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Viewers meet Philbin during intense 'Hard Knocks' episode

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By Kevin Fishbain

The beauty of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” is the opportunity for television audiences to get to know an NFL head coach. On Tuesday evening, we got quite the glimpse into the personality of Joe Philbin.

Any first-year head coach is going to have a laundry list of obstacles. What Philbin has had to encounter in Miami, well, let’s just say no one will envy it, which culminated in this past weekend:

  • Despite what owner Stephen Ross might have said, Philbin didn’t appear to be Miami’s first choice, as the Dolphins were hot on the heels of Jeff Fisher.
  • Philbin took the job after a tragedy no one should have to go through, the death of his son.
  • The Dolphins had (and still has) no clear starting quarterback option, and first-round draft pick Ryan Tannehill comes to the NFL with plenty of questions regarding his potential for long-term success.
  • Competing with Tom Brady’s Patriots and an up-and-coming Bills squad in the AFC East is no picnic.
  • HBO's “Hard Knocks” is chronicling every moment of training camp, allowing NFL fans everywhere to have the ability to scrutinize Philbin.
  • Oh, and to cap it all off, Philbin had to deal with Chad Johnson, his team's most talked-about player, getting arrested.

For every obstacle that has been in Philbin’s way, it’s admirable how he has gone about his business, and the respect that he has gained, and deserved, from not only the football community, but now HBO’s audiences. 

What makes “Hard Knocks” captivating for football fans is the unprecedented, behind-the-scenes access to an NFL organization. Tuesday’s episode took the word “unprecedented” to another level, and gave us another glimpse at Philbin. The show is appointment viewing each week for football fans, but Tuesday night's show was likely the most anticipated since the show's debut in 2001.

The show opened with the news of the death of Andy Reid’s son, Garrett, and Philbin opened up about going through the loss of his own son in January, an emotional moment for Philbin and anyone watching.

Fast forward to the final minutes of the show, where we got pure “reality TV” by going inside Philbin’s office as he cut Johnson. This wasn’t Donald Trump firing someone on “The Apprentice,” this was different. Frankly, the scene was awkward — it was as if Philbin was breaking up with a girlfriend — but you could see how uncomfortable he was, as he shifted in his seat and tapped the armrest with his fingers.

“I wish it was different. I wish I could tell you something more encouraging. I think it’s best for both of us to part ways at this point in time,” Philbin said.

Some have said that Philbin wasn’t harsh or authoritative enough to someone accused of head-butting his wife. How would a harsher meeting with Johnson have made anything better, or easier for Philbin? Did fans want Philbin to sit there and criticize Johnson for the incident and the distractions he caused? Maybe that would have made those who are upset with Johnson feel better, but Johnson clearly is shaken up by the incident and was apologetic — not to mention that kind of discussion would not mesh with Philbin's even-keeled personality.

I asked Dolphins DE Jared Odrick in a phone interview Wednesday morning what impressed him most about Philbin, and the three-year veteran said it was the quality that we consistently have seen from the head coach looking to make an impossible climb up the mountain in front of him.

“His mild-mannered sternness,” Odrick said. “He doesn’t really try to blow his lid too much. He really tries to stay conservative.

“He knows how to move and react, whether it’s something on the field or off. He’ll listen to somebody and take heat of what people have to say and then make a decision. I’ve taken a liking to that,” Odrick added. “He’s a classy guy that tries to get the job done, and let everybody else know they have a job to do as well."

Odrick did not specifically refer to the Johnson incident, but that description of what Odrick appreciates regarding Philbin's style certainly draws similarities to Philbin's decision to release Johnson.

Football is a results business, and Philbin can be a straight shooter, a respectful man who appears to treat his players and coaches the right way. However, if the Dolphins don’t win, none of that matters when it comes to his job security. For now, we can only judge Philbin by how he has handled running the team on the field and managing everything off it. So far, television audiences and those who see him in practice should have a good idea of why Philbin is well liked in the football community.

Packers offensive line coach James Campen has known Philbin for a long time. When Philbin was a grad assistant at Tulane, Campen was one of his players, and the two worked together in Green Bay from 2004 until last season. I asked Campen in Green Bay last week what Dolphins fans, and NFL fans watching “Hard Knocks,” should know about Philbin. Campen’s response can stand alone as quite the compliment, saying a lot about a head coach who has encountered, and will continue to encounter an unusual amount of challenges.

“Very honest. One of the most outstanding individuals that I’ve ever known in my life, and I mean that wholeheartedly,” Campen said. “I’ve got all daughters. If my daughters are lucky enough to find someone like Joe Philbin to marry, God bless them, because he is as class act as they come.”

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