Dolphins fans booing Henne? Blame management first

Posted Aug. 04, 2011 @ 11:49 a.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

Well, the season is off to a mighty fine start, eh Miami?

Football is back, we're a handful of practices into training camp and already the South Florida fans are taking this whole Shark Week thing to a new level. They smell blood in the water, and they are honing in on the easy prey.

That prey is Chad Henne, the would-be starting quarterback for the Dolphins, who was roundly booed Monday in practice by fans. As if that wasn't subtle enough, they made their message abundantly clear: "We want Orton!" were the cries.

That would be Kyle Orton, the quarterback the Dolphins failed to acquire via trade and the one that the Broncos now have made abundantly clear they are not dealing. We have zoomed past quarterback controversy to Henne getting drawn and quartered.

But who is really wearing the executioner's mask? Blame Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland and owner Stephen Ross. They're the ones who pursued Orton, failed to seal the deal and now are turning back to Henne.

Sound familiar? It should. It's the same approach Ross took in January when he was prancing around behind head coach Tony Sparano's back and flirting with Stanford's Jim Harbaugh. Sparano had a contract then, just as Henne does now, and the two are tied together with two big, fat votes of no confidence.

Good luck with that.

Far be it from me to be the one to say who the team should choose as its coach and quarterback. Those are football decisions that are made, ostensibly, by football people. I happen to like Sparano and Henne, but I can't say for certain that they are the right men for the jobs they currently hold.

But what I can criticize — heavily — is the approach the team takes to heavily weighted matters such as these. Ireland comes from the Bill Parcells School of Information Control and Spin, but even Parcells knew things were a bit rotten in Miami, and he resigned his fairly cushy post. Why? He didn't like management and ownership.

Parcells believed that Ross was more worried about building a nightclub and Hollywood East atmosphere around the team with its celebrity owners than he was serious about building a winner the tried-and-true way. And Parcells might even have turned a cold shoulder to Ireland, a man he helped build up, because the two clearly weren't seeing eye to eye on how to construct the roster and operate the organization.

Sparano is caught in an awful situation, so he turns it back on the fans. When asked what about the booing bothered the coach, he sarcastically said, "Beside the fact that it really makes me sick? That would be it."

Far be it from me to defend Miami sports fans or deflect some of the blame toward them, as the city's faithful rightly has earned the reputation of being a bit, ahem, fair weathered. But Sparano is right: It is pretty sickening. It's sickening that everyone on this team — head coach and quarterbacks, especially — is treated the same way, and that is without respect.

Ross apologized for the dalliance with Harbaugh. The owner said after the botched hiring (Harbaugh ended up in San Francisco) that he "shouldn't have been talking to coaches until I decided that I should make a change" and that given another chance to redo it, Ross would have "(gone) about it a different way."

They got their chance with the Henne situation, and if they wanted to replace him, they should have replaced him. If they wanted to give him competition — we all know what that means — they should have gone through with it.

Look, trades fall through all the time in the NFL. Teams get cold feet, asking prices are too high, the contract money doesn't work — there are a hundred reasons why a trade attempt could collapse. But the fact is that the Dolphins were the one team really pursuing Orton once the other QB pieces fell into place around the NFL, and they did so in a very public manner. They wanted their fans to get excited about the move and about the direction of the team. The Orton-to-Miami rumors were some of the worst-kept around the league.

And the Dolphins failed. How? Well, they didn't even get to the stage where they were offering compensation for a prospective trade. Their failures happened earlier in the process, when they couldn't negotiate an extension with Orton and his agent, David Dunn.

How about that? If it had come out that the Broncos were asking for too much in return, well there's not much the Dolphins could have done about that. They would have had to swallow hard, reject the deal, hope the Broncos changed their minds, and if not, go back to Henne. It would not have been ideal, but it would have been understandable.

Instead, the trade failed because the Dolphins couldn't get the financials in order. Sources say the two sides were not even close. Miami couldn't afford Orton's roughly $9 million salary for this season, but that's an affordable number for a starting quarterback, quite reasonable by today's standards, in fact. The Dolphins were willing to publicly and openly let word of the trade float out — and hang their current starting quarterback out to dry in the process — and yet they were not willing to sign Orton to a long-term extension.

And Henne's "competition" now? Matt Moore, who was set free by the 2-14 Panthers. The Dolphins went cheap and they lost.

More than that, they acted cheaply. Just like with Sparano previously. He's trying to coach his team, and his quarterback (the one management didn't want) is trying his best to improve and lead this team. But instead, Henne walks into a wall of verbal bullets. Fans might have pulled the triggers, but ownership certainly loaded the guns.

It's the one that botched another hiring, falsely raised hopes and left its team in a pretty faulty predicament. It's the environment that has been created around this team.

"I think that when people come to the stadium like that in one of those kinds of events … to support the Miami Dolphins, that what we should be thinking about," Sparano said after Monday night's practice at Sun Life Stadium. "That's what I think."

Reasonable request, coach. And while some meathead fans surely are to blame for the booing, it's hard to blame them given the atmosphere around this team. The Dolphins have created an atmosphere of distrust and disdain and style over substance.

When the Dolphins struggle to fend off the Bills for fourth place in the AFC East, they might want to look back to how they handled the Orton-Henne situation in their self-evaluation process. Maybe then they'll wish they had handled it a different way.