Ranking every Miami Dolphins head coach: You know who’s No. 1, but who’s No. 11?

Don Shula in Cleveland snow in 1978. (Bill Reinke / The Miami News)

I was talking with Alex Donno of WQAM-560AM on Thursday night when we somehow got onto the subject of the worst coaches in Dolphins history.

Alex asked whom I rated at the bottom but, being the kind of guy he is, blurted out my answer before I could beat him to the punch. If the phrases “fail forward fast” and “the entire Ted Ginn family” are dancing in your head, you think exactly like we do.

The exercise got me thinking on how I’d stack up all the head coaches in Dolphins history. Before getting to my list, a qualifier: You won’t find Adam Gase’s name here because I don’t think it’s reasonable to include him at this point. Call me a wimp, but after Year 1, everybody would have been in a rush to slot him as high as No. 2. After Year 2? Not so much.

Let’s give it another year, although I suppose if you gave me truth serum today, I’d probably say around No. 5.

Anyway …


Cam Cameron. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

11. Cam Cameron

(2007, 1-15)

Poster child for the NFL coordinator whose ceiling was just that. There’s a good reason Cameron was the shortest-lived of any Dolphins head coach excluding interims. Not only did he come within an eyelash of going winless, he often was clueless. During this dead end of a season, he insisted on going with Cleo Lemon at quarterback even though the only meaningful thing that could have come out of the year was some knowledge of whether second-round pick John Beck might be the long-term answer. We learned Beck wasn’t the solution, eventually. With Cameron, we already knew.


George Wilson

10. George Wilson

(1966-69, 15-39-2)

Kind of felt guilty slotting ol’ George this way. Luckily, I have a very forgiving nature. Nobody could have won with the roster he started with. Problem is, the Dolphins weren’t trending in the right direction even late in his tenure. The ’69 team went 3-10-1 with a lineup that included Hall of Famers Larry Little, Bob Griese, Larry Csonka and Nick Buoniconti, plus studs Norm Evans, Jim Kiick, Manny Fernandez, Dick Anderson and Bill Stanfill. Any wonder that when Don Shula took over in 1970, Miami flipped it around to 10-4?


Joe Philbin

9. Joe Philbin

(2012-15, 24-28)

Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and Brian Billick were said to be on Stephen Ross’ radar. In the end, he went with Philbin, who had enjoyed success as the Packers’ offensive coordinator. Overlooked — far too much, as we soon learned — was that Philbin never called plays for Green Bay, so how much credit he deserved for its success was debatable. Less debatable is that he could never relate to players nor could they relate to him. A fine man, certainly, but not a fine head coach.


Todd Bowles.

8. Todd Bowles

(2011, 2-1)

He took over a 4-9 team for Tony Sparano and won two divisional games (over the Bills and Jets) but might have been most impressive in a Christmas Eve loss on the road, 27-24 to the eventual Super Bowl runners-up, the Patriots. Current coach of the Jets coming off back-to-back 5-11 seasons.


Nick Saban. (NFLPhotoLibrary)

7. Nick Saban

(2005-06, 15-17)

At last, the lightning rod. Some will be aghast his name didn’t come up sooner in this list, some, later. If you’re a control freak demanding that every little thing go your way, yet you’re OK with violating one of the basic rules of the game — don’t quit — you’re losing big points in my book.


Jim Bates. (Allen Eyestone)

6. Jim Bates

(2004, 3-4)

Similar to the Dan Campbell tale, Bates took over a sinking ship but managed a few bright spots along the way. None brighter than a 29-28 Monday night win over a Patriots team getting used to seasons ending with parades. Right after that one, Bates interviewed with owner Wayne Huizenga for the permanent gig, but everyone knew by then that Saban was Wayne’s guy.


Tony Sparano.

5. Tony Sparano

(2008-11, 29-33)

Ronnie Brown and the Wildcat. Chad Pennington, one of the great stopgap players in Dolphins history. Sparano made it all come together for a division title in ’08. Too bad he never could duplicate it. And those field-goal celebrations. …


Dan Campbell. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

4. Dan Campbell

(2015, 5-7)

It was a surprise when he was elevated from tight ends coach when Philbin was dumped after that debacle in London, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. Campbell has that “it” factor that inspires players. Isn’t that a huge part of being a head coach? Alex Marvez, a one-time reporter on the Dolphins beat, wrote this week how Campbell is next in line to be a head coach somewhere. Whichever organization makes that move will be glad it did.


Dave Wannstedt. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

3. Dave Wannstedt

(2000-04, 43-33)

In a post-Marino world, Wanny took heat for a conservative style in which punts weren’t considered a bad thing. But when you have Jay Fiedler as your quarterback and Lamar Smith and Ricky Williams as your running backs, would you be airing it out? Besides, how many other guys on this list were over .500?


2. Don Shula

Just making sure you’re paying attention.

Jimmy Johnson. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

2. Jimmy Johnson

(1996-99, 38-31)

The groundswell to get him hired in Miami, thinking he could duplicate his success with UM and the Cowboys, didn’t quite pan out with the Dolphins. But he is one of only two Dolphins coaches to reach the playoffs three consecutive seasons.


Don Shula. (Allen Eyestone)

1. Don Shula

(1970-95, 274-147-2)

Shocking, I know.

 

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TE Anthony Fasano: Miami Dolphins’ lack of direction in ’12 helped drive me away

Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano (80), catching a fourth-down touchdown pass against San Francisco 49ers strong safety Donte Whitner (31) in December 2012, says ‘the building feels a lot different’ compared to when he left Miami. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

We’ve heard how free agents have noticed the changes with the Dolphins and are more open-minded toward considering Miami.

We’ve heard how Dolphins with expiring contracts sense the start of something that makes them want to stick around, even using the hashtag #NewMiami on social media.

Now comes evidence of what we’ve long suspected: that the Dolphins of the prior era (namely, The Philbin Era) were just as influential at driving players away.

Tight end Anthony Fasano was one such player. He enjoyed a successful stint from 2008-12 — on a personal level. On a team level? Not so much.

“That’s one of the reasons I left,” Fasano told The Post. “I just didn’t see the team going in a direction.”

It was going somewhere when he arrived. The Dolphins were 11-5 and surprise division champions under Tony Sparano in 2008. What followed was a stretch in which they were mired in mediocrity, twice going 7-9, a 6-10 (during which Sparano was replaced by interim coach Todd Bowles) and finally 7-9 in 2012, this time under Joe Philbin.

Over that period, other free agents the Dolphins lost include running backs Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and Reggie Bush; safety Yeremiah Bell; cornerback Sean Smith; and tackle Jake Long.

“I knew I was whatever — on the back nine of my career,” said Fasano, now 32. “I was here five years and kind of needed a change of pace.”

So he bolted for Kansas City before later heading to Tennessee. Last month, he came full circle and rejoined the Dolphins to play under coach Adam Gase.

“I’m excited to be back,” Fasano said. “The building feels a lot different.”

Fasano’s Titans beat the Dolphins 30-17 last season, but he could sense a shift. It was Miami’s last loss before a six-game winning streak set the tone for an eventual wild-card berth.

So when it came time to decide his next move, Fasano, who had maintained his offseason home in Fort Lauderdale, didn’t waver. It didn’t hurt that in the interim, he had opened Next Chapter, an addiction and trauma treatment center in Delray Beach.

So once again, Fasano is a Miami Dolphin.

“They definitely have some fight to them and I think Gase is a great coach, a young coach,” he said. “I’m excited about everything going on. He’s no nonsense, there’s no distractions, it’s all about football.

“I think he’s done a great job building the team.”

Fasano signed a one-year contract and is non-committal on how long he’ll play.

“I’m going into my 12th year,” he said. “I think a lot has to do with how I feel physically. I believe we’ll have a good team, so going out one more year and winning a Super Bowl would be ideal. We’re just going to take it year by year.”

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Finally, a first-time NFL head coach with the capacity to quickly grow into the job

The foundation has been laid.

What Adam Gase and the Miami Dolphins may build upon it in the next few years is far from certain, but consider the value of that simple statement.

shareOne year ago this week, Gase was experiencing the whirlwind of being named a head coach for the first time at any level. He also was interviewed by the Eagles, Giants and Browns but settled on Miami after meeting with all of his future bosses and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, too.

The new guy wasn’t looking at a playoff roster when he made his choice, but a 10-6 season with one playoff game is what he and Miami’s staff wound up producing. Surprised? Well, sure, all of us were, but on Wednesday, while taking wrapup questions on 2016, Gase said he was “sick to my stomach” that the team didn’t go farther.

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That’s what you expect to hear from the league’s youngest head coach. Impatience. Ambition. Intensity boiled in the excitement of an opportunity that few coaching lifers get at any age.

Joe Philbin and Cam Cameron never gave the impression that they were boiling over with much of anything. Every move they made was designed to communicate calm and authority and the promise that success must eventually come if everyone just did their job.

Problem is, neither of them did their own jobs very well, or showed much capacity for learning them. As seen also in the cases of Dan Campbell and Tony Sparano, first-time NFL head coaches really do have a lot to learn.

Gase breaks the mold. Rather than waiting on wins to establish his credibility, he left Jay Ajayi home for the season opener at Seattle because the running back was pouty over not starting. Rather than wondering if his playcalling would work with Tannehill right off the bat, Gase set his sights on instant success, and was genuinely startled when it didn’t come.

“We (Gase and Tannehill) got on the same page a little later than we really wanted to,” he said Wednesday. “I really felt like we were going to hit the season running … It took me a little longer than I thought to get used to our whole group as far as a play-caller.”

The six-game win streak at midseason is when everything started looking better, not only for Tannehill but for Ajayi and everybody else who failed to find any consistent rhythm under Philbin and Campbell, a 5-7 interim coach, in 2015.

Gase’s group ran out of gas, of course, when injuries demolished Miami’s defense and when the competition got stiffer at the end of the season but still, no other first-time NFL head coach outdid him this season.

Ben McAdoo of the Giants went just as far, making the playoffs as a wild-card team and suffering a similar fate with a lopsided first-round loss on the road (38-13 at Green Bay).

Dirk Koetter went 9-7 at Tampa Bay, a quick turnaround from the 6-10 finish that preceded his hiring, but the Bucs did not make the playoffs.

Doug Pederson debuted at 7-9 in Philadelphia, no better than the failed Chip Kelly regime before him.

“We wanted to get the right leader,” Dolphins executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum said a year ago on the occasion of Gase’s hiring. “Someone that could relate to young and talented players that we believe we have, and somebody that was high energy and competitive. Somebody that could build a great coaching staff, develop them and hold them accountable. Somebody that was open-minded, who had great football acumen and intelligence.”

That’s the way you reset an entire franchise for lasting success, just as Joe Robbie did soon after becoming majority owner of the Dolphins. The old man wanted Bear Bryant to coach his team, but when those talks fell through at the last minute, Robbie raided Don Shula from the Baltimore Colts in 1970, gaining a strong staff of Bill Arnsparger, Howard Schnellenberger, Monte Clark and others in the process.

Shula reversed the franchise’s losing culture more completely than Gase or anyone else ever could, in part because Shula possessed the skills to become the NFL’s all-time winningest coach and in part because he already had seven years of experience as a head coach in the league.

The setting of the foundation is familiar, however, with Shula’s first Dolphins team making the playoffs before hitting a dead end in the first round, on the road, at Oakland.

“What we wanted to establish here,” Gase said, “was making sure that we’re right in that thing in the fourth quarter and then find ways to execute under pressure, which our guys did the majority of the time. Really, that’s what we were looking to do as far as developing what we wanted to develop as a front office, coach staff and as players.”

Gase must go on without defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who on Wednesday was named head coach of the Denver Broncos, and Gase will need a crew of new players on defense, too. That’s not his specialty area.