writing up these prisoners—this guy is a no-good S.O.B. And I never had a problem. It was, “Hey guys, it’s time to get in the cell.” (Pantomimes turning a key). There’s a way and an approach to it so hopefully you can alleviate some of those problems, if I’m making any sense. Like, some of the guys have thought I’ve been a little punitive over the years, because I’m kind of like, if you are two seconds late, you have to do this. I’m not turning a [blind] eye to anything, but I’m not as concerned about collecting as much of their money. It was always what the CBA allowed, it wasn’t like I was pocketing any money or anything, but on the first day of camp, I told them, “This is the money I could take from you, and I’m only going to take 10 percent of it the first time.” Now if you do something wrong again, as I said to them, repeat mistakes are a problem, so if you do something twice, don’t come crying to me. Just stuff like that. Look, guys, I’m not here to see if you are six seconds late, I’m here to win a championship. So let’s get on board and do things the right way, treat people the right way, say please and thank you, and be a good person, be a decent person, tell the truth, and let’s get going, let’s play football. That’s really been the theme, as opposed to you’ve got to be here at this point, and you’ve gotta do this, you’ve gotta do that. We still wear a coat and tie on the road, so they give me a little bit of a hard time, but I’m not changing that. I’m sticking to my serious side on that. On the way to the game, anyway. They got me on the way home. They can wear sweats or something.
You’ve also got to get the right guys in there. Like Greg Jennings is someone who I wish I had earlier as I look back on things. Because he knows me, and I know him. You’ve gotta have your kind of guys. And some guys can be successful other places, and that’s OK. And some guys aren’t my cup of tea, and I’m not their cup of tea, and that’s OK. Some guys want a coach that’s more active on the sideline, and I have no problem with that. But I know that I have been coaching for 32 years, and I’ve had some success, and I know how I can do it can work with the right guys. It’s not the only way to do it, but it’s the way I’m going to do it. I can’t be somebody else. I’ve got to be serious and boring and all that stuff. But it’s not going to work if I have to try to coach like some other guy. I can’t figure that out. It’s too hard. This game is not that hard, I really don’t think it is. I have to be myself, and I’m gonna be myself, and I think that’s good enough. I think it will work—with the right guys. Some guys it just doesn’t work with. And that doesn’t make them bad guys. They could be good guys for somebody else, they could be great for somebody else, and that’s OK. I’m fine with that.