Stephen Ross made the decision that will define his ownership, he chose Jeff Ireland over Jeff Fisher. The decision was based on organizational chain of command and structural hierarchy more than power, but it will look on the outside, as though Jeff Ireland won a power struggle. Systems in the NFL can work both ways, some have coaches with the final say and some have GMs with the final say. By firing Tony Sparano and retaining Ireland, Ross had already made the decision on the direction of the organization.
It is apparent there was discomfort with Fisher’s demands and it may come down to some of the players Fisher drafted with the Titans. Fisher was willing to look past the character issues with players like Albert Haynesworth, Pacman Jones and Vince Young and it led to his demise in Tennessee. For Fisher, it was the thought that his career would ride on the players he selected and he did not want those players dictated to him by a GM.
Bill Parcells was the football Czar in Miami and relegated Huizenga and Ross to sideline roles in the team’s office at Joe Robbie Stadium. Parcells quit because he knew Stephen Ross was not going to remain a silent partner in his billion-dollar investment. Parcells left the Dolphins as a disconnected team with the business offices split from the football operations. Ross knew he needed to fix this and Fisher’s demands would essentially take the team back to the Parcells’ structure.
On the surface it looks like the Dolphins lost out on the coach, but in the larger picture Miami made the right decision and it will prove out when Fisher fails in Saint Louis. There is simply not enough time in the day to perform the duties of coach and personnel director. Both positions need to be autonomous while completely cooperative. There must be trust from both sides of the equation, the coach must have complete control of the team and the personnel man must have complete control of the roster.
The coach defines his needs and depends on the personnel people to evaluate and select those players. When the coach asks for final say on personnel, the culture of trust is broken in a cooperative organization. Ross is a businessman and success in business depends on a clearly defined hierarchy where decisions are made within the structure of the organization.
The Parcellsian structure took ownership out of the equation. Wayne Huizenga had failed with Jimmy Johnson, Dave Wannstedt, Nick Saban and Cam Cameron and decided to hand over the organization to Bill Parcells. Stephen Ross was not part of those failures and is not willing to have a coach acting in the role of Czar. It may seem from the outside, Ireland made the power play responsible for Fisher’s decision to choose Saint Louis, but Ross decided the structure was more important than the coach.
Fisher interviewed with the Dolphins in a position of power. Ross said, “I will not be outbid,” for his services, but something must have given Ross an uneasy feeling with Fisher. If Ross had felt a true conviction with Fisher, Fisher would now be coaching the Dolphins regardless of Ireland’s position with the team. Perhaps Ross felt the same arrogance on Fisher’s part as he did in the presence of Bill Parcells and billionaires are not inclined to take a backseat with their toys.
In the end, the structure won out over the coach. In the short term, the Dolphins may suffer, but in the end, the team will benefit from the entirety being more important than the man. Miami will select a coach who will work together with Ireland and Ross and build a team with continuity within the structure. The big Fish didn’t shake the hook, the big Fish was released, like a giant tarpon, fun to fight, but too many bones for the table.