Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat. Questions, comments, casserole ideas? Hit us up on Twitter at @ryanwilson_07.
Historically, this space has been reserved for players or groups of players who have done something particularly egregious, costing their team a win in the process. This week, we're going with a head coach because Joe Philbin's leadership -- or lack of it -- has a lot to do with the Dolphins' current predicament both on and off the field.
Joe Philbin, head coach - Dolphins
For two weeks, the Dolphins had been embroiled in a controversy that no one ever figured would affect an NFL locker room: Bullying. But second-year tackle Jonathan Martin left the team amid allegations that he had been bullied by Richie Incognito and that has been the story ever since.
On Monday night, the Dolphins had an opportunity to change that, even if briefly. "Embattled team comes together for big win" or some such headline would be Tuesday's news if they could just beat the 0-8 Buccaneers.
Instead, the Dolphins looked equal parts dazed and confused for most of the first half, and despite a second-half comeback, still managed to lose an eminently winnable game.
Last Thursday, Philbin said the scandal wouldn't be a distraction for his team. After the loss in Tampa Bay, he blamed an admittedly horrendous rushing attack that managed just two (!!) yards.
“The biggest thing I was disappointed in was our lack of a running game,” Philbin said. “I told the team: ‘There's a lot of football left to be play. November and December will determine who moves forward.”
Could have put 11 corpses on offense and only gotten 2 fewer rushing yards— Dan Le Batard Show (@LeBatardShow) November 12, 2013
Hours before the Dolphins were manhandled on national television by an outfit with plenty of their own problems, team owner Stephen Ross told the media that he was "appalled" by the bullying incident, was eager to get all the facts, and also supported his head coach.
“Joe is a man of high character who routinely communicates to our players our expectations of behavior, and he espouses the values that we stand behind,” Ross said. “He genuinely cares about our players -- you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice.”
But does he? Does Philbin care about all his players? Because if the allegations that Incognito was abusive towards Martin are true, Philbin either had no earthly idea it was happening in his locker room or, worse, he did and didn't do anything about it.
Here's what Tony Dungy, the former Bucs and Colts coach, said Sunday night.
"People ask me, 'How could Joe Philbin not know what's going on in that locker room?' Well, as the head coach you don't know everything," Dungy, now an NFL studio analyst with NBC Sports explained. "I thought my job was to set the atmosphere up, but I counted on my leaders. So if I said no hazing in the locker room, then it's up to Derrick Brooks and Jeff Saturday, Reggie Wayne -- those type of guys -- to control it.
"And if there is a problem, they come to me. If they're not saying anything, I'm assuming that everything is fine."
Let's assume that Philbin truly didn't know the extent of what Incognito was allegedly doing to Martin. Okay, fine.
But what about Philbin's staff? Is there any way the position coach, who saw Incognito and Martin every day, didn't know? And whether the position coach chose not to report back to Philbin, or did and Philbin chose not to act, reflects poorly on the guy in charge.
According to a report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel last week, the coaching staff didn't tell Incognito to bully Martin but they did ask Incognito to "toughen up" the second-year player after he missed an offseason workout. The Sun-Sentinel then reported that Incognito may have taken things too far.
Yes, he may have.
The takeaway: Somebody on staff had some idea something was going on.
"I want you to know that as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, I am in charge of the workplace atmosphere," Philbin told the media on Nov. 4. "Since April 10, 2012 when the players first came here and I was the head coach, every decision I've made and everything we've done to this facility has been done with one thing in mind. And that is to help our players and our organization reach their full potential. And any type of conduct or behavior that detracts from that objective is not acceptable and is not tolerated."
Except it is. Martin's gone and Incognito has been suspended indefinitely. And it had everything to do with "conduct or behavior that detracted from helping players reach their full potential."
Philbin continued: "I take this responsibility very seriously. ... That's very important to me. I will tell you that if the [NFL's] review shows that this is not a safe atmosphere I will take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that it is. I have that obligation to the players that I coach on a daily basis."
If the NFL's review shows that the Dolphins' locker room is not a safe atmosphere, that just confirms that Philbin is part of the problem. And "whatever measures are necessary" might just include Philbin losing his job.
We get it: A head coach can't know everything that goes on among 60-something players, 20-something coaches and various support staff. But Philbin's miscalculation is something Dungy alluded to Sunday night: If you're going to rely on your team leaders to be your eyes and ears in the locker room, then it's important to, you know, have some team leaders.
That Incognito was on the six-member leadership council -- and reportedly its most vocal member -- is all you really need to know.
In the wake of all this, Ross has formed a leadership council of his own, a task force of former players and coaches to improve the Dolphins' locker room culture. The members include Dungy, Don Shula, Dan Marino, Jason Taylor and Curtis Martin.
Whatever Ross may say publicly about supporting Philbin, convening a task force screams "You are doing a horrible job. So horrible, in fact, that I'm bringing in a bunch of people to figure out why you've failed so miserably."
That was before Ross' news conference, which led the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero to write, "The most likely change will be the removal of ... Ireland and perhaps a couple of assistants." And "barring a meltdown by this team, Ross seems set to salvage coach Joe Philbin and put weight behind him that he eventually will fix the dysfunction."
If this is true, Ross shouldn't expect anything to change. Yes, the locker room may be rid of Incognito but Philbin will still be there.
But if, in Ross' mind, being surprised by the revelation that Incognito took things too far isn't reason enough to send Philbin out the door after Ireland, how about Philbin's 11-14 record -- including 4-5 this season -- despite an offseason spending spree approaching a quarter billion dollars?
Is that a fireable offense?