The mere fact that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross fired coach Brian Flores and kept G.M. Chris Grier becomes what the lawyers would call prima facie evidence of institutional dysfunction. Smart teams take the position that the coach and G.M. fail or succeed together, with no opportunity to place blame on one or the other. And it likely would require a whole team of lawyers to get to the bottom of what caused Ross to pull the plug on a coach who delivered consecutive winning records for the first time since 2002-03, culminating in a sweep of the Patriots.
So what went wrong? Here is some educated speculation, based on everything we’ve read and heard about the franchise over the past few years.
As previously mentioned, the fact that Ross doesn’t live or work in South Florida opens the door for factions, cliques, and allegiances. On game days, while the coach is busting his butt in an effort to win games, others can whisper sweet somethings into the ears of the owner, blaming the coach for whatever may be going wrong.
In 2021, the biggest thing that went wrong was the failure of the team to land quarterback Deshaun Watson. Despite the best efforts of Ross and company to spin the facts now, Ross wanted Watson. Flores simply didn’t want the distraction.
The endless Watson chatter was affecting Tua Tagovailoa in a negative way. As one source explained it to PFT early in the season, Tua actually declined an opportunity to be a team captain for 2021, given the possibility that Watson would be arriving and taking over the starting job at any time.
The moment the trade deadline came and went, Tua started playing better and the Dolphins started winning games. Is it a coincidence?
Ross, like plenty of other owners, wants to call the shots without being accused of meddling. Thus, like other owners, he never gives a direct order. He shouldn’t have to. He makes his views known, and he trusts that employees smart enough to get the hint will do so.
This year, it was Watson. And Ross didn’t get him. Last year, it was Tua — but only after the Bengals refused to trade down with the Dolphins for Joe Burrow.
And that could be where Flores first lost Ross. Entering the 2019 season, Ross realized that, sometimes, you’ve got to take your lumps. Although the object of a full-season tank job initially was Tua, Ross pivoted to Burrow. However, after a few ugly losses to begin his tenure, Flores apparently ditched and defied the tanking strategy.
That kept the Dolphins from securing the top pick, which became Burrow. Where would they be now if they had gotten him? They’d probably be in the playoffs, and they’d potentially be the No. 1 seed or close to it.
At some level, that reality may have been sticking in the owner’s craw. He wanted to tank. Flores didn’t get the hint, or he ignored it. And there went the best chance to get the franchise quarterback the team has coveted since Dan Marino’s retirement.
Throw in the failure of the organization to execute a trade for Deshaun Watson, and Ross had to blame someone. Throw in the fact that others in the organization had more open and regular access to the absentee landlord who owns the team, and Flores was the one to take the fall.
Does it matter at this point? To whoever may become the next coach of the Dolphins, it definitely should.