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Will the Miami Dolphins bring in another Shula?

Carolina OC Mike Shula
Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Dolphins fans will be happy to know that the team’s upcoming coaching search “will not be constrained by convention,” according to team owner Stephen Ross.

Like Jeffrey Lurie’s “emotional intelligence” line after jettisoning Chip Kelly earlier in the week, more than a few chuckled at Ross’ assessment, which was made in a letter to the team’s season-ticket holders on Friday.

The “conventional model” in South Florida, has failed miserably, at least since Jimmy Johnson called it a career, and the franchise has seemingly always been picking the wrong guy long before Ross ever arrived in South Florida.

While most of us have bad dreams about falling, being chased or getting lost, Miami loyalists toss and turn when thinking about names like Dave Wannstedt, Jim Bates, Nick Saban, Cam Cameron, Tony Sparano or Joe Philbin.

The Dolphins entered the 2015 season with high hopes after backing up the Brink’s Truck to extend quarterback Ryan Tannehill and sign Ndamukong Suh in free agency, but Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle were gone after a 1-3 start and Philbin’s former tight ends coach Dan Campbell, who eventually released offensive coordinator Bill Lazor as well, has the team limping to a last-place finish in the NFC East.

“I had high expectations headed into this year and the on-field results have been disappointing,” Ross admitted to his most loyal fans. “…There are no shortcuts or magic formulas to winning. I know it will take hard work for us to get where we want to go and I can assure you that everyone at the Dolphins is working hard to honor the proud winning tradition of our great franchise.”

Not everyone.

It’s widely assumed that general manager Dennis Hickey, largely a figure head since executive V.P. of football operations Mike Tannenbaum was brought in, will be looking for work by “Black Monday” or shortly thereafter.

The team will also blow out Campbell and the rest of the coaching staff, even though Ross claims that Tannenbaum, who will lead the search for the next coach, will consider the interim leader.

“This search will be thorough and we will take it wherever we need to go,” Ross said. “I appreciate everything Dan Campbell has done this season and he has earned the opportunity to be considered for head coach. We’ve also identified several promising candidates and will begin work immediately.”

Campbell’s inclusion is simply a perk for tackling a difficult situation and finishing the job, though. A much bigger name, be it the hot-coordinator candidate or the recognizable name, who has had some success elsewhere, is almost surely at the top of Tannenbaum’s wish list because there is a public relations aspect of this search that is very real.

It’s been a long time since Don Shula, and the Dolphins are no longer one of the marquee franchises in football. Turning that reality on its head is Tannenbaum’s top task.

Ross didn’t identify any candidates outside of Davie by name but maybe a “Back to the Future” approach is a good one.

Keep an eye on Shula’s son Mike, the offensive coordinator of the 14-1 Carolina Panthers, who has helped Cam Newton develop into the presumptive NFL MVP.

In another life, the younger Shula failed as a head coach at the college level in Alabama, but he was just 38 when he was tabbed by the Crimson Tide and in the decade since leaving Tuscaloosa, Shula has rebuilt his resume with stints as the quarterbacks coach in Jacksonville, as well as the signal-caller mentor in Charlotte before taking over as OC in Charlotte for the 2013 season.

So, while the surname would get most of the headlines if Tannenbaum pulls the trigger on Mike Shula, astute observers would realize this is an effort to save Tannehill and get something out of the six-year, $96 million extension the QB signed before the 2015 season.

Newton is certainly a better piece of clay to work with than Tannehill, but you can’t dismiss that Shula has cultivated the former Heisman Trophy winner’s strengths as a player with the Panthers while masking significant deficiencies.

And maybe he could do the same for Tannehill.

— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.

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