Many NFL owners became billionaires in relative anonymity. For most who purchase NFL teams after making their billions, they realize (if not crave) the attention that comes with entering the public eye via cannonball from the high dive.
For some, an eventual injection of truth serum would result in an admission that, if they had to do it all over again, they wouldn’t.
Deep down, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has to be feeling that way. Wildly successful but primarily unknown, Ross earned billions as a New York real estate developer. So what would be the best way to out-trump the Donald?
Buy an NFL team.
While billionaires would have to try to not continue to make money by owning an NFL team, success has a very different measuring stick in the NFL. With 256 regular-season games and a winner and a loser in each one (barring the very rare tie), some teams every year necessarily will fail. Even as free agency and the salary cap nudge the talent gap narrower than ever, the league never will feature 32 franchises that hover around .500 until late December.
For Ross, his tenure as owner has been clouded by an inability to parlay parity into a postseason appearance during any of the five seasons he has been primary owner of the team. Along the way, he also has been unable to make the hires he has wanted to make, consistently having his overtures rejected or used as leverage.
The latest to join the likes of Jim Harbaugh, Jeff Fisher, and Peyton Manning is Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio. After the team failed to attract several A-list G.M. candidates to interview for the job — and after one of the presumed finalists opted to withdraw in lieu of a second interview — Caserio’s late arrival to the party gave the national perception of the job a boost. If, after all, the notoriously loyal Caserio were considering leaving the Patriots for the Dolphins, the Dolphins job surely couldn’t be as bad as everyone is saying, right?
And then, just a day after Caserio soared into the middle of the radar screen, he disappeared. But not after reportedly drawing an offer from the Dolphins and saying “thanks” and “no.”
The speed of the decision-making process suggests that Caserio never really intended to leave, and that he flirted with the job merely to get something from the Patriots, like more money or an enhanced title. Caserio also may have opted to use the platform as a way to let the rest of the owners know that, next year, he’s in play for a promotion elsewhere.
Regardless, the perception lingers that people don’t want to work for the Dolphins, perhaps because of dysfunction that an owner who lives and works in New York City can’t fully and adequately cure.
Then again, maybe it would be worse if Ross were in the office every day. As explained by David Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (and initially reported by Alex Marvez of FOX Sports), Ross proposed to former G.M. Jeff Ireland a realigned structure in which Ireland would report to executive V.P. of football administration Dawn Aponte, who previously had reported to Ireland before he reportedly tried to get her fired and she ended up with a straight line to Ross.
So why not just fire Ireland outright? Ross had to know having Ireland report to Aponte wouldn’t work, but Ross opted once again for a half measure.
It’s half measures that continue to plague his ownership of the team. Two years ago, he kept the G.M. and fired the coach. Now, he’s keeping the coach and firing the G.M. Unless and until he cleans house and make the coach, the G.M., and any other high-level executive with fingerprints on the football operation equally accountable, the cycle will continue.
And Ross will continue to privately wish he’d remained an anonymous billionaire.