Stephen Ross awakened critics again this week when asked if owning an NFL franchise is harder than he thought when he purchased the Dolphins in 2009.
“A lot harder than I thought it might be,” he said.
Package that with the Dolphins’ 6-10 record last year, and their confounding offseason, and it was license for some to slap the dunce cap on Ross for the umpteenth time.
No, Steve Ross did not know all he was getting into. Guess what: There are 31 other owners who could testify to the same thing.
“You don’t know anything when you come in. You might think you do. There’s a lot of very accomplished, smart people who come into the league and they get dressed down pretty quickly.”
No, that quote wasn’t also from Ross. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft — the most successful of the bunch — told The Post that a handful of years back when describing a learning curve unlike any other these high rollers encounter. That’s why the league encourages new owners to mingle with the veterans for advice. Some do, some are too proud to.
That’s not to make excuses for Ross. He’s no longer a rookie. He made mistakes. He stuck by GM Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin longer than he should have; he courted Jim Harbaugh when he shouldn’t have. We all know this. More importantly, he does, too.
The baffling element is this notion that the Dolphins’ failures should all be traced to Ross because the bucks start and stop with him. That he’s cheap. That he doesn’t care about winning.
The evidence to back up any of that is where, exactly? When Harbaugh was one of the hottest names in coaching, Ross tried to hire him. When so many teams were hot on Adam Gase’s trail, Ross succeeded at hiring him. When Ndamukong Suh set his price tag at $114 million, Ross signed the check.
Question whether any of his decisions were correct if you wish.
But to question his motives? That’s a flag.
Yes, I’ve tossed a barrage at criticism at the Dolphins for giving away Jarvis Landry for a pair of used cleats. But that was a football move, a salary cap decision made by Gase and football operations chief Mike Tannenbaum. They decide how to slice up the pie. They pick the toppings. Ross picks the chefs and decides how big the pie can be. When was the last time he scrimped on something he thought could improve the team? When have the Dolphins not spent up to the max of the salary cap?
“Our charge from owner Steve and the whole organization is we’re trying to get better every day,” Tannenbaum said at this week’s NFL annual meeting in Orlando.
To which Ross quickly chimed in: “The money won’t be a restriction, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Ross said his role is to ask questions.
“Anything they promote, I question why,” he said. “You want to know why. There has to be a justification for it and you want to hear what their plan is.”
Given that Ross has millions invested, he has that right. Given that the Dolphins have failed to establish themselves as perennial contenders, he has that obligation. If and when his lieutenants compile a Pat Rileyesque record, then he can sit back, sip an adult beverage in his owner’s suite and butt out.
Still, Ross remains in fans’ crosshairs even when he succeeds. He tossed a half-billion of his money, not yours, to make Hard Rock Stadium an entertainment destination that’s still growing. He managed to lure the 2020 Super Bowl back in Miami after a decade of cold shoulders. Yet he’s accused of caring more about hosting Super Bowls than winning them, as if the two were mutually exclusive.
Probably by now, Steve Ross recognizes he can’t win until the Dolphins do.
“You learn a lot more from your mistakes,” he said. “You learn a lot more when you’re losing about yourself or you’re thinking a lot more.”
So go ahead and give Steve Ross a mixed grade for his decade of Dolphins ownership if you wish.
Just don’t ever say he doesn’t care about winning.
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