Coaching Carousel 2016: Miami Dolphins

A detailed look at the impact of Joe Philbin's departure and the hiring of Adam Gase. 

A (NOT SO) Overnight Success

There's a narrative surrounding Adam Gase that belies his history. To hear most tell it, Gase has made a meteoric rise up the coaching ranks that rivals the fastest in NFL history. Yet, that's not true at all.

  • Gase has been an NFL coach for 14 years
  • The Dolphins will be his 5th NFL team
  • Gase spent four seasons as an NFL coordinator -- for two teams -- prior to getting the Dolphins job
  • He's 38 years old (not even in the 20 youngest coaches in NFL history)

Coaching History

2000 22 College Louisiana State Graduate Assistant
2001 23 College Louisiana State Recruiting Assistant
2002 24 College Louisiana State Recruiting Assistant
2003 25 NFL Detroit Lions Scouting Assistant
2004 26 NFL Detroit Lions Scouting Assistant
2005 27 NFL Detroit Lions Offensive Assistant
2006 28 NFL Detroit Lions Offensive Assistant
2007 29 NFL Detroit Lions Quarterbacks
2008 30 NFL San Francisco 49ers Offensive Assistant
2009 31 NFL Denver Broncos Wide Receivers
2010 32 NFL Denver Broncos Wide Receivers
2011 33 NFL Denver Broncos Quarterbacks
2012 34 NFL Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
2013 35 NFL Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator
2014 36 NFL Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator
2015 37 NFL Chicago Bears Offensive Coordinator
2016 38 NFL Miami Dolphins Head Coach

Experience WITH All Three Major Coaching Philosophies

Gase has spent years in each of the NFL's three major coaching families:
  1. West Coast Offense -- Gase' first NFL job was as an assistant on Steve Mariucci's staff in Detroit. His first offensive coordinator was Sherm Lewis. Greg Olson and Ted Tollner also served as OCs for the Lions in Gase' initial seasons.
  2. Air Coryell -- Gase was retained in Detroit when Rod Marinelli was hired as Mariucci's replacement, and served under Mike Martz -- arguably one of the most effective play-callers from the Air Coryell coaching tree. He was promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2007 but unfortunately that was Marinelli's final season with the Lions. Martz thought so much of Gase that he brought him along to San Francisco in 2008.
  3. Erhardt-Perkins -- Gase landed a job as receivers coach in Denver in 2009 under Josh McDaniels and Mike McCoy. Gase was retained by John Fox in 2011 and promoted to quarterbacks coach. He became the offensive coordinator 2013 when McCoy accepted the San Diego Chargers head coaching job.

A True Hybrid System

Gase' 'system' genuinely combines aspects from all three coaching philosophies. Watching the film shows Gase' willingness to mix and match. There are Coryell-esque vertical routes. There are disciplined, quick 3-step drops a la the West Coast. There are pre-snap adjustments evocative of the best Erhardt-Perkins systems. Gase uses concepts to simplify the play-calling, but calls as varied a set of plays as anyone in the league.

Hints from Play-Calling -- Shows Adaptability

We spend a lot of time focusing on a coach's background and coaching system, yet ultimately what matters is whether they have the preparedness, creativity and instincts to call plays on game day. Joe Philbin's West Coast offense was not Bill Walsh's.  Andy Reid and Mike McCarthy -- while both successful -- don't look all that similar yet they're all from that same Walsh to Holmgren coaching family. Joe Gibbs and Mike Martz are brilliant disciples of Air Coryell but their game scripts looked markedly different. If you created a list of the 20 best play-callers and 20 worst in NFL history, we would seem exemplars of each coaching philosophy. It's all about the play-calling...and the players.

The Manning Effect

The biggest knock on Gase is that most of his success has come as the OC and "play caller" for Peyton Manning. Most view Manning as the most cerebral quarterback in history. No quarterback has had more ability to game plan and change the play at the line of scrimmage in modern history. The argument goes that if there's one offensive coordinator who should be discounted, it's Peyton Manning's coordinator.

Let's test that hypothesis:

Manning (08-10-Last 3 Indy Yrs) 405 602 0.673 4,401 31 7.3 15
Manning (12-14 Gase Years) 415 613 0.677 4,954 44 8.0 12

Let's not pretend this comparison is perfect. We're talking about two different organizations, coaching staffs, supporting players, offensive lines, seasonal opponents, and so forth. But, it's still illustrative of the point that Gase didn't simply inherit Peyton Manning. Statistically speaking Manning went from elite to all-time-best in his first three seasons in Denver. And while Gase didn't call the plays in 2012, he was heavily involved in the game planning and was also Manning's position coach.

Take it from Manning himself:

"Adam had a great impact on me during our three years together here in Denver as my quarterbacks coach and then as offensive coordinator.

"He's an extremely hard worker -- a grinder. He's extremely bright on all things football, an excellent communicator and always eager to learn more. He asks a lot of questions and writes everything down. I've always been impressed with his work ethic and his eagerness to learn more."

"Adam is the smartest guy I know. Adam is a lot like me in that he's always thinking of how we can do something better or different — or both. And he has an almost photographic memory. He can recall a defensive scheme we saw from eight games back and remember our exact formation and the play called."

The Cutler Drop-Off Myth

The other argument against Gase is that the Bears offense wasn't elite under his watch. Statistically, that's an accurate statement.

2015 Bears

  • 335 points (23rd in NFL) -- vs 319 points in '14
  • 5,517 yards (21st in NFL) -- vs 5,233 yards
  • 5.4 yards per play -- vs 5.2 yards
  • 523 passing attempts (25th) -- vs 609 attempts
  • 3,663 passing yards (23rd) -- vs 3,792 yards
  • 21 passing touchdowns (23rd) -- vs 30 touchdowns
  • 468 rushing attempts (6th) -- vs 355 rushes
  • 1,854 rushing yards (11th) -- vs 1,441 rushing yards
  • 13 rushing touchdowns (12th) -- vs 8 TDs
Those are hardly awe-inspiring numbers, but were an improvement from the prior year. Should it concern Dolphins fans that the first time Gase didn't have Peyton Manning his team finished in the bottom half of the league's offensive rankings?
  1. Jay Cutler had the best season of his career; let's not forget he was benched for Jimmy Clausen in 2014
  2. Gase crafted a potent ground game in spite of Matt Forte's injuries
  3. The Bears were without rookie Kevin White for the entire season, star Alshon Jeffery for 7 games, Eddie Royal for 7 games, Marquess Wilson for 5 games and Martellus Bennett for 5 games

Expectations -- High and Rising

Adam Gase is widely regarded as one of the best play-callers in the NFL. He's impressed his bosses, players and peers through his adaptability and preparedness. When Peyton Manning calls you the smartest coach he's ever been around, that speaks volumes. Sure, his resume benefitted from having Peyton Manning under center, but either way he got more out of Manning than any other OC has. While the Bears didn't morph into an offensive juggernaut under Gase, they did show improvement in all areas -- including turning Jay Cutler back into a franchise quarterback. The Dolphins have a talent laden roster and considering what Gase accomplished with Tim Tebow and Jay Cutler, fans should be elated at what the Gase/Tannehill partnership will bring each Sunday.

Vance Joseph -- "If This Team Had 3-4 Personnel, We Would Be A 3-4 Defense"

Vance Joseph takes over a Dolphins defense that failed to live up to its lofty reputation. The Fins allowed 389 points (19th) and 6,019 yards (25th) last season and had glaring weaknesses up and down the roster. Joseph's first opportunity as defensive coordinator will be challenging, but he's said all the right things since his hiring. Joseph's coaching career has largely been in 3-4 defenses, so many assumed he would swap the Dolphins 4-3 for a 3-4 (it's typical of a defensive coordinator to install their own system). Surprisingly, Joseph is opting to keep the team's 4-3 front.

“I’ve been a 3-4 guy most of my career,” Joseph told Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. “But when you come to a place like this and see the defensive personnel you’ve got and, in my opinion, it’s not broken, you can’t all of a sudden go to 3-4 where you have to re-draft to a defense. That takes time. That takes too much time.  I don’t want to be a guy who as a coordinator, I’m a 3-4 guy with 4-3 personnel-driven team,” Joseph said. “I’m not going to say, ‘Well, let’s change it,’ and set us back two or three years. That’s not smart in my opinion. That’s not coordinating. If this team had 3-4 personnel, we’d be a 3-4 defense. I can do both. For me, it’s not a big deal to be a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, it’s just numbers. It would be a shame to come to a place that’s close to being good on defense and then flip it, then you’re three years away again. I didn’t want to do that.”

It's not as though Joseph is dealing with last year's personnel though -- the Dolphins restocked on defense this offseason:

  • Signed defensive ends Mario Williams and Alan Branch
  • Traded for linebacker Kiko Alonso
  • Traded for cornerback Byron Maxwell
  • Signed safety Isa Abdul-Quddus
  • Drafted cornerback Xavier Howard

The Dolphins personnel hints at potential elite play under the right defensive mind. Is Joseph that guy? Time will tell, but his willingness to adapt to the team's personnel versus the other way around gives him an edge over many other first time coordinator hires.

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