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Old 10-04-2004, 11:23 AM
stevo stevo is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2002
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Default Can it get worse than rock-bottom?/ Wannstedt starting to fray at the edges

Can it get worse than rock-bottom?

Wannstedt starting to fray at the edges



That's where the Dolphins live today.

That's rock-bottom not just for this season but for their own forever. Even when the original team, 1966's, was 0-5, people knew they were going to get better.

That isn't likely for the Dolphins the Jets beat 17-9.

These Dolphins can't hit a lick on offense. They stand 0-4 heading to Foxboro, Mass., to face a team that's 18-0 over parts of two seasons.

Anyone who thinks the only way to go from rock-bottom is up has only to ask some folks bitten by the brutal bugs of bad decisions and bad luck.

We're talking football here, which is considerably less important than real life. But it goes double in a citizenry slambanged into floods and onto the streets by hurricanes that wouldn't stop.

Sometimes, in both football and real life, things don't have to improve from rock-bottom. Sometimes they can scrape along forever on the razor-sharp edges of rock-bottom. And then find a new bottom.

Herman Edwards, the Jets coach, said the Dolphins were ``coached well and played hard.''

The Dolphins say thanks, Herm, but the world's greatest coaching won't make this a good team. Personnel decisions doomed this offensive ''unit'' long before September, and it is hopelessly, irretrievably lost.

Head coach Dave Wannstedt has as much chance to serve out the next two seasons, which is what's left on his contract, as general manager Rick Spielman has of being voted Executive of the Year.

Spielman at least doesn't have to face the music after every game, and he might survive yet.

Wannstedt won't.

Owner Wayne Huizenga and his corporate people like to walk the sidelines near the games' ends. They like to have something to crow about. They do not go willingly into head-hanging mode.

Fade to firing Wannstedt at season's end.

You can't tell the jam he's in by his body language. He still stands flagpole-straight. Both publicly and privately, he says he ``wouldn't even think of quitting.''

Sunday, though, he fell into another trap. This one was bandying words with the media in a news conference.

When Steve Shapiro of WSVN-TV (Ch. 7) asked if Wannstedt contemplated any changes for the pathetic offense, Wannstedt asked defiantly, ''Who?'' and wouldn't let it drop.

A coach is there to answer questions, not exchange them. He lowers himself when he takes up an argument in a news conference. Vince Lombardi and Don Shula were masters of the aloof stance, although Shula occasionally yielded to the temptation to bite back in his final seasons.

Even the least successful coach must hold himself above the fray. Ancient wisdom holds that it isn't smart to argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrel. That also goes for people who get a lot more mike time than you. People like Shapiro.

Wannstedt has problems enough without bringing more on himself.

He has a quarterback, Jay Fiedler for now, who can cancel out a half-dozen positive plays with one spectacular mistake, such as the underthrown ball Jet Donnie Abrham lovingly gathered in and returned 66 yards for the touchdown that finished the Dolphins.

Fiedler, even at 32, brings mobility that A. J. Feeley didn't in his disastrous 2 games. Feeley, 27, may be the QB of the future, or he may not. For sure he is not the QB of the present. ''Jay will start next week,'' Wannstedt said definitely.

That's a doubtful honor, starting in the Foxboro ballpark where lots of good teams have gone to die lately.

So, OK, if Arizona and San Diego can wipe out opponents, as they did Sunday, then anybody has a chance.

Anybody except this Dolphins offense.

This defense is magnificent, but even it must have a breaking point.

Someone asked Jason Taylor, the great defensive end, where he thought the Dolphins were going from here, and he offered a sharp look and the reply, ``We're going to New England. That's where we're going.''

Not a good place to be going.

Especially not a good place for an offensive line that doesn't know where it's going in general.

Its coach, Tony Wise, surprised people with his cutting honesty the other day when he warned that things wouldn't get that much better any time soon.

Here, I think, is what he meant: While critics rail about how bad last year's offensive line must have been if three members -- Tim Ruddy, Jamie Nails and Todd Perry -- aren't even in the NFL anymore, they sometimes miss the point.

Ruddy, Nails and Perry all were long past their most productive times. But they knew where they were supposed to go, and where their linemates would be.

This bunch has a long road to travel to that feeling.

I don't pretend to be able to gauge the individual talent of Damion McIntosh, Wade Smith, Jeno James, Seth McKinney, Taylor Whitley, Greg Jerman and John St. Clair.

Obviously, though, they haven't been together nearly long enough to know what to expect either from themselves or their co-workers.

Maybe that's where this Stonehenge-huge dilemma starts, with an offense that has converted a mere 26.8 percent of its third downs and never threw a ball into the end zone against the Jets.

That's why they call it rock-bottom.

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
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