The Dolphins did their best to suffocate such hesitations, portraying a collaborative environment of people not only willing but desiring to work together. Executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, general manager Dennis Hickey, head coach Joe Philbin and executive vice president of football administration Dawn Aponte would successfully make football decisions as one. (UPDATE: On Saturday evening, the Dolphinsannounced the firing of Dennis Hickey.)
Now, a few days shy of exactly one year later, the original skepticism has proven spot-on accurate. A battle for power within the organization has indeed led to a scenario in which political posturing has divided those who started the season together.
And in a matter of time, as it pertains to football decisions, multiple team sources believe the kitchen in South Florida will indeed soon be down to just one: Tannenbaum alone.
In other words, yes, sources say the Miami Dolphins are on the brink of a total front-office makeover, and the only person in the area of football operations who most certainly will maintain the same title is Tannenbaum, marking the completion of a swift rise from team consultant to all-encompassing football czar.
Consider the current state of the Dolphins, based on conversations with multiple team sources in several factions within the fractured organization:
» Tannenbaum and Hickey aren't talking much. Their offices are on separate ends of the team's Davie, Florida facility, and they do not sit together during games. While Hickey watches games with the scouting department, Tannenbaum generally watches games with owner Stephen Ross in his suite. Hickey still brings scouting reports to Tannenbaum during the week, but the decisions regarding personnel now mostly run through Tannenbaum.
» The Dolphins' plan moving forward, as of Saturday afternoon, does not include Hickey as their general manager, and that new direction is expected to be set into motion as early as Sunday. Tannenbaum is assuring those in the organization of two things: 1) He is willing to hire a general manager to oversee a scouting department; and 2) he is willing to give up authority over roster decisions if it means hiring the right candidate. In other words, Tannenbaum does not want his own power to limit a search that is expected to include high-level candidates who would require some level of authority on roster decisions.
» Hickey's exclusion from the team's plans has created a line in the sand within the team's facility. Those loyal to Hickey, like assistant general manager Eric Stokes, are also not a part of future plans, while director of college scouting Chris Grier and director of pro personnel Anthony Hunt have positioned themselves in Tannenbaum's camp. Some believe Grier has put himself in a position to provide Tannenbaum with a general manager option that would allow Tannenbaum to maintain the power he desires while having a staff capable of handling the bulk of scouting duties.
» Aponte's fate is far more complicated. While one source urged that a departure is not imminent, multiple other sources say her future with the team is far from secure. Ross still values Aponte, but her relationship with others in the organization, while not necessarily ice cold, is far less enchanted than it once was. That is largely the result of Tannenbaum's sudden stronghold on the types of decisions Aponte previously oversaw. While Aponte remains well respected for her expertise with the CBA and the salary cap, a bulk of her other responsibilities (she served as Philbin's day-to-day advisor, as well as a liaison to the league office and a manager of projects such as the training facility's recent redesign) are now more likely to fall into the hands of Tannenbaum. Her future will be especially interesting, since Ross still holds her in high regard, and sources say he will be reluctant to let her go, even if others are urging him to reconsider.
» Despite the original optimism surrounding Dan Campbell after he took over as interim coach, Tannenbaum and his confidants do not believe he is ready to be a permanent head man. The front office, for instance, was not pleased with his public handling of the recent situation involving Brent Grimes' wife, Miko. And despite Campbell's continued efforts to convince Tannenbaum and Co. that he still has the team playing hard, they are not convinced that is the case.
» Some within the Dolphins are pushing Dan Marino to take a more significant day-to-day role with the team beyond his current consulting job as special assistant to president and CEO Tom Garfinkel. For now, Marino is reluctant to increase his responsibilities, partly because he doesn't want to commit more time. But he and Garfinkel have an outstanding relationship, and his opinion now carries strong weight.
Tannenbaum currently still explains his job as the person overseeing macro-level decisions, but those who work in the building say his role is far more expansive than that. He is making small and large decisions. Many in the organization point toward Philbin's firing -- and Campbell's ascent into the interim role -- as the moment when Tannenbaum truly took full control of the football operations.
Aside from Tannenbaum, the most important and influential people in the organization include Garfinkel and vice chairman of the board Matt Higgins. Both of those men will be integral in the reconfiguration of the employees below them in the hierarchy. And Marino, who has developed a strong relationship with Garfinkel, will have as much influence on the process as he ultimately chooses based on his willingness to commit the time.
So what does this mean and why does it matter?
For starters, the Dolphins will not only be hiring a new head coach soon -- they are also expected to impose a major attrition of the scouting department. That makes this an even more complicated endeavor for the organization because of the complicated role that Tannenbaum now assumes.
Tannenbaum, for instance, is not your typical "grinder" when it comes to scouting. He does not watch expansive film on players, like many of the general managers in the NFL who came up through the scouting ranks. As such, he will need to hire a staff capable of taking on those responsibilities, which is why many believe Grier will indeed be his guy.
This won't be an easy road to football utopia in South Florida. But it is one the Dolphins, and Tannenbaum, believe they are prepared to endure and achieve.
In the meantime, sources say Tannenbaum held important meetings this week with Ross to discuss how the organization will approach its coaching search. Getting all of their ducks in a row, settling on their decisions as they pertain to Hickey and Aponte, will be critical. Not until those decisions are finalized and acted upon will the team be able to paint a clear picture for potential coaching candidates.
In what direction will they go? That much is a mystery.
Who will be making the decisions? That answer is now very, very clear.