Tuna's road to rehab

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 04, 2008



Bill Parcells has sponsored more rehab projects than your local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous.
 
And the early stages of Miami's 2008 season might be his most impressive resurrection project yet – at least after four games.
 
Clearly, four games are not a lot of evidence. We know that. The season could still end disastrously for Miami, which tabbed Tuna king of the sea back at the end of the 2007 season (he's officially the vice president of football operations).
 
But he's quickly left his 'Finprint on Miami.
 
Keep in mind that the 2007 Dolphins – the 1-15 Dolphins – were one of the worst teams in the modern football era and the worst team, by any measure, in franchise history.
 
But here they are today, a respectable 2-2 and fresh off back-to-back victories over both AFC title game contenders of 2007 (New England and San Diego). The Dolphins clobbered the Patriots 38-13 in Week 3. Here on Sunday, in their first game since then, they hung on to beat the Chargers, 17-10.
 
This is no fish tale, folks: the Dolphins are suddenly a team that could make waves in the AFC.
 
The road to rehab
The short version off the Parcells history is this:
 
He took over a bad Giants team as head coach in 1983 – a team that had enjoyed just one winning season (9-7) since 1972. By 1986 he had led the franchise to its first Super Bowl championship. He won another title in 1990.
 
He took over a bad Patriots teams as head coach in 1993 – a team that had won just nine games in its previous three seasons combined. By 1994 the Patriots were in the playoffs and by 1996 he had lifted the organization to its second-ever Super Bowl appearance, setting the franchise on the road to respectability.
 
He took over a bad Jets team as head coach in 1997 – a team that was 1-15 in 1996. They went 9-7 in their first year under Parcells and played for the AFC title game in his second season.
 
He took over a bad Cowboys team as head coach in 2003 – a team which had gone 5-11 for three straight seasons. They went 10-6 and reached the playoffs in their first year under Parcells.
 
And now comes Miami – his most impressive project yet, because the turnaround has been so immediate.
 
Miami was one close win away from the first 0-16 season in NFL history last year. They finished a shocking 15 games behind the division leading Patriots.
 
Now the Dolphins are 2-2 with consecutive wins over New England and San Diego – teams who were a combined 27-5 last year.
 
Old-school be damned
How has Parcells managed to pull off all these rehab projects?
 
He's done it not by embracing conventional wisdom, but by flouting it.
 
Parcells has a reputation as an "old-school" football guy: someone who wants to run the ball well, control the clock, and play good defense.
 
Allow us to slice that Tuna myth as if it were sashimi.
 
First, every coach wants to run the ball well, control the clock, and play good defense. And it's easy to do – provided you have superior talent to every other team.
 
But few teams in the NFL ever have openly superior talent to their opponents.
 
So teams need to win by being smarter, more aggressive, and more creative. And few people in football have embraced daring and creativity more so than the Tuna.
 
Sure, Parcells won with the Giants with classic old-school strategy: teams that played tough defense and ran the ball well, whether with Joe Morris or Ottis Anderson.
 
But he won with the Patriots passing the ball more often than any team in history. The 1994 Patriots were led by Drew Bledsoe, who passed the ball a single-season record 691 times that year. Included among those 691 attempts were Bledsoe's single-game record 70 tosses in an overtime win against Minnesota.
 
That's hardly a guy committed to the run or to old-school football.
 
And now he's winning in Miami – at least for the last two weeks – with a pro version of the spread, a revolutionary new offense that's one part old-school single-wing and one-part state-of-the-art strategy adopted from the college ranks (where almost all football evolution takes place).
 
In Week 3, Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown resurrected the wing-T for Miami, taking several shotgun steps, running for four TDs and passing for another. Knute Rockne must have beamed with pride.
 
Miami ran the same offense again Sunday, with Brown again taking direct snaps from the shotgun, carrying the ball 24 times for 125 yards and 1 TD. (He did not attempt any passes.)
 
Parcells is not committed to old-school football, folks. He's committed to doing whatever it takes to win games. That's not the sign of an old curmudgeon. It's the sign of a man who embraces change and evolution. Don Shula did the same thing in his career, winning with historically strong running teams in the 1970s, and winning with historically strong passing teams in the 1980s.
 
Fishing for talent in the front office
Of course, Parcells is no longer the coach stalking the sidelines, like he was during with two stints at Giants Stadium or with the Patriots and Cowboys.
 
That honor in Miami goes to Tony Sparano. But you can't minimize the Tuna's finprint.
 
After all, few had ever heard of Sparano – a former Parcells assistant in Dallas – until Tuna pegged him for the Miami job.
 
Parcells, meanwhile, set the stage for the rehab project on the personnel side earlier this year. As we pointed out in our off-season Fillability Index, no team in football this year underwent more wholesale changes than the Dolphins.
 
Parcells simply dumped all the dead weight from 2007. And even though he has a reputation as a guy who loves seasoned veterans, Tuna wasted no time bidding adios to not one but two faces of the Miami franchise: linebacker Zach Thomas and defensive end Jason Taylor (who was just one year removed from a defensive player of the year award in 2006).
 
Instead of clinging with the faces of a loser, Parcells rolled the dice with his new faces and his own people.
 
He also benefitted from a bit of serendipity when the Jets paid big money for the previously retired Brett Favre and dumped former No. 1 QB Chad Pennington.
 
Parcells, with all kinds of problems at quarterback, suddenly found himself in a position to snatch up the most accurate quarterback in the history of football. It was as if he caught a record catfish with a Barbie Doll rod 'n reel.
 
After a shaky start (5.8 YPA through his first two games), Pennington has been on fire. He averaged a whopping 11.3 YPA in Miami's 38-13 win over the Patriots. And Sunday against San Diego, he was beyond solid. He completed 22 of 29 for 228 yards, 7.9 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT and a 109.6 passer rating. It was a fairly classic Pennington performance.
 
Let's not crown the Dolphins a playoff contender just yet. As we said, there a still a lot of games left to lose for an organization that's become very good at it in recent years.
 
But the early evidence is in, and it looks another like the Tuna is ready to spin another impressive fish tale.

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