There is a lot of speculation about why Jeff Ireland is getting preferential treatment for a Dolphin team he is as much responsible for as Tony Sparano. The answer is more about timing than Ireland’s relationship with Stephen Ross. As Bill Parcells once said, “the NFL is a talent acquisition business.” While the football team is playing this year, the player personnel people are planning for next year. Firing Ireland now could have a dire effect on the preparation for the draft in April.
Many of the same reporters doing the speculating have also pointed out the disconnect between the front office and football operations. The owner, the president and the rest of the folks who run the business side of the Dolphins have their offices at Joe Robbie Stadium in North Miami, while the football people reside at the train facility in Davie. Bill Parcells may have orchestrated the separation to keep his kingdom free from the prying eyes of management, it has worked.
Obviously, Stephen Ross knows little about the inter-workings of the personnel side of the game and Ireland should be happy about it. Ross’ relationship with former Chiefs personnel man Carl Peterson is well documented and while it may be true Ross has no intention of hiring Peterson, he is listening. All the film work that goes into creating a draft board is happening right now and Peterson has probably told Ross, firing Ireland at this point would be a mistake because of it.
From his perch above JRS Ross can see the result of Sparano’s work each Sunday just as we all can, but the personnel work is all done in the dim light of film rooms and remote scouting locations. It’s the shadowy world at the heart of every NFL team and the backbone of the franchise. Todd Bowles may make a few mistakes, but with his DC and OC still in place, removing Sparano will have minimal affect on a 4-9 football team. Shaking up the personnel department now could be detrimental to the future of the franchise and no doubt, Peterson has warned Ross of this consequence.
A high profile coach may indeed want to bring in his own personnel people, but that won’t happen until after the 2012 draft. Ireland proved his loyalty when he jumped on the plane with Ross and that loyalty is to himself. This means, Ireland is a calculating man. When Ross wanted to fire Sparano during the atrocious start of the season, Ireland knew, the longer Tony remained, the better his chances of sticking. Ireland was the one who recommended Sparano continue, as long as he did not lose the locker room.
The timeline of events stack up a little too cleanly in favor of Ireland for one not to wonder whether the puppet master was pulling the strings. The business of the NFL is a high stakes cutthroat game played where it is routine to talk in millions and billions of dollars. The hard work pays in dividends most folks only dream of and when a personnel person aligns himself too closely with a coach who does not perform, he has to believe, his ability will be cast in the same light.
Once Parcells walked away, the guardian angel for both Sparano and Ireland walked out the door with him. They were left to fend for themselves and Ireland knew Parcells would never have walked away if he felt his legacy and reputation would grow from what was happening in Miami. Parcells walked away because he knew he had failed. He had failed in his selection of a coach and he has failed in his selection of a personnel man. Ireland saw this immediately and knew, if he didn’t distance himself from Tony Sparano, he would be identified with him and the under-performing Dolphins.
This is not new or isolated, this happens in big business everywhere, everyday. Once tasted, success and power are a wicked elixir and the hearts of many a man changes by the sweetness of the potion. The NFL has changed because of its own success. The coach has to motivate players who have tasted the sweet nectar and the only way to do this is to show he is not overcome by the spell. The GM and the coach must be perfectly aligned or they will both be looking for other employment.
Ireland split with Sparano when Parcells left and he knew Ross would build the team without the influence of an all-powerful Czar, and a coach he did not choose. It could be said, Ireland is a company man and Ross is his boss, therefore his loyalty should not be questioned. From the top to the bottom, football is about sacrifice and loyalty, loyalty to the player next to you, loyalty to the coach and loyalty to the management. When the chain is broken it is only a matter of time before the organization breaks down and the components fracture.
Sparano made the mistake of remaining loyal to the people who gave him this opportunity, even after Parcells left him high and dry. Ireland cut the ties and bowed to a new master. Time will tell whether Jeff Ireland played the right hand in this million-dollar game of truth or dare. One thing is certain, his chance to survive was greatly enhanced, the longer Sparano held on. Success is the only thing billionaires are loyal to and like Parcells and Sparano, Ireland is as much apart of the failure in Miami.
Perhaps the timing has tied Ross’ hand when it comes to Ireland, but the ropes are frayed and Jeff is on tenuous ground because the rest of the NFL is watching. In a game based on men willing to sacrifice their body and soul in pursuit of greatness, a weasel won’t last long.