Is the ol' ball coach going fishing? By removing name from Gators' coaching list, Spurrier speculation heats up By Mike Holbrook (firstname.lastname@example.org) Nov. 5, 2004 It’s often said that when it rains, it pours. Florida experienced that in devastating fashion this fall when it was bombarded by three powerful hurricanes. While hurricane season is thankfully over, it hasn’t stopped the storm clouds from hovering over the South Florida training complex of the Miami Dolphins. Fact is, it has been pouring rain there for most of this year. So much so, that one can imagine head coach Dave Wannstedt has been building an ark in his spare time. The latest tropical storm brewing in Miami is called Hurricane Steve. As in Spurrier. As in the “ol’ ball coach.” There has been a steady rumbling in recent weeks that the 59-year-old Spurrier, trying to take his mind off two failed years as Redskins coach by lowering his golf handicap, was starting to get the itch to coach again. When the University of Florida boosters and administration had had enough of Ron Zook, Spurrier’s successor as Gators head coach, following an embarrassing 38-31 loss last month to a Mississippi State team that came into the game last in the nation in scoring, and made the announcement that Zook was fired, effective at the end of the season, it seemed only natural that Spurrier would be the top candidate. But looks can be deceiving. Spurrier, who coached 12 storied seasons at his alma mater before leaving for the NFL, surprised most observers when he announced Wednesday that he was not interested in returning to Florida and was removing his name from consideration for the Gators’ head-coaching job. Speculation has Hurricane Steve bearing down on Miami. Specifically, Pro Player Stadium. It may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, who reportedly has always been enamored with Spurrier as a coach, could be in the market for a new head coach if the Dolphins continue to spiral downward in what has become a lost season. There are many questions for Huizenga to answer, and pursuing a new head coach when he already has one signed through 2006 isn’t the most pressing one. He first needs to determine how he wants to set up the management structure of the franchise’s football operations. That’s because there are strong rumors that team president Eddie Jones is likely going to retire following this season. If he leaves, where does that leave GM Rick Spielman? And if Spielman isn’t back, where does that leave Wannstedt? Hurricane Steve is not the first tropical storm to hammer Wannstedt and the Dolphins this year, and Huizenga is well aware of the abundant amount of adversity Wannstedt has faced in what has to be one of the most challenging seasons a coach could endure. The first heavy rains fell in mid-July when gifted but erratic RB Ricky Williams, the man Wannstedt had geared his entire offense around, suddenly quit the game and abandoned his team. More hard rain fell each time players like WR David Boston, special-teams ace Chris Akins, DT Larry Chester, DT Tim Bowens and LB Junior Seau were lost for the season. The storm clouds created by Williams’ departure lingered as a QB controversy boiled over, a rebuilt offensive line mightily struggled, holdout DE Adewale Ogunleye (a Pro Bowler and team MVP last year) was traded, and the team went through four starting running backs in a futile attempt to make up for Williams’ loss. Then, Williams started making noise in early October about wanting to come back, creating a distraction and added adversity. In the meantime, Wannstedt’s injury-decimated Dolphins dismally dropped their first four games. They lost two more times, setting a record for the worst start in the proud franchise’s 38-year history. Adding insult to injury, the sixth consecutive loss came to previously winless Buffalo, leaving Miami as the league’s last winless team. Even when the Dolphins managed to accomplish something positive, as when they won at home over St. Louis in Week Seven, it was short-lived. The fact that Miami bottomed out on “Monday Night Football” in front of a national TV audience and was absolutely dominated 41-14 by AFC East rival New York could prove to be tremendously damaging to Wannstedt and Spielman. Most discouraging of all for Dolphins fans was the fact that the Miami defense, the lone beacon light in this increasingly dark season, was run over, around and through for a league-high 275 yards, eclipsing even the eye-popping total of the Chiefs’ 271 yards in K.C.’s one-sided 56-10 victory over Atlanta a week earlier. At 1-7 heading into Sunday’s home game against the 2-5 Cardinals, Wannstedt finds himself in a tough spot. His job is to win football games, and he knows that if his team continues to lose, he’s a long shot to remain in Miami beyond this season. In fact, with the bye week looming in Week 10, there are some Dolphins observers who believe that Wannstedt could be out as soon as Monday if Miami loses to Arizona this weekend. Nevertheless, he’s sticking with veteran Jay Fiedler at quarterback, because he says that Fiedler gives his team the best chance to win now. He also believes that he owes it to veterans like Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas to win now. And he’s hopeful that a few victories down the stretch could give him the ammo to convince Huizenga to write off this cursed season and give him another chance with a fresh start in 2005. But is that what’s best for the franchise in the long run? Wouldn’t it be better for Miami to get as high a draft pick as possible and try to get a franchise type of player? Especially considering the fact that backup QB A.J. Feeley, who has played all of 10 quarters this season and can’t beat out the unspectacular Fiedler, cost the team its second-round pick in the 2005 draft. They’re currently in line to get the first overall selection next April. Even if they split the rest of their games, a 5-11 record would likely net them a top-10 pick and a chance at a difference-making young player. Accepting that the Dolphins will not make the playoffs this season, or anytime soon, if they don’t get a good look at their young players, it would be best for Miami to start playing Feeley, reinsert second-year OT Wade Smith back into the lineup, put promising CB Will Poole into more important game situations and let rookie LBs Derrick Pope and Tony Bua get some action. That would give the Dolphins an opportunity to see what they have for the future. For if this season is lost, and it certainly is, it’s time to look forward. If Feeley proves he’s starting material over the final six games of the season, Miami will know it won’t have to spend its high first-round pick on a quarterback. If Smith’s struggles at left tackle this season were due to a lack of confidence, maybe by playing in games that don’t mean much down the stretch will help him find his confidence again. He was an All-Rookie team member and has the talent to anchor the OLT spot for years to come. If Poole makes strides and shows he has the ability to one day be a shutdown corner, maybe the Dolphins can let go of Sam Madison or Patrick Surtain and use that money to shore up other more pressing areas. So the Dolphins are stuck with a head coach fighting for his job who needs to win now in charge of a team that has numerous questions that need to be answered in the next two months in order to lay the groundwork for future success. Is it me, or are the storm clouds over Miami growing darker?