The Dolphins moved to 8-7 with a last-minute victory over the Vikings today, but they had already been eliminated from playoff contention thanks to the Chargers’ win over the 49ers last night. Despite that fact, the club won’t see a coaching staff overhaul, as owner Stephen Ross said after the game that head coach Joe Philbin will return for the 2015 season, according to the team’s Twitter account.
Philbin, 53, was hired as Miami’s head coach in 2012 after spending the previous five seasons as the Packers’ offensive coordinator. The club has a 23-24 record (and no postseason appearances) during his tenure, but there have been some positive developments. The defensive unit has been stout at times, and following the hiring of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor prior to this season, third-year QB Ryan Tannehill has shown significant signs of improvement. Still, it’s fair to wonder if 2015 will be Philbin’s final shot in Miami; if the team doesn’t make the playoffs next season, it will probably be tough for Ross to keep him around any longer.
2015, then, sets up as a make-or-break year in South Beach, and it’s unlikely that the current version of the Dolphins’ roster will see many upgrades. Over the Cap’s data shows Miami to have negative cap space in 2015, at nearly $2.2MM in the red. The club will obviously make some moves to be in compliance the cap; cutting players like Dannell Ellerbe, Brian Hartline, and Cortland Finnegan, for example, could save the Fins more than $14MM. But Miami probably won’t be able to make its typical splashes in free agency, meaning Philbin & Co. will have to rely on continued advancement from Tannehill and a dominant defense to compete next season. If not, general manager Dennis Hickey, hired earlier this year, would likely be given the opportunity to choose his own coach.
On a macro level, this news crosses off one possible destination for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who is expected to leave San Francisco at season’s end. Ross tried to bring in Harbaugh as the Dolphins’ head coach prior to the 2011 season, so speculation arose that Miami would once again be interested in acquiring the controversial head coach. However, given the expected level of interest in Harbaugh from the University of Michigan (who reportedly offered a six-year deal worth nearly $50MM), the Raiders, and a slew of other suitors, the Dolphins opted to stick with their incumbent coach. It’s just my speculation, but I would guess that Miami didn’t want to pursue Harbaugh for a second time, only to be publicly embarrassed yet again if he declined their overtures.