Miami Dolphins’ Larry Csonka: Owner’s cold shoulder forced jump to WFL

Larry Csonka (left) and Jim Kiick in their Dolphins days.

Hall of Famer Larry Csonka, whose jump to the World Football League signaled the end of the Dolphins’ dynasty in the 1970s, pointed a finger at owner Joe Robbie on Saturday, writing that neither he nor teammates Paul Warfield and Jim Kiick wanted to leave Miami.

Robbie’s feuding with agent Ed Keating twice got in the way of Csonka returning to the Dolphins after the WFL folded, according to a blog Csonka posted on his website Saturday.

When Csonka finally returned to the Dolphins in 1979 after a four-year absence, he did so by circumventing Robbie and negotiating directly with coach Don Shula.

“That deal was agreed to in just 3 days and in 1979 we made the playoffs,” Csonka wrote.

The historic saga began when Csonka, Kiick and Warfield traveled to Toronto to negotiate with John Bassett. The players were armed with a lengthy list of demands, including salary, bonuses, endorsements, luxury apartments, cars and travel expenses. Bassett agreed, with a catch: The players had to sign before leaving Toronto.

Csonka spoke to Shula and waited for a call from Robbie, “which never came,” Csonka wrote.

That account matches what Kiick told The Post in 2005.

“I could understand why he doesn’t want me, but he doesn’t want you,’ ” Kiick said he told Csonka, referring to Robbie. “ … He never gave us a call.”

The WFL disappeared in October 1975, but rather than jumping at the chance to re-sign the popular Csonka, Robbie still feuded with Keating, Csonka wrote. So Csonka became a free agent.

Csonka said he still was willing to return to Miami for less. Eventually, Robbie asked Csonka for an “outline” to negotiate. Fearing that Robbie wouldn’t keep the outline private, which would hurt his bargaining power with other teams if it came to that, Keating sent Robbie a copy of the original deal with Bassett.

“Needless to say, Robbie exploded and immediately had my ‘demands’ published in The Miami Herald – calling it ridiculous and absurd to expect such a deal,” Csonka wrote.

That explains why Csonka spent the 1976-78 seasons with the New York Giants.

Returning to the Dolphins in 1979 at age 33 reinvigorated Csonka. In his final NFL season, Csonka rushed for 837 yards and 12 touchdowns — his most productive season since gaining 1,003 yards for the 1973 Super Bowl team.

“I am happy Coach Shula and I were able to come to terms in 1979 and I was able to end my career with him and the Miami fans,” Csonka wrote.

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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.