DAVIE, Fla. – Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross tried to put a positive spin on the franchise's direction at a news conference Tuesday, stressing the need for more organizational harmony and better teamwork.
Then, as the media began to question Ross about Dolphins dysfunction, coach Joe Philbin and executive Dawn Aponte rose from their front-row seats and left.
As Ross said, his team's teamwork needs work. The owner's candid comments came during the formal introduction of Dennis Hickey as the team's general manager.
Hickey replaces Jeff Ireland, who clashed with Philbin and Aponte during the Dolphins' tumultuous 2013 season, which was rocked by a bullying scandal and a December collapse that cost them a playoff berth.
"The reason we made the change wasn't because I didn't think highly of Jeff," Ross said. "But we needed to have harmony within the organization where everybody had respect for each other and operated with the same mindset at all times."
The news conference was filled with awkward pauses, and the mood was subdued because Hickey's hiring came after two candidates turned down the job, while others also gave the Dolphins a stiff-arm. Several were concerned about the team's power structure, and Ross' loyalty to Philbin and Aponte may also have deterred potential GMs.
Ross said Hickey and Philbin will report directly to him. Aponte — a salary-cap expert as executive vice president of football administration — will report to Hickey.
Ross said he wasn't going to let a general manager decide the fate of the head coach.
"I own the team," Ross said. He shrugged when asked about the candidates who rebuffed him.
"I set out the characteristics I was looking for," he said. "People might have other ideas in their mind. We were pretty clear in the structure. It's not an unusual structure. I think we have very talented staff that I'm very comfortable with."
Ross said compatibility between the new GM and Philbin was his top priority in the search. The owner remains firm in his support of Philbin, who is 15-17 in two seasons with Miami.
"We're not playing fantasy football," Ross said. "You look at the great organizations, and there's consistency within them. You just don't change every time something goes wrong or you don't win a game. You dont just replace everybody.
"I like the track we're on. I feel as bad as everybody that we didn't make the playoffs. But there's such a fine line between winning and losing, and you don't just start all over again. We're not that far away. I have a lot of faith and confidence in coach Philbin and his staff and the direction they're headed."
Hickey first met Philbin more than 10 years ago, and said that when they visited during the interview process, they clicked.
"As we sat there it was kind of like, 'Yeah, this fits,'" Hickey said. "I feel like we're already on the same page and our philosophies are the same and we want to build a winner and do it together.
"I see an organization that has the foundation, people and vision to become a championship organization. My commitment is to be a complement to all the talent that has already seen assembled here."
Hickey has been with the Buccaneers for 18 seasons, including the past three as director of player personnel. He'll have final say over a draft for the first time.
The Bucs won four division titles and one Super Bowl championship during his time with them, but went 28-52 over the past five years. Tampa Bay had a mixed record in the draft in recent years, including three players who made the all-rookie team in 2012, and also several glaring misses in the second round.
Before Miami turned to Hickey, New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio and Tennessee Titans vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson turned down offers. Cleveland Browns assistant general manager Ray Farmer withdrew from consideration last week.
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