What Bill Parcells has helped build in South Florida -- the resurfacing of a club and its culture -- will now get put to the test.
We will now see how sturdy this Dolphins foundation really is, and if a roster brimming with youth can deliver on its considerable promise without the face of the renovation around.
The men Parcells put in place to run this show have to prove they can lead Miami into the next phase of the group's development, which would be to go from playoff-level team to championship contender.
Don't get mixed up about the impact of the iconic Tuna's departure. In some ways, to be sure, he'll be difficult to replace. In others, this process is simply part of a natural progression that was set in the motion in the spring and, if you really want to dig deep, has been a distinct part of the Dolphins' blueprint since Parcells arrived in January 2008.
Parcells not cutting all ties
Yes, Parcells' title underwent a pretty serious change at the start of the season, going from "executive vice president of football operations" to "consultant". Yes, he recently cleaned out the office he's occupied in the club's Davie, Fla. facility.
And that step's foundation is in Parcells' comfort level that the organization -- top-to-bottom, from players to coaches to front office personnel, and from on-field characteristics to overall organizational mindset -- embodies what he and general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Tony Sparano set out to put in place back in 2008, when they found a club in the kind of disarray that made their Dallas rebuilding effort look like a touch-up job.
The truth is that the structure of the day-to-day football operation in Miami won't be rocked much by Parcells slipping out the door. It was always Parcells' goal to become more of a sounding board for others, rather than to lead, something he entrusted Ireland and Sparano to do. In the spring, with the organization moving in lockstep, and the coaches and personnel folks rarely hearing ideas shot down much by Parcells anymore as a singular vision took hold, the Kingfish slowly started to withdraw.
It makes sense, too. The reason Parcells plucked Sparano and Ireland from Dallas to begin with is because they bought in part and parcel to the ideals he believed in, and that's also why Miami is flooded with ex-Cowboy employees like assistant head coach/secondary Todd Bowles, defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers, quarterbacks coach David Lee, assistant director of player personnel Brian Gaine and player personnel administrator Chris Shea. They carry out the vision that Parcells had, because their vision mirrors his.
So where will Miami miss Parcells?
Well, he's made it clear to the powers-that-be with the Dolphins that he's there if they need him for advice, being 70 miles north in Jupiter, and, in this technological day and age, it wouldn't be hard to get some game film up there for his review.
But he will be missed, and perhaps the area it will be felt most is in the accountability his presence seems to inspire in everyone around him. It's something that's not as necessary now, more than 30 months into the job, than it was back when the power troika arrived. Yet, it never hurts to have it, and it'll take the work ethic of all those that were around him to maintain a cultural level Parcells would never let slip.
Those that remained in the Dallas organization after Parcells left there in 2006, Sparano and Ireland among them, have the experience of seeing those standards slide. There's confidence here that won't happen again.
"Bill feels comfortable in that regard," said one source. "With Tony and Jeff, he's got two guys that share the same beliefs that Bill had, and have the same style in going about it."
In some ways, it'll be up to those on the personnel and coaching side. In others, it'll be up to the players, who won't have the natural kick-in-the-rear of looking over and seeing Parcells in a golf cart at practice, or those "mentor moments" when the man himself would pull them aside and give them that little piece of advice that only a guy of his experience could.
But it's also important to remember that for the players, there's one distinct difference between this situation and those in New York or New England or Dallas. Here, Parcells isn't, and was never, the coach.
"Tony's out front, he's the voice of the team," said another source. "Bill was never that, it's been Tony since Day 1 and that's by design, so we'll really go about things the same way."
At the same time, everyone recognizes that Parcells will be missed. But the Dolphins brass appears to be attacking that the same way Parcells would -- by sidestepping excuses and embracing any increased responsibility that will come along with it.
The door is, indeed, wide open for Parcells to be a part of the team's free-agent meetings and draft talks in the winter and spring, and he's not exactly out-of-touch with people within the organization now. What's left behind, too, is a roster that he built with Ireland and Sparano that has just four 30-somethings on it, one of whom is the long-snapper and another of whom is the backup quarterback.
Parcells again is pulling away from an organization in vastly better shape than he found it, just like he did in New York (twice), New England and Dallas. But this time his fingerprints extended off the roster and into every area of Miami's football operation.
And now, we get to see how deep an impact he's had not so much on the football team, but on the people around him.